A Review of Racquetball Serving Rules
Learn basic serving rules for racquetball with our help!
Racquetball was designed to be easy to learn. Blending elements of squash, paddleball, and handball, racquetball is a unique, fast-paced racquet sport with minimal equipment needs to start. Once you have access to a court, all you need is a ball and a racquet (though you should also wear protective eyewear because racquetballs move fast).
The best way to learn the game is to jump in and play, but it’s a good idea to have some understanding of the serving rules for racquetball and the point structure/how to score. Once you understand those aspects of the game, you are ready to play!
Order of the Court
A regulation racquetball court is 20 feet wide, 20 feet tall, and 40 feet long. Racquetball back wall rules say that the back wall must be at least 12 feet tall. During a game, it is legal to hit the ball against any wall of the court as well as against the ceiling.
One of the first things most people notice about the court is the series of lines that run across the middle. According to the official racquetball rules, these lines are called the service line, the short line, and the receiving line. These lines are important to the rules surrounding racquetball serves, so we’ll get into what they mean in the next section.
While racquetball is thought of as an indoor game, there are outdoor variants. Outdoor racquetball rules don’t specify court dimensions. Generally, the idea is that you adapt your game to the individual court on which you play. Many outdoor courts don’t have back walls or lines painted on the court! It makes for a very interesting style of play.
It’s important to note that an indoor court’s surface can be damaged by grit and rocks stuck in the tread of a player’s shoe, so it is always a good idea to wear indoor shoes while playing.
But now that you understand where to play, it’s time to go over the rules that tell you how to play.
Serving Rules for Racquetball
The most rules-heavy part of the game is the serve. There are a lot of specific rules around racquetball serves, but when you get on the court, you realize they are pretty intuitive.
The first thing to know about serving is how the lines on the court work. The line 15 feet back from the front wall is the service line. Five feet back from that is the short line. Those lines make the service zone. When serving, the player must stand inside the service zone, and their foot cannot cross the service line.
The serving player bounces the ball in the service zone and hits it against the front wall. For the serve to be legal, the ball must cross the short line before bouncing. You are allowed to serve the ball in such a way that it bounces off one of the sidewalls after it hits the front wall, but before it bounces past the short line.
The broken line five feet back from the short line is the receiving line. The player receiving the serve must keep their whole body, including their racquet, behind that line until the ball bounces after crossing the short line.
Those are the basic rules for a legal serve, but there are several rules dictating what is and is not a legal serve.
What Makes an Illegal Serve?
If the serving player bounces the ball outside the service zone during the serve or steps in front of the service line, that is a fault. Additionally, once the ball is hit out of the service zone, it must hit the front wall before it hits the ground or a sidewall. If the ball hits the spot where the floor and front wall meet, that’s a fault. Two faults in a row and you lose the serve.
For your serve to count, you need to be careful about where it goes before it passes the short line and hits the ground. Your serve cannot hit the ceiling. Your serve cannot hit the back wall before hitting the ground. And though you can hit your serve in such a way that it hits a side wall after hitting the front wall, your serve will not count if it hits both side walls before bouncing.
The last thing you need to be careful of while serving is blocking your opponent’s view of the ball. Obstructing your opponent’s view reduces their reaction time, putting them at a severe disadvantage competitively and potentially putting them in harm’s way.
A racquetball moves very quickly. The balls themselves aren’t terribly heavy, but they can hurt when they hit someone at the speeds they can travel. And if a person isn’t wearing proper eye protection and that racquetball comes screaming off the front wall, and they can’t see it to react? They could potentially face permanent damage to their vision. So don’t obstruct your opponent’s view. It’s against the rules and could be dangerous.
Service with Strategy
Now that you know the elements of a serve and what you aren’t allowed to do from the service zone, you can start to think about how to serve strategically. The elements a serve must have are a bounce in the service zone before the ball is struck into the front wall leading to a bounce on the floor past the short line — so how can you use that to your advantage?
One thing you can do is aim your serve to your opponent’s weak side. If they tend to use a forehand swing more often, aim for their backhand and vice versa.
You can also vary the type of serve you use. There are three main types of serve in racquetball.
Drive serves are fast, direct, and powerful. Lob serves don’t use as much power but are designed to mess with your opponent with the bounce placement that forces them to hit a weak return shot. Z serves use the geometry of the court to your advantage — these serves hit the front wall, then bounce off a side wall before crossing the short line.
When you watch players serve, you will notice that their swings are more lateral than the overhead serves you see in a sport like tennis. Technically, you are allowed to serve overhand. But remember, you still have to bounce the ball before you hit it to the front wall, and the ball has to carry past the short line before bouncing.
Overhead serves are difficult to master because if you mistime them even a little, you will drive your serve down. However, many outdoor racquetball players have come up with overhand techniques to make for effective service style changes during a game.
How Do You Win?
Once you’re familiar with the court, serving rules for racquetball and how to start a rally, you probably want to know how to play the game. Racquetball uses a modified best-two-out-of-three-games structure.
The first two games in a match are played until a player reaches 15 points. If a third game is necessary, that game is played to 11 points. You do not need to win by a two-point margin officially, but some casual players like to use that as an informal rule.
You can only earn points in racquetball when you are serving. You win a rally if one of the following occurs:
- The ball bounces more than once before your opponent plays their return shot
- The ball hits the ground before it hits the front wall after your opponent makes a shot
- If there is a viewing gallery or an open door and your opponent hits the ball out of the court
- The ball hits you and was not going to make it to the front wall
- The ball hits your opponent as they try to hit it
- Your opponent switches their racquet hand during the point
- Your opponent carries the ball or hits it twice before it gets to the front wall
- Your opponent touches the ball with their body or clothes
- Your opponent makes two illegal serves in a row
If you win a rally when you are not serving, you do not get the point. Instead, you get to take over the serve.
In the first game of a match, the player who wins a coin flip serves first. The opposite player serves first in game two. If a third game is necessary, the player who has scored the highest total points serves first.
There is one more rule you should be aware of. If you’ve spent time listening to racquetball players, you may have had cause to wonder what is a hinder in racquetball?
A hinder is when one player obstructs another player’s movement or view of the ball. If you block your opponent’s view or stand in such a way that they would hit you if they took a full swing, you have hindered your opponent.
Typically, if the hinder was an accident, the point is simply replayed.
Racquetball isn’t only a one-on-one game. Doubles are also a great way to play. For this, there are just a few changes to the racquetball rules. Doubles can be a fun way to incorporate more players into what is already a social game.
The main difference with doubles comes with the serve. When you are serving, your partner must stand in the service area, with their back against a side wall, until the serve passes the short line.
Except for the first service of the game, a team does not lose the serve until both players have lost a rally while serving. Once the ball is in play, either team member can return the shot.
All You Need to Know about serving rules for racquetball to Get Started
There are more nuances that you will come to understand as you play more — for example, the ball does not have to bounce before you return it, but once you hit the ball, it must hit the front wall before it hits the ground.
You’ve been given a great deal of detail here, so to review, here are the main five racquetball rules:
- The first player to serve is chosen by random chance. The first service goes to the other player in game two. The player with the most total points starts game three if needed.
- The ball must bounce in the service zone before being hit to the front wall and then bouncing past the short line to be a legal serve.
- Once the ball is in play, it must be returned against the front wall
- Apart from the serve, the ball can hit the ceiling or any number of walls as long as a player hits the ball in such a way that it does not bounce off the ground before hitting the front wall.
- A hinder is when one player obstructs the other player’s view of the ball or movement toward the ball.
That’s all you need to know about serving rules for racquetball. So grab your shoes, don your goggles, and pick up your racquet — the best sport in the world is waiting for you.