2.6.4 From the start of service until it is struck, the ball shall be above the level of the playing surface and behind the server's end line, and it shall not be hidden from the receiver by the server or his doubles partner and by anything they wear or carry.
This means that the ball must always be inside the shaded area from the beginning of the ball toss until it is struck. This means that you cannot start with your free hand underneath the table. You must bring the free hand holding the ball up into the shaded area, then pause, then start your ball toss.
Video - Law 2.6.4 - 4.9MB, 640x480 pixels
Note that nothing is said about the location of the server (or his partner in doubles), or the location of his free hand, or his racket. This has several implications:
- It is legal to hold the free hand so that the thumb is over the table, provided the ball is resting behind the endline and above the playing surface. This is why the service method shown in the first photograph of this article is legal.
Video - Can You Serve With Your Hand Over the Table? - 2.9MB, 640x480 pixels
- It is not legal to begin the serve with the ball held over the playing surface and in front of the endline, even if the hand is then moved back behind the endline. The ball must be behind the endline at all times.
- It is legal to hide your racket underneath the table at the start of the serve, or even during the service. No mention is made in the service laws about the location of the racket.
Video - Can You Hide Your Bat During the Service? - 2.8MB, 640x480 pixels
- It is legal for the server to stand outside the sidelines of the table, or to stand so that part of his body is in front of the endline. No mention is made in the rules as to where the server must stand during service.
Video - Can You Serve From Outside the Sidelines? - 3.2MB, 640x480 pixels
- The ball must not be hidden from the receiver at any time during the service. This means that hiding the ball with your torso is illegal, and shielding the ball with the free hand or free arm is also illegal. It also means that you cannot put your racket in front of the ball before it struck. This rules also takes care of the case where a sneaky receiver might turn around to face in another direction, and then claim that he cannot see the ball during the serve. Since the umpire would see that the server is not hiding the ball, no fault would be called.