If you want to learn racket games, you may have already considered tennis, badminton, and ping pong. However, some players don’t know what racquetball is.
Racquetball has been around since the 1100s. It is one of the popular games in the racket games circle, though not as popular as mainstream racket sports that we mentioned above. The game is becoming increasingly popular because it is easy and fast-paced.
For simplicity’s sake, you may consider racquetball as a hybrid game of tennis and squash. The game can be played by two or four players with the objective to hit the ball against the wall before it bounces a second time. Players win a point by making the other player miss hitting the ball.
In this guide, I will give you an overview of racquetball, its history and origins, the type of court it is played on, the equipment used in it, how the game is played, and its scoring and serving rules.
As a person who loves playing racquetball, I can help you understand the rules of the game in an easy and simple way.
What is Racquetball?
Racquetball can be described as a game that is a cross between various racket games, including tennis and squash. However, the game has easier rules and can be a lot of fun to play, which is the reason it is increasing in popularity around the world.
Racquetball can be played either indoors or outdoors by two or four players. The game is so simple that it can easily be understood and learned in a matter of minutes.
The game is played on a standard-size squash court; however, its ball is bigger and has more bounce. The racket used in the sport also has a different shape and size.
The game is considered to be an excellent cardio workout as it involves long bouts of rallying. It is also great if you want to improve your hand-eye coordination. This is the reason why people of all ages love to play this game.
Origins and History of Racquetball
Racquetball originated in 12th century France. However, the actual sport was invented in 1950 by Joseph G. Sobek who was unhappy about the lack of fun indoor sports.
Sobek is credited for designing the first strung paddle for racquetball and for using tennis, squash, paddleball and other racket and paddle games to design a set of rules for racquetball.
Later, as the game gained popularity, Sobek founded the National Paddle Rackets Association in February 1952 and worked to make the game popular. By 1969, the game became so popular that Robert Kendler changed its name to racquetball and founded the International Racquetball Association based on the game.
The IRA organized the first official racquetball tournament in 1974 and by the 1980s, had become one of the fastest growing sports in US history.
In 1980, the Women Professional Racquetball Association was founded and in 1981, the United States held its very first racquetball world championship.
Currently, the sport has several governing bodies across the world. The most notable one is the United States Racquetball Association, which is headquartered in Colorado Springs and is part of the US Olympic Committee. The game is categorized as a non-medal “Class A” sport and hopes to become a full-medal game within this decade.
The United States holds the US Open tournament for racquetball as an annual event in Memphis, TN. The event features over 500 top professional and amateur racquetball players from across the world and has been televised by ESPN and ESPN II since 1998.
The game has grown from its 1950s days into a sport that is played by over 20 million people in 95 countries.
Types of Racquetball Games
Racquetball has a few variations based on how many players play the game.
Like tennis, a racquetball singles game is played with two people. One-versus-one matches are the most common way the game is played.
Racquetball doubles are played with four people. The two-versus-two match is popular in both recreational and professional tournaments.
This version of racquetball is also known as cutthroat racquetball and is played in a one-versus-one-versus-one match, in which a server tries to win points against the other two players, which play as a team.
This variation is not played in official tournaments but if you are up for something more challenging, it can be a whole lot of fun.
Racquetball Court and Equipment
Like all racket games, racquetball has a different set of ball and racket as well as court than other games.
Indoor racquetball is played in a court with 20’ x 20’ x 40’ dimensions. The court has four walls, a ceiling, and a floor and the players can use all these surfaces during a game, which makes it so much more fun and exciting.
The floor of the court is divided into three areas called the “Forecourt,” the “Backcourt” and the “Service Zone.” The lines that demarcate these areas have been named as the “Service Line,” “Short Line” and the “Receiving Line.”
The front wall is called “Play Wall,” and the others are called “Back Walls,” and “Side Walls.”
There are several rules that apply to these lines.
The Service Line: The Service Line is closest to the Play Wall. When making a serve, the serving person must have both feet either on or behind this line. If one or both the feet cross over the line, it will be deemed as a foot fault and the player will lose his serve.
The Short Line: The Short Line divides the court into two sections, just like a net in tennis. It plays a few important roles:
- When the ball hits the front wall after a serve, it must fly over the short line before it makes the first bounce. If the ball hits the ground before it has passed over the short line, it is deemed as a short serve and results in a fault.
- During the serve, the serving player cannot execute a shot if their foot is extended beyond the short line. If this happens, it is deemed a fault.
- The serving player cannot cross behind the short line until the ball has passed over the short line during a serve.
The Service Zone: The service zone is an area located between the service and short lines. This area extends from side to side and has two perpendicular lines near the edges.
This is the area within which a serve needs to be made and the ball has to remain there until it passes over the short line.
The Service Box: The service box is an area inside the service zone and is located near the edges of the two walls. The service box is used in doubles racquetball matches as the teammate of the server must stay inside one of these boxes.
Receiving Line or Encroachment Line: This line is located on the receiving end of the court. The player who is returning the serve must no cross the receiving lines unless either of the two conditions mentioned below are met:
- The ball has bounced after crossing the short line on a valid serve
- The ball flies over the receiving line in the air
If the receiving player crosses the receiving line before either of these things occur, it will be deemed a fault and the point will be granted to the server.
Racquetball can also be played outdoors. However, in this case, there are no walls or ceilings and the court may or may not have sidewalls. If the sidewall exists, they may also vary in length.
Most outdoor racquetball games are known as one-wall or three-wall racquetball games.
Outdoor racquetball is very popular in warm weather and in places that have lots of parks and playgrounds.
Unlike indoor racquetball courts that typically require a membership fee, you can usually play on outdoor racquetball courts for free.
The only equipment required to play racquetball is a ball and a racket.
The ball is made of hard rubber and has more bounce than the ball in squash. Regulation size is 2.25 inches which is considerably bigger than the ball used in a game of squash.
The length of the rackets is from 19 to 22 inches; the width is from 9.5 to 11.5 inches; and the depth is 1 inch.
How To Play Racquetball
The two players or two teams take turns to hit the ball onto the front wall. The shot is valid if it is made within the varios red lines that mark the boundaries of the court. The ball also has to come into contact with the wall over the red line, which marks the top of the tin that lines the base of the wall.
A rally will start when the serving player standing on or behind the service line hits the ball with an underarm action. In a good service, the wall must hit the front wall directly and bounce back to land on the floor behind the short line.
The person receiving the shot will stand between the short line and the back wall. If the service is good, the receiver will hit the ball so that it returns to the front wall. The ball may also hit the back walls or the side walls of the court but must not leave the court, hit the tin at the base of the front wall, or hit the other player/s.
A match can either consist of three games, with each game played to 15 points and the player who scores the highest winning, or be played as a best-of-two games to 21 points, with the player who wins the first game winning the entire match.
If the score in the second type of game reaches 20-all, the winner will be the person who makes 22 points first.
Racquetball Scoring Rules
The main object of racquetball is to hit the ball against the front wall before it has had time to bounce a second time. Points are won by winning rallies and the matches are played as best-of-two games with a third tiebreaker game (which is typically shorter) to determine a winner.
In addition, points are only scored if you have made the serve, like in squash. If you get a point on the opponent’s serve, you will win the serve, but the points will not be added to your total. There are also several conditions in which you can lose a point:
- The ball bounces twice before you are able to make a return
- The ball skips or bounces before hitting the front wall when you make a shot
- The ball flies out of the boundary lines of the court when you play a shot
- The ball hits your opponent but was also too wide off to hit the front wall
- The ball hits you
- The player switches racket hand during a point
- The ball touches any part of your clothes or body
- You carry the ball on your racket, making a double hit
- The server makes two or one (depending on the serve rules that are sometimes used in top level tournaments) illegal serves
In order to win the game, the player or team needs to win two games. A game of racquetball is considered won if a player or team reaches 15 points. If the game is tied, then you will need 11 points to win in the third tiebreaker round.
Unlike in other racket sports, it is not necessary to win by a margin of at least two points.
There are a few different types of racquetball serves that players need to know. Although you will still be able to play the game if you know how to serve in one or two games, if you have a knowledge of an arsenal of serves, it will make you a much better player and allow you to bring your A-game to the court.
The three main kinds of serves are drive serve, lob serves, and z serves, all of which are categorized into different serves as well.
The drive serves are the most powerful kind of serves in racquetball. There are several different kinds of drive serves that can make it difficult for your opponent to make a return. Let’s take a look at some types of driver serves.
- Backhand Drive Serves: This drive serve is performed to force the opponent to use their backhand. For many players, this can be a difficult shot to make since backhand play is often weaker. The main aim of the drive serve is to make your ball bounce low and in the corner of the other player’s backhand.
- Forehand Drive Serves: This is an attacking serve that is meant to hit as hard and low as possible. Most players like to mix backhand and forehand drive serves during a game to increase unpredictability and to keep their opponent guessing.
- Wrap Around Drive Serves: In this type of drive serve, the ball is targeted to dance around the opponent’s left foot. This can make the opponent spin in a circle or become off balance in order to return the shot. Most players like to hit the sidewall around the dotted encroachment line.
- Jam Serves: This serve is made at the same height as a regular drive serve with the ball going low and just barely skimming over the short line. It is a good idea for the players to aim for the left wall at the short line, making the opponent believe you are serving to the left side. That way, when they go left, the ball will come right back at them hard, which might make them miss the return.
- Lob Serve: Lob serves are a great type of serve to learn since you can use them as part of a strategy and force the returning player to make a defensive shot.
When making a lob serve, your aim is to get the ball to bounce near the receiving line so that the opponent is forced towards the back wall or forced to cut the ball off.
If they are forced towards the back wall, they will have to return the ball somewhere around shoulder height since the ball will have to cover a greater distance. This will make their shot a defensive one.
To make the lob serve a successful one, the player needs to pay close attention to the placement and precision of the shot.
Like the drive serves, there are also several variations of lob serves.
- Lob Nick Serve: The lob nick serve is made to make it difficult for the opponent to cut the ball off before it reaches the back wall. The server’s aim should be to hit the sidewall about 4 to 5 feet in front of the back wall. This makes it difficult for the player to make a return shot as the ball’s momentum might slow down drastically along the back wall.
- Lob Z to the Forehand: This serve is made to float away from the opponent when they are coming to cut it off. This allows the server a better position to place themselves in the middle of the court. A good lob Z to the forehand will bounce before the receiving line, forcing your opponent to cut it off at higher position or to return it in the back corner. The goal of the server should be to get the shot to die deep in the back corner.
- Lob Z to the Backhand: This serve is very similar to lob Z to the forehand serve. This serve is made with the backhand for the best results. Again, the purpose of the serve is to help the ball die deep in the back corner.
- Half Lob Serve: The half lob serve can be a very strategic serve for a few reasons. It can make the returning player rush their shot while they try to cut it off. In addition, the opponent might be forced to hit the ball at a higher point if the server plans to have the ball bounce just behind the short line. This will make it difficult for the opponent to kill the shot.
The Z serve is a relatively safe serve that is effective in almost all types of situations. A server can hit a hard, medium, or slow Z serve, or a lob Z serve by adjusting the speed of the ball and forcing the opponent to stay on edge.
Once the serve has been made and the ball comes into play, each player will have turns hitting the ball until one misses or makes an illegal shot.
Players will earn points by putting an end to the rally through various means. Sometimes, a rally will come to an end when a player’s shot hits the front wall at the lowest point, preventing the ball from bouncing back and instead rolling out.
Points are also won when a player makes an error.
During the rally, players can make use of the sidewalls and ceiling to bounce their balls. Points are awarded to the server when they win the rally. However, if the returning player wins the rally, they will not be awarded points. Instead, the result will be a sideout and the winning player will get to serve next.
Racquetball Serve Rules
I have tried to break down the major serving rules in as simple a way as possible below.
Position for the Serve
The serving players make the serve while standing in the serving zone, which is the section between the short line and the service line:
- Both of the server’s feet must either be in front or on the short line. If either or both of his feet crosses beyond the short line into the receiving zone, then it is considered a foot fault.
- Both of the server’s feet must either be behind or on the service line. If either or both of his feet extend in front of the service line out of the service zone, then it is considered a foot fault.
The player who returns the serve must remain within the area marked by the receiving line during the service until the ball hits the floor on a valid serve or the ball crosses the receiving line.
Determining the Server
The most common way to determine who will serve first in racquetball is to flip a coin outside the court. The player who has chosen the side that the coin shows up will win the right to serve first.
If you have a referee, they can write down 1 or 2 or suggest any other fair method to determine who starts the game first.
What is a Good Serve in Racquetball?
A serve is a good serve and is qualified to be returned by the opponent if it follows the conditions mentioned below:
- The server must complete their serve in a single smooth motion
- The ball must bounce once in the service zone before it can be hit with a racket. If the ball bounces more than once, then it is deemed a sideout (more on this soon), and if it bounces outside the service zone, it is deemed a fault.
- The served ball must hit the front wall first
- The ball needs to fly beyond the short line before bouncing
- The ball can hit one side wall before its first bounce
- The ball must bounce in the space between the short line and the back wall
Side Out Serves
There are some serves that result in a side out, which can cause the server to lose the serve. The conditions are given below:
- The player makes two serving faults back to back
- A non-front wall serve, or a serve in which the ball does not hit the front wall first. This means the ball hits the floor, a side wall, or the ceiling first
- A touched serve in which a ball hits the front wall and then hits the serving player or any part of their equipment
- An illegal serve when the server, intentionally or unintentionally, carries the ball on their racket, hits the ball with the handle of the racket, hits the ball with a part of their body, or hits the ball more than once.
- A balked serve when a player begins the motion of the serve but does not finish it due to any reason
- A fake serve is when a server fakes the serve in an attempt to learn the strategy of the opponent or to deceive them into thinking they were making a serve.
Some serves are not legal and are deemed to be faulty. If the serve is a fault, then the serving player is given a second chance to serve a second time. If the server makes two faults back to back, then it is considered a side out and the right of serving will be given to the other player.
Serving faults consist of:
- A long serve, when the ball hits the front wall and then bounces to the back wall without hitting the floor in between.
- A short serve, when the ball bounces short of the short line, before flying across it.
- Three-wall serve, when the ball travels off the front wall and hits both the side wall before coming into play.
- A ceiling serve, when the ball hits the fron want and then hit the ceiling
- A screen serve when the ball hits the front wall but the rebound passes so close to the serve, that the returning player does not have a clear view of the ball to make a return.
Doubles Serving Rules
If you are playing in a team of doubles, the rules are more and less the same with a few slight differences.
- The double partner has to stand in one of the service boxes. The partner must keep both feet within the service box and their back must be to the wall during the serve until the ball flies over the short line. If they step out too early from the service box, it will be considered a foot fault.
- If a served ball hits your partner, it will be deemed a fault, not a sideout
- The team who first serves in the first game gets one side out and then the serve will go to the opponent team
- If the team who starts the serve gets a side out, both the players in the team will get a chance to serve before the serve passes to the opponent team
- Either of the players in a team can choose to serve first when it is their turn to do so
- Once a side out is called, the other player on the team will continue to serve until they perform a side out
Tips for Playing Racquetball
In order to have the most success in racquetball, you need to position yourself well and learn to exploit your opponent’s weaknesses. Here are some basic tips that can help make you a better player:
- Try to stay in the center of the racquetball court
- Avoid hitting your opponent
- Try to make the ball go to the back of the court
- Drive your opponent to the back wall
- Prevent your ball from rebounding hard off the back wall
- Make sure to warm up before each match
About THE AUTHOR
Since initially playing at the collegiate level, I have amassed several decades of experience playing racquetball, tennis, and pickleball. I have played thousands of matches and games, and won medals and awards in multiple tourantments. I am constantly improving my game and enjoy mentoring and coaching other players in strategy and technique. I have authored dozens of articles on the sport.Read More About Michael Stevens