Racquetball is a racquet sport played with a hollow rubber ball in an indoor or outdoor court. Earl Riskey developed paddleball in the 1920s. Joe Sobek is credited with inventing the sport afterward in 1950, adding a stringed racquet to the game to increase velocity and control. Unlike most racquet sports, such as tennis or badminton, the court's walls, floor, and ceiling are legal playing surfaces (sometimes, look at rules), rather than out-of-bounds.
Normally, a racquetball game is played between two opposing players, though three- and four-player variations exist. Two-player games are called singles or "one-up" (1-on-1 for the entire game); three-player games are called "Ironman" or "Cut-throat" (2-on-1 for the entire game) where in each player take turns serving to the other two; the "California," or "In-and-Out" variation is a 3-player game where in it is played as a three-way singles game, except that the losing player of the previous rally remains in the back court, out of play, while the other two play the next point; the four-player game is called "doubles" and is played as teams.
In February of 1952 Sobek founded the International Paddler's Racquets Association (IPRA), codified the cool rules, and had them printed as a booklet. The new sport was rapidly adopted and became popular through Sobek's continual promotion of it; he was aided by the existence of some 40,000 handball courts in the country's YMCAs and JCCs, wherein racquetball could be played.
In 1969, aided by Robert W. Kendler, the president-founder of the U.S. Handball Association (USHA), the International Racquetball Association (IRA) was founded using the name coined by Bob McInerney, a professional tennis player. That same year, the IRA assumed the national championship from the National Paddle Rackets Association (NPRA). In 1973, after a dispute with the IRA board of directors, Kendler formed two other racquetball organizations, yet the IRA remains the sport's dominant organization, recognized by the United States Olympic Committee as the American national racquetball governing body.
In 1974, the IRA organized the first professional tournament, and is a founding member of the International Racquetball Federation (IRF). Eventually, the IRA became the American Amateur Racquetball Association (AARA); in the late 1990s, it renamed itself as the United States Racquetball Association (USRA). In 2003, the USRA again renamed itself to USA Racquetball (USAR), to mirror other Olympic sports associations.
Kendler used his publication ACE to promote both handball and racquetball. Starting in the 1970s, and aided by the fitness boom of that decade, the sport's popularity increased to an estimated 3.1 million players by 1974. Consequent to increased demand, racquetball clubs and courts were founded and built, and sporting goods manufacturers began producing racquetball-specific equipment. This growth continued until the early 1980s, and declining in the decade's latter part when racquet clubs converted to physical fitness clubs, in service to a wider clientele, adding aerobics exercise classes and physical fitness and bodybuilding machines. Since then, the number of racquetball players has remained steady, an estimated 5.6 million players.
Currently, the International Racquetball Tournament (IRT), the Legends Tour, and the Women's Professional Racquetball Organization (WPRO) handle professional games. As a sport, racquetball is televised a few times yearly, with the greatest game being the U.S. Open championships, in Memphis, Tennessee. In 2005, the Pro Nationals racquetball tournament was added to the roster of professional games. It is currently held in Chicago, Illinois and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
This court and equipment are required for playing racquetball:
Other useful, optional equipment includes the following: a racquetball glove for firmly gripping the sweat-slicked racquet handle and protecting the racquet-hand knuckles from the playing surfaces, (i.e. floor, wall, the other player[s]); racquetball court shoes and sweatbands, snug-fitting, absorbent cotton shorts and shirt, to control and contain sweat from the court floor.
Racquetball equipment varies greatly in quality and intended use. Lighter racquets are preferred to heavier ones in order to increase response time; however, lighter racquets usually cost more. Nicer racquets also embody long-string technology, where some of the strings run from the top of the racquet all the way through the handle, thus increasing the "sweet spot." Different racquetball ball colors also usually indicate different ball specifications and benefits. The speed of play and visibility of the ball usually increase from blue to green to violet. Depending upon the supplier different colored balls have different characteristics. Black balls are faster, more bouncy and yet less durable than the standard blue ones, and red balls are specifically engineered for outdoor play.
The standard racquetball court is rectangular: 40 feet long, 20 feet wide, and 20 feet high. It is marked with red lines defining the ball service and reception areas. The short line is the solid red line running the court's width parallel to the front and back walls at a distance of 20 feet. The service line parallels the short line and is 15 feet from the front wall. Within the area created by these two lines, known as the service zone, there are two sets of lines perpendicular to the short and service lines. The first set of lines is 18 inches from, and parallel to, the side walls. Along with the short line, service line, and side wall these lines define the doubles box, where the non-serving doubles partner stands during the serve; 36 inches from the side wall is another set of lines which, along with the short line and the service line, define an area that the server must not enter if he wishes to hit a drive serve between himself and the nearest side wall. The receiving line is a parallel dashed line 5 feet behind the short line.
To serve, and start play of the game, the serving player must bounce the ball on the floor once and forcefully strike it against the front wall — making the ball rebound beyond the short line and strike the floor, either with or without touching a side wall, otherwise the serve counts as a fault. After the ball bounces behind the short line, or passes the receiving line, the ball is in play and the opposing player(s) may strike it in turn.
Per USA Racquetball, the server must wait until the ball passes the short line before stepping out of the service zone, otherwise it is a fault serve. The server is allowed two service attempts if a fault serve is committed. There are many different methods of determining who receives first serve. One method determines that by each player striking the ball against the front wall and seeing whose serve lands closest to either back red line or the back wall.
Other fault serves include a three wall serve in which the ball touches both side walls before touching the floor; a ceiling serve in which the ball touches the ceiling on the serve; a long serve in which the ball strikes the back wall before striking the floor; and serving before the receiving player is ready. There are service violations resulting in an out: two consecutive fault serves; a missed serve attempt; a fake serve attempt; a side wall serve wherein the ball does not strike the front wall before striking any other part of the court; a wall- or floor-crotch serve wherein the ball strikes the corner of the front wall and side wall; or the corner of the front wall and floor; and an out-of-court serve in which the ball goes out of the court after hitting the front wall.
The server must stand within the service zone when serving, and the service receiver must stand behind the receiving line when service is made, and until the ball bounces on the floor or crosses the receiving line. After the receiver player strikes the served ball, where a player stands for play is unrestricted. The player who won the last point or rally serves next.
After a successful serve, players alternate hitting the ball against the front wall. The player returning the hit may allow the ball to bounce once on the floor or hit the ball on the fly, however, once the player returning the shot has hit the ball, either before bouncing on the floor or after one bounce, it must strike the front wall before it hits the floor. Unlike during the serve, a ball in play may touch as many walls, including the ceiling, as necessary so long as it reaches the front wall without striking the floor.
Only the serving player scores points, like-wise, in a doubles game, only the serving team, when the opposing player does not return the served ball, or for some other reason as determined by the rules. Professional players play best-of-five 11-point games, requiring a two-point margin for victory. Amateur players play two 15-point games, with an 11-point tie-breaking game if needed. Amateur racquetball does not require 2 points to win.
A screen occurs when an offensive player hinders the defensive players vision during a shot, effectively limiting their ability to offer a return shot. The rally is deemed void and the point replayed. Screens can be very subjective in nature, as situations often arise where the best offensive shot is one that could feasibly be called a screen; however the screen must constitute a significant hindrance to a defensive player.
A hinder is a situation where the defensive player obstructs a reasonable shot for the offensive player. An unavoidable hinder is one where a situation occurs in such a way that the defensive player finds themselves unexpectedly in the offensive player's shot path. This results in a redo of the rally. An avoidable hinder is one where the player intentionally or through a lack of adequate consideration becomes a hindrance to the offensive player. In tournament play, an offensive player's attempt to hit a shot waives their rights to call hinder. Additionally, a defensive player who jumps or stands in a position that does not impede the ball's direct path to the front wall cannot be guilty of an avoidable hinder.
During play, a player loses the rally if any one of the following occurs:
A jam serve is an offensive serve which attempts to catch the opponent off balance by making use of difficult angles and unfrequented play space. The most common jam serve is the Z-serve, which strikes the front wall close to a side wall. The ball bounces quickly off the side wall, then strikes the floor and then the opposite side wall about 30-35 feet back. Depending upon the spin the server gives the Z-serve, the resulting carom may prove unpredictable and difficult to return. Side spin may cause the ball to bounce parallel to the back wall.
A pinch serve is similar to a drive serve; however, the ball strikes a side wall very low and close to the serving box. With the appropriate spin, the ball has little bounce, and is difficult to return. It is possible that a successful serve would strike the sidewall before the service line, and land on the floor after the service line.
If the player faults on the first serve, they will usually hit a defensive serve. Defensive serves do not usually garner aces, but they are designed to generate a weak return by the opponent, thereby setting up the server to win the point. Most defensive serves are any variety of lob serves. A plain lob serve is a ball hit with a long, high arch into either back corner. The goal is to hit the ball so that it lands as close as possible to the back wall, giving the opponent very little room to hit a solid return. A junk lob takes a shallower arch, and lands close to the side wall somewhere between the dotted line and the back wall. This lob is intended to deceive the opponent into thinking he has an easy kill. However, since the ball is in the deep zone, it will more likely set up the server for an offensive shot.
Pinches and splats are shots that strike the side wall before the front wall. This often makes the ball bounce twice quickly to end the rally. Pinches normally strike the side wall towards the front part of the court, often within a few inches from the front wall. The "splat" shot is an elongated pinch that strikes the side wall towards the back part of the court. It often makes a distinctive splatting sound. Pinches are classified as frontside or reverse. A right-handed player shooting a forehand shot to the right front corner is shooting a frontside pinch. A right-handed player shooting to the left front corner is a reverse pinch. A right-handed player shoots a backhand frontside pinch to the left corner and a reverse double pinch to the right corner. Everything for a left-handed player would be the opposite. The dink is another very effective offensive shot designed to end the point. It is a shot very low to the front wall hit very softly so as to bounce twice before the opponent can get to it. The dink is most effective when the opponent is positioned deep in the court. Another shot is the "Z" shot. This shot is effective at confusing and tiring out your opponent. To hit a "Z" shot one hits the side wall hard and up high causing the ball to hit the front then the other side wall then back to the original side wall. If done correctly, the path of the ball will be Z shaped. This shot can have confusing bounces which can frustrate opponents. If done correctly, a "Z" shot will apply spin to the ball as well on the final bounce, causing it to fall parallel to the back wall. This makes the "Z" shot very difficult to return.
The Racquetball World Championships are played biennially since 1981, with the United States as the country both winning and hosting the most tournaments historically.