An easy game to learn -- but a hard game to master -- indoor racquetball provides an excellent cardio workout and does wonders for your eye-hand coordination as you race around the court returning shots from all angles. Historians speculate that racquetball originated in the 1800s when when prisoners were given balls to toss against jail cell walls. In the 21st century, you're free to exit when the game is over, but you might be having too much fun to leave the court.
The standard racquetball court in America is 40 feet long and 20 feet wide. The relatively close quarters are conducive to conversation and camaraderie, especially if you play doubles. All four walls are in play in racquetball and so is the ceiling, which ratchets up the variety of shots you can play and increases the strategic complexity of the game. A "short line" at mid-court marks the spot where a serve needs to land to be in play and the service area is in the forecourt just inside the short line. A racquetball, made of rubber, is designed to carom smartly off the walls of the court when struck by the racket, which resembles a cut-down tennis racket.
The game begins when one player serves the ball. Standing inside the service box, you drop the ball and allow it to bounce -- just once -- before launching it off the front wall. After the serve hits the front wall, it can hit another wall or the ceiling before it lands past the short line. Serves can be screaming line drives or high, slow looping shots that land in a back corner of the court. If the serve doesn't hit the front wall first, or if it lands short of the short line, it is considered a fault and the server tries again. If you double fault, you lose your serve.
After a serve is successfully launched, the opposing player must return it before it bounces more than once. If you are returning serve, you must hit the front wall with your shot before the ball touches the ground. You can get the ball to the front wall in a number of ways. Hit it directly off the front wall, carom it off a side wall to the front wall wall or carom it off the ceiling to the front wall. This is where imagination, creativity and the ability to control the ball come into play. Angles are important -- you want to move your opponent around the court, get her out of position and set up "kill shots" that strike the front wall so low and hard that your opponent can't return them.
You only score points when you are serving. If you score a point, you get to keep your serve, just like in volleyball. According to USA Racquetball, the first player to 15 points is the winner of the game. If you win the first game and your opponent wins the second game, a tiebreaker to 11 points determines the winner of the match. But in a casual match, if you want to play to 11, 15 or 21, nobody is going to mind as long as you're not hogging the court.
The close quarters of racquetball require some special rules, because players bump or get in the way of one another on a regular basis. The rules require you to avoid your opponent whenever you can. If you inadvertently keep your opponent from swinging at a shot or getting to a ball by blocking her path, it's called a "hinder," and the point is played over again. Calling a hinder against an opponent is perfectly appropriate, but don't be surprised if your opponent argues the call if she thinks you couldn't have reached the ball even if unhindered. Close quarters also require special safety considerations. A racquetball can be blasted at high speeds, and your eyes are particularly vulnerable. Rackets can become accidental weapons, as well. So don't venture onto a racquetball court without protective eyewear.
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.