Racquetball has officially been around since 1950, although at that time it wasn’t called racquetball. The first name of the game was paddle rackets. The name was changed to racquetball in 1969, when the first racquetball association was created. The game now boasts its own rules and regulations, championships, and associations.
The goal of racquetball is to earn more points than the opposing player by serving or playing the ball so that the opponent cannot keep the ball in play. This is called playing a rally. Only the serving side earns points during a rally. Unlike other racket and ball games, there is no out of bounds area in a racquetball game. Once a player serves the ball, every area of the court is a playable area, including the walls and ceiling. A ball is in play as long as it doesn’t touch the floor before it bounces off the front wall. Once the ball bounces off the front wall, the floor is also a playable area in the court. Points are earned when the ball bounces more than once before being hit, the ball hits or touches a player, the ball goes into the spectator area, or a player carries the ball on his racket.
Two player games are played one on one and four player games are played in a doubles match. These are the two most common types of games in a competition or tournament. A three player game is commonly played with two against one for the entire match. There is another variation where the third player sits out and fills in for the losing player of the match. Professional matches utilize a best two out of three match to determine the winner, up to 15 points per match. In the event of a tie, a tiebreaker will take place, up to 11 points.
Courts & Equipment
A racquetball court is 20 feet wide, 40 feet long, and 20 feet high, and must have a 12 foot high back wall. There are several areas designated by lines 1 ½ inches wide. The short line is between the front and back walls. The service line, where a player serves the ball, is five feet in front of the short line. The outer edges of these two lines create a box area called the service zone.
Parallel lines that run 18 inches from the side wall make up the service boxes used in doubles matches. The drive serve lines measure three feet from the nearest side wall, and these lines make up the drive serve zones. The receiving line, where players can receive the ball after a serve, is parallel to the short line. The receiving line is 21 inches long between each side wall and is connected by dashed lines. The boxed area created by the short line and receiving line is the safety zone.
The ball specifications are simpler than the court specs. A ball must be two and a quarter inches round, weigh around 1.4 ounces, and have a hardness of 55 to 60 inches. A referee will check that the ball bounces 68 to 72 inches from a 100 foot drop. The racquet used in the game also has specifications. It cannot be longer than 22 inches, must have a cord that attaches to the player, and must have a netting material that will not damage the ball. Racquetball does not require uniforms, but players must wear strong eyewear approved for racquetball and have clothing that isn’t too loose fitting.
Each play in a game has its own set of rules. When a game starts there is a coin toss to determine who serves first. Depending on the type of game, the server will have either one or two chances to put the ball into play from a serve. The game starts when the referee calls out the score and the server puts the ball into play. Before a server can play the ball, he must check the readiness of the receiver before putting the ball into motion. There is a 10-second allowed delay after a referee officially starts a game before the referee will call a foul.
Once a player serves, the ball is in play unless it’s a defective serve. A defective serve can result in either the player serving again or the referee calling an out. A dead serve happens when the ball hits an irregular area or breaks upon the serve. This allows the server reserve. A serve that misses the racquet, doesn’t bounce off the front wall, is made in an effort to deceive the receiver, or touches the server results in an out.
If the server fails to return the ball during a rally, then the serving team is out. If the receiving team fails to return the ball, the serving team gets a point. Hinders affect the playing of a rally and either result in a replay hinder or a penalty hinder. Replay hinders happen when the ball hits someone or something interferes with the game. Penalty hinders occur during any illegal actions on the court such as blocking, fighting, or interfering with the ball.
Like other professional sports, players do have the opportunity for a timeout. Players are allowed three 30-second timeouts for 15 point games and two 30-second timeouts for 11 point games. Injuries allow for a 15 minute timeout and rest periods between matches are two minutes. Fouls and warnings can also occur in a match. A referee will call a foul or give a warning for cursing, banging the racquet, fighting, delaying the game, and anything else that seems unsportsmanlike.
In a doubles match, the players take turns serving. When the first server serves, the other player waits in the service box until the ball is in play. If the player leaves the service box before the play begins, the referee will call a fault. In a one-serve match only one serve is allowed for each server. A multi-bounce match means the ball is in play as long as it’s bouncing. This type of match is played to 11 points, and the winner is the first team or player to win two games.
Outdoor racquetball can have different rules depending on the court design. Some outside courts only have one wall and most do not have ceilings. Many of these games follow the single-serve rules and do not allow play of a ball that hits the side lines.
Players with special needs also have different rules. Players in wheelchairs must have wheels that won’t damage a court and the game can include a maintenance delay for wheelchair maintenance. These matches also allow for multi bounces during play. Visually impaired players are allowed to play the ball in most any areas, and can swing more than once to put the ball into play.
Men and women also have different rules when playing professionally. The men’s tour plays to 11 points and the winner must have a 2-point lead. Only one serve is allowed to put the ball into play. There are no hinders in these matches and new balls are used in the first, third, and fifth matches. Men have one minute timeout allotments per game. The men’s tour does require a collared or acceptable sports shirt for all matches.
The women’s matches play up to 11 points and is the best three out of five games. Like the men, the women only have one serve to put the ball into play, and a new ball is used in the first, third, and fifth matches. There are also no hinders. One difference between men and women is that women get two 45-second timeouts per game and have line judges who make judgments on appeals.
- USA Racquetball lists the official rules and specifications for professional racquetball.
- William and Mary lists the specifics about offensive and defensive shots.
- Official Website of WPRO contains all the information about women’s professional racquetball.
- International Racquetball Federation lists rankings, events, and specifications for professional racquetball players.
- IRT - Professional Racquetball Tour follows the top players of the sport.
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