Maximum Speed of a Ping Pong Ball

How Many Miles Per Hour Can It Travel?

 

Table tennis is one of the fastest ball sports in the world, but have you ever wondered just how fast can a top player hit a ping-pong ball? I've heard estimates of over 100mph for a ball coming off the racket face. However, with the lightness of the ball (2.7g) and air resistance slowing the ball down quickly, just how fast is the ball traveling when a professional smashes the ball past an opponent?

Maximum Speed of a Ping Pong Ball

Officially, New Zealander Lark Brandt holds the record for the fastest recorded smash at  69.9 miles per hour which he hit at the inaugural World Fastest Smash Competition in 2003. Brandt said his technique was key--a combination of timing and strength paired with a loose wrist and a flat smash. The second place winner's speed was 66.5 kph, a smash with a 38mm ball that was dropped vertically to the player smashing it. The speed was recorded using sports speed radar on a 38mm ball as it has a greater density than the 40mm ball, so it can be picked up by the radar gun.

Jay Turberville wondered about this question as well, and he's written an exhaustive analysis of the subject of table tennis ball maximum speed. By using still photos, video study and even sound analysis, Jay has managed to come up with a pretty definitive answer to just how fast that little white sphere can be banged around!

Turberville also pointed out that a smash competition is significantly different from a competitive match in a few ways. First, the ball is hit from a dead drop, so there is no  rebound from the ball's inertia. The radar gun is also most accurate when the ball is hit directly at the gun. The further the ball strays from the gun, the lower the measured speed.  That means balls going in a slightly different direction could be moving even faster than recorded. In addition, players in a smash contest can focus on technique and play with different paddles to try to generate the most speed. They are also have an advantage over a regular game as the ball is dropped predictably in front of them so they can make the most out of their technique.

Given that the world's fastest smash is 70 mph, it's safe to say the speed of a ball hit by the average ping pong player is much slower with an average speed of about 25 mph. Given the length of the table, even 50 mph is incredibly fast which is why players stand so far back.

Ping Pong Ball Machine

Mark French, a mechanical engineer at  Purdue University in Indiana, customized a ping-pong gun with two of his graduate students that can fire the balls at more than 1300 feet per second, or about Mach 1.2. Fired at close range, the ping pong ball blows right through a ping pong paddle at a speed of 919 miles per hour. That speed is comparable to comparable an F16 jet flying through the sky, which is faster than the speed of sound. The scientists had to be sure to stand behind gun's muzzle to avoid any bounces that might ricochet. Don't try this at home!

For comparison, here are some other top speeds of balls:

  • Jai Alai: 188mph
  • Golf ball: 170mph
  • Badminton ( jump smash): 162 mph
  • Tennis: 163.7 mph (Samuel Groth recorded serve)
  • Cricket: 161.3
  • Squash: 151 mph
  • Soccer: 131 mph
  • Hockey:114.1
Just how fast is Bence Csaba Hitting the Ball? Photo © 2007 Gerry Chua