The Ultimate Guide to Racquetball – Rules, Tips, and Variations

Racquetball is a fast-paced sport you may have seen through the looking glass at your local gym. It’s easy to learn and a wonderful way to get your cardio in, while simultaneously having a lot of fun.

Originally called “Rackets”, the game itself is less than a century old.

We’ll give you a brief summary of the rules and how to play racquetball, as well as some pointers on how to improve your status from beginner to elite.

HOW TO PLAY RACQUETBALL

Racquetball is similar to tennis in that each player has a racquet and there’s one ball. It can be played 1 on 1, 2 on 2, or 1 on 1 on 1 (in a game called cut throat, but we’ll get to that later!).

The game is generally played in an enclosed court, with all four walls and the ceiling in play.

For 1 on 1, the game begins with a server standing inside a box in the middle of the court, while the other player stands anywhere behind the box. The server bounces the ball then strikes the ball with their racquet. The ball must hit the front wall on a fly then land behind the server box without hitting the back wall on a fly.

On a fly” means simply that the ball does not hit the ground first.

The other player must hit the ball before it bounces on the ground twice and hit the front wall on a fly. Players alternate hits until the ball bounces twice or the front wall is not hit on a fly.

Racquetball is a game where players are constantly on the move and those who think they’re in good shape will likely be humbled. Endurance is a key attribute in strong players.

For you visual learners out there, this is what a rally looks like.

Don’t worry. You don’t have to dive on the hard floor if you’re a beginner!

RACQUETBALL RULES

If the server wins a rally, they receive a point and serve again. If the returner wins a rally, they do not receive a point, but get to serve the next rally.

The server has two chances to make a successful serve. If they fail on both, it is a double fault and the opposing player is given a point and gets to serve the next point.

Some additional official rules (in case you’re playing with a stickler):

SINGLES

This term refers to the most commonly playing format: 1 on 1 racquetball. We suggest beginners stick to singles play until getting more experienced to decrease the chances of hitting other players with the ball.

  • During a point, a player can hit the ball against the back wall first, or the ceiling, as long as it hits the front wall on a fly.

  • The returner cannot pass the hash mark line until after the ball has been served.

  • When serving, if the ball hits the back wall on a fly, it is a fault. If it was going to hit the back wall, but the player returns the serve instead, the rally continues.

  • When serving, if the ball hits a side wall before hitting the front wall, the server loses that point, even if it was on their first serve, and the other player serves the next point.

  • If a player gets in the way of the other player during a rally, the player that was obstructed may call “hinder” and the point will be replayed.

  • If the ball hits a player’s racquet twice, or their body, they lose the point.

  • If one player hits the other player with the ball, the point is replayed as long as the shot would have hit the front wall on a fly.

  • If during the rally, the ball hits the front wall then the back wall, the ball can hit the front wall again before the next shot, as long it hasn’t bounced more than once. It’s rare, but it happens.

DOUBLES

The game changes substantially when there are four bodies on the court. There’s a heightened intensity to each point as rallies are fast-paced and players have less time to make decisions. The camaraderie of playing as a team, and having less ground to cover, changes the dynamic and can make the experience more enjoyable.

More basic doubles rules include:

  • Teams alternate hits. Either player can be the person to hit ball when it is their team’s turn.

  • While each team usually has one player for each side of the court, players are allowed anywhere on the court during a point.

  • Each player on a team gets their own chance to serve. This means that after the first player on a team loses a service point, that team remains in service, until the other teammate loses a service point.

Find additional doubles rules here.

CUT THROAT

Many racquetball players claim cutthroat to be their favorite game to play because it constantly pins one player against the other two. This game presents the biggest test of endurance and tends to take longer than a typical singles or doubles game.

More basic cut throat rules include:

  • The server is always playing against the other two players, and only the player serving can get a point.

  • The serve rotates in the same order throughout the game.

  • If Players A, B, and C were playing. Player A would serve first, then Player B or C can return the serve, then Player A must hit the ball, then again Player B or C can hit the ball. If Player A wins the rally, they are given a point and get to serve the next point. If Player A loses the rally, then it’s Player B’s turn to serve, and the same rules apply.

Find additional cut throat rules here.

SCORING

  • The server calls out the score before each point, saying their score first regardless of who is winning.

  • Games are played to 11, 15, or 21 with the players choosing if you must win by 2 points.

  • When players with uneven skill levels face each other, the weaker player is often given a few points to start off with to even the playing field.

Find more on how to keep score here.

TIPS FOR WINNING AT RACQUETBALL

Racquetball

Image Source Flickr user Fort Rucker

Okay, so now you kinda sorta know how to play racquetball. The questions are:

How do you improve?

How do you win?

How do you not look like a complete dork in racquetball goggles?

Well, there is no answer to the third question, but let’s cover the first two.

HIT IT LOW

A “kill shot” is when the ball hits the very bottom of the front wall, making it nearly impossible for your opponent to return it. This can be risky though, because if you hit it too low, the ball will hit the ground first and lose you the point.

HIT IT HARD

The harder you hit the ball, the less time your opponent has to return it. But power isn’t everything. Soft a low is almost always better than hard and high. So you don’t want to swing so hard you have no control over where the ball goes.

USE THE CEILING

A “ceiling shot” is a safe and defensive shot that is often difficult for your opponent to return. If you find yourself in a rally and unable to position yourself.to go for a kill shot, hitting the ceiling is a strong alternative. Here is an example:

EXPOSE YOUR OPPONENT’S WEAKNESSES

Most players have strengths and weaknesses. If their forehand is strong, attack their backhand. If they can’t return ceiling shots well, keep hitting that ceiling until they prove they can.

DEVELOP A STRONG SERVE

Similar to tennis, a strong serve can win you points before even getting into a long rally.

Types of serves include:

  • Drive Serve - This serve is about power and placement. You aim for the ball to end up in the corner of your opponent’s backhand, with the speed of the hit giving them as little time as possible to make a return.

  • Lob Serve - As the name suggests, this serve involves the lobbing the ball, also into the corner of your opponent’s backhand, making it very difficult for them to hit a strong return. This is commonly used as a second serve because it does generally result in an Ace, or a point without a return.

  • Z Serve - Usually hit by more advanced players, this serve resembles a “Z” as it hits the front wall, then the side wall, and then the other side wall. It has a high spin rate and is exceedingly difficult to return. It also looks really call when done well.

Find more variations on these serves here.

MAKE YOUR OPPONENT RUN

As a player becomes fatigued, they have less control over their shot. The harder you make them work at the start of a game, the less sharp they are toward the end.

Find more on how fatigue affects a player’s performance here.

PRACTICE ON YOUR OWN

Playing games is more fun than practicing. Anyone who argues otherwise is either lying or extremely anti-social. Here are some great drills to hone your skills: