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Racquetball is a sport played with racquets and a hollow rubber ball on an indoor or outdoor court. It was invented by Joe Sobeck in 1949 incorporating rules from squash and handball. Unlike many other racquet sports, the walls, floor, and even ceiling of the racquetball court are considered in-bounds. The game is normally played by two players, though there are variations with three or even four (which can get very crowded). Two player games are called singles, three player games are typically called iron-man (2 on 1 during entire game) or cut-throat (each player take turns serving to the other 2), and four player games are called doubles.
Joe Sobek is credited with inventing racquetball, though not naming the sport. Sobeck, a tennis professional, and handball player, was looking for a fast paced sport that was easy to learn and play. He designed the first strung paddle, devised a set of rules based on those from squash and handball and named his game, "paddle rackets". In 1952, Sobek founded the National Paddle Rackets Association, codified the rules, and had rules booklets printed.
The new game grew quickly through Sobek's continual promotion of the game but was also aided by the estimated 40,000 existing handball courts across the country in YMCA's and JCC's which could be also be used for racquetball.
In 1969 with the help of Robert W. Kendler the president and founder of the U.S. Handball Association (USHA), the International Racquetball Association (IRA) was founded using a name coined by professional tennis player, Bob McInerny. That same year the IRA took over the National championship from the National Paddle Rackets Association. After a dispute with the board of directors of the IRA in 1973, Kendler went on to form two other racquetball organizations but the IRA has continued to be the dominant organizing force within the sport, recognized by the US Olympic Committee as the U.S. national governing body for the sport. It organized the first professional tournament in 1974 and is a founding member of the International Racquetball Federation. The IRA eventually became the American Amateur Racquetball Association (AARA) and then changed again in the later 1990's to the United States Racquetball Association (USRA). The USRA in 2003 then switched again to mirror other Olympic sports by changing its name to USA Racquetball (USAR).
Kendler used his publication ACE to promote both handball and raquetball and starting in the 1970's and aided by the fitness boom, the popularity of the sport surged with an estimated 3 million players in 1974. With the increased demand racquetball clubs and courts were founded and sporting goods manufactures began to produce equipment specific to the sport. The growth continued into the early 1980's but declined in the latter part of the decade as fitness clubs converted court space to serve a wider clientel with aerobics classes and newer fitness machines. Since that time the number of players has remained steady with about 5.6 million players.
Currently the International Racquetball Tour (IRT), Legends Tour, and Women's Professional Racquetball Organization (WPRO) handle the professional aspects of the game. The game is televised a few times per year, with the biggest televised event being the US Open championships, held in Memphis, TN. In 2005, another grand slam event was added: Pro Nationals. This event is held each year in Chicago.
A standard racquetball court is rectangular and is 40 feet long, 20 feet wide and 20 feet high. The court is marked by several red lines to define service and reception areas. The "short line" is a solid red line running the width of the court and is parallel to the front and back walls and is twenty feet from the back wall. The "service line" is parallel to the "short line" and is five feet closer to the front wall. Within the area created by these two lines ("service zone"), there are two sets of "screen lines" perpendicular to the short and service lines. The first set of screen lines are 18 inches from and parallel with the side walls and along with the short line, service line and side wall define the doubles box. 36 inches from the side wall is another set of screen lines which define the "service box" along with the short line and the service line. The "receiving line" is a dashed line five feet parallel behind the short line . A player serves the ball similarly to a tennis serve. The server must stand within the service box during serve. The service receiver must stand behind the receiving line when the serve is being made. After the serve is hit by the service receiver, there are no restrictions on where players must stand.
Starting service is chosen by one of several methods including: calling which side a spun racquet on its top will fall, hitting a ball on its first bounce closest to the short line when standing near the back wall (lag), or flipping a coin.
The player who won the last point is the server. The server must bounce the ball once on the ground, then hit the ball against the front wall, then the ball either must hit the floor behind the short line directly or hit one side walls and then hit the floor behind the short line; otherwise it is a fault. . Once it passes the back of the service box, the ball is in play and can be returned. The server is allowed two attempts at serving before side out. If the ball strikes any surface before the front wall it is a side out.
After a successful serve players alternate hitting the ball against the front wall. The ball is allowed to bounce on the floor, at most, one time before it must hit against the front wall. The player returning the hit may allow the ball to bounce once on the floor or hit the ball before it has hit the floor. 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 ground. Unlike the serve, a ball in play may touch as many walls, including the ceiling, as necessary as long as it reaches the front wall without bouncing on the floor.
Points are scored only by the server, when the served ball is not returned by an opposing player, or for some of the following rules below. Professional players play best of 5 eleven-point games, requiring a two-point margin of victory. Amateur players play 2 fifteen-point games, with an eleven-point tiebreaker if necessary. It is not necessary to win by two points in amateur racquetball.
During play, the following result in the loss of rally by a player
# The ball bounces on the floor more than once before being hit.
# The ball does not reach the front wall on the fly.
# The ball is hit such that it goes into the gallery or wall opening or else hits a surface above the normal playing area of the court that has been declared as out-of-play [See Rule 2.1(a)].
# A ball that obviously does not have the velocity or direction to hit the front wall strikes another player.
# A ball struck by a player hits that player or that player's partner.
# Committing a penalty hinder. See Rule 3.15.
# Switching hands during a rally.
# Failure to use a racquet wrist safety cord.
# Touching the ball with the body or uniform.
# Carrying or slinging the ball with the racquet.
Shots of the Game
Serve style varies drastically from player to player. Generally, they are divided into two types: offensive and defensive. Most players use an offensive serve for the first serve, and a defensive serve if they need to hit a second serve. Of the offensive serves, the most common is the drive. The intention with this serve is for the ball to travel low and fast towards either back corner, and to bounce twice before striking either side wall or the back wall. If the opponent is adjusting to the drive serve, the server will throw in any variety of jam serves. 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 the side wall. The ball bounces quickly off the side wall, then strikes the opposite side wall about 30-35 feet back. Ideally, the ball will strike the back wall before the opponent gets a chance to return.
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.
Straight-in shots are usually meant to hit the front wall as low as possible. If the ball contacts the front wall so low as to bounce twice before it reaches the service line it is called a "kill" shot. Straight-in shots are normally attempted with the idea of hitting toward the area of the court the opponent cannot cover. Straight-in shots hit where the opponent can't return them are called down-the-line and cross court passing shots.
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 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 your opponent can get to it. It is most effective of course when opponent is positioned deep in the court
The ceiling ball shot is the primary defensive shot. This is a shot that strikes the ceiling and then the front wall to bounce high and make the opponent shoot from deep in the court. Other defensive shots are the high Z and the round-the-world. The high Z is shot ten feet high or higher into the front corner. The ball then bounces from the side wall all the way to the opposite side wall, usually traveling over the top of the opponent, hitting the opposite side wall and dying deep in the court. The round-the-world shot is hit high into the side wall first so the ball then hits the front wall and then the other side wall, effectively circling the court.
A similar game, known as racketball, was adapted from racquetball by Ian D. W. Wright in the United Kingdom in 1976. It is played on a squash court (32 feet long and 21 feet wide), does not utilise the ceiling, and is played with a smaller and less bouncy ball. The ball is bounced on the floor before striking the serve. Scoring is similar to squash, but with point-a rally scoring up to 15 points. The British Racketball Association was formed on 13 February 1984 and was confirmed as the sport's governing body by the English Sports Council on 30 October 1984. The first National Racketball Championships were held in London on 1 December 1984. The sport is now played in a number of countries where squash is played, including Australia, Bermuda, France, Germany, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, and Sweden. It is also now played in some places in North America. The British Racketball Association merged with the English Squash Rackets Association on 1 September 1998.
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