Firstly, the name, and recently ESR decided that what we know as Racketball should be known as Squash57. The excuse for this unfortunate name is that the ball used in racketball is 57mm in diameter. I shall keep calling the game Racketball, but in order to avoid referring to a racketball ball, I will call the ball a 57 ball when there could be any confusion.
But also be aware that the game of Racketball is not Racquetball, which is a game played in the States with a harder ball, on a deeper court with different markings, and with many different rules.
So how does racketball differ from squash ? Well, the 57 ball is bigger, it bounces a lot more, the racket is bigger with a shorter handle and there are some special rules for racketball. But more importantly, the 57 ball is heavier and the racket is heavier. It all stems from wanting a larger and bouncier ball. The heavier 57 ball needs a heavier racket, and with a heavier racket the swing has to be different. And with a heavier and bouncier ball, the way the ball moves off the walls, especially the back wall, is different, and the ball stays hittable for longer after a back wall rebound or a drop shot.
Racketball is a sport in its own right. However, at our club we also use racketball for specific groups.
Initial thoughts of a squash player trying racketball for the first time can be of the "Aaargh - it's completely different ! It'll ruin my squash !". But these thoughts fade after a few sessions, morphing into "It's good for my squash - it makes me look at everything from a different perspective. And it has taught me I have more time than I think when I'm retrieving from the back corners."
I now regard it as the same game, with little changes required everywhere - angles, strokes, movement, power - but these changes are like fine tuning, a lttle more of this, or a little less of that.
This is where the rules differ, and they do so in four ways.
Note that receiver can play a fault serve on the first serve, and play goes on as normal, but play stops even if receiver tries to play a fault on the second serve.
Note also that a fault serve does not include below the tin, hitting server's body or out of court. In those cases, out is out. It is called serving your hand out.
So you can now hit a hard serve that hits the front wall below the service line, but you can no longer use a high lob serve that comes off the back wall. That does not mean you cannot hit a highish serve - just hit it a little shorter.
The relative weight of ball to racket head is higher in racketball than in squash. This is most apparent in the dead racket shot. In squash, a dead racket is fine for returning a hard drive as a drop shot. In racketball you must supply some racket movement or your drop will fail.
It is also noticeable when you want to return a hard drive with a hard shot. In squash, you can crack back a hard drive quite readily. In racketball, a hard driven ball can easily stop the forward momentum of a racket unless you time a hard return swing just right. Until you can hit really hard and keep your accuracy, I recommend you accept this, and return hard shots at only medium strength, going for precision over power.
One result of this change in ball weight is that timing and hitting the sweet spot become more important, and this, combined with most shots requiring a slightly more wristy action, means that even if you find that you are generally a power player, you will adapt best if you don't go all out too early.
The heavier racket means you must start your swing earlier, and the way you introduce wrist into the swing changes. A high backswing is still needed, and indeed there is very little of your squash swing technique that you should change. You need more arm and shoulder in the swing, and with the heavier racket it is harder to bring in wristy flick. Wrist power must be applied over a longer part of the swing, and so you need to bring your wrist into action earlier, whether you are going for a full power shot or a wristy cross court shot.
The swing for the drop shot should be a little more deliberate. While a squash ball will travel to the front wall from an almost dead racket, you need to guide the 57 ball to the front wall with a little more racket.
A 57 ball comes off the walls with verve. You must position yourself much further from the wall than for squash. A squash ball hitting the front wall, a side wall and then the back wall will be dying as it comes off the back wall. A 57 ball may come off the back wall several feet, so it is very important not to crowd the ball.
A 57 ball hit down the wall with a rail shot seems to be harder to scoop off the wall than a squash ball. If you hit both balls with the frame, a squash ball often squeezes itself out into the open, while a 57 ball more often just rolls under your racket and goes nowhere.
Getting back to the T is less important in racketball, for two reasons. Firstly, the ball bounces off the walls much more, so you need to get close to a corner less often. And secondly, the ball stays playable for a little longer, giving you more time to get to the ball. This is not to say that you shouldn't make every effort to get near the T after each shot. The need to hold the centre ground is just as important as in squash.
Most squash shots are perfectly applicable to racketball. At first you may find that you have to keep to strong shots to the back, but with practice drops, lobs and boasts come back into the frame. You just need to adjust the strength of each of these shots to match the racket and the ball.
Because the short racket comes round on the shot to change its angle faster than a squash racket, slightly early or late timing results in a larger error in the final angle of the ball. Put simply, this means that in racketball you need better timing of racket on ball to get the same accuracy in the angle of your shots than in squash. To compensate for less accuracy in racketball, you must take care especially that a rail doesn't come out into the court too far forcing you off the T as opponent plays from the middle of the back of the court.
I find it easier in racketball to hold a medium high backswing for a moment to deceive, before snapping off a low hard drive, but I find it harder to control the angle of my rails. I find it easier to hit the leisure centre boast, the front cross court boast, but lobs require more delicacy and must be placed with more accuracy.
Cross court or rail, the drive is just as useful in racketball. Remember that if it reaches the back wall the ball will rebound more than in squash. So an overly strong drive can relax the pressure on your opponent, as he waits for the ball to bounce out of the corner. So, often your drive should be to a nice length rather than full-bloodied. And the front kill drive can be less effective too, due to the extra bounce.
Of course, there's often a silver lining, and the opponent who is expecting a ball bouncing towards him in the middle can drop his guard, leaving himself open to being passed by either a good hugging rail, or a cross court that finds the side wall half way back.
For a drop you must play a little more positively than in squash, and for the dead racket reaction shot you must also give the racket some forward movement. This is because, as I said above, the ball to racket head weight is higher thnan in squash, and a quick ball off the front of the court has too much momentum to take its instructions from a stationary racket. No racket speed, and it is all too easy for an off-centre ball to merely twist the racket in your hand and die before it reaches the front wall. Only when you take the ball dead centre on the sweet spot can a dead racket drop work.
This shot also needs more power than in squash. It also needs more lift. The ball seems to lose more energy in its first bounce, on the side wall, than when you boast in squash. Possibly the ball loses more energy with all wall rebounds, but possibly the loss is due to the shallow angle of the boast, and this could be the 57 ball gripping the wall better, and transferring more of its energy to spin. If the latter, we should all be wary of direction changes caused by this spin, as a boast lands near the front corner.
On the other hand, perhaps we forget how much power goes into a squash boast, and fail to apply extra power to the 57 ball.
Sometimes a mishit will cause the 57 ball to spin, and this can send it quite out of shape, so you see a spinning ellipsoid gently looping towards the front wall. Maybe the size and inertia of the 57 ball means that a boast hit close to the side wall results in an out-of-shape ball hitting the side wall before the larger ball has had time to settle into shape after contact with the racket. If, just when it must rebound from the side wall and continue to the opposite front corner, your ball is in fact out of shape, the bounce will be irregular and all bets are off.
While the lob shares with the boast the characteristic of hitting the wall very soon after contact with the racket, the contact is much more steady and gentle. Lifting the ball into the air for the short trip to the back corner is unlikely to put it out of shape in the way that a hard boast will, so I do not have similar misgivings for the lob.
Indeed all you should beware of with the lob is to hit a softer shot than in squash, though this may still need positive racket movement. A gentle wristy flick does the trick, and if your shot is too soft, at least the return kill volley will sit up better for you to retrieve it than in squash.
While you still have to cope with the odd reaction shot as a mishit ball spins off the wall at an unexpected angle, you will more often find yourself in the middle with time to play an open ball. In squash, you might snap a hard shot to the back. The same shot in racketball will come off the back wall, giving your opponent an advantage. The shot to play is a delayed forcing length to the side opposite to that your opponent is expecting.
Delay and deceit are even more important than in squash, though the heavier racket means there is a slightly different tempo about the late snap drive - more arm and a longer wrist flick.
And racketball rallies can be long, as each player tries to put the ball past his opponent. Be aware that a great many long rallies end with a well placed drop shot. You have to be very aware of your opponent's position on court before you play an attacking lob or drop. Get it right, and you can wrong foot your opponent and win the point. Get it wrong and a longer rally is the best you can hope for.
So while racketball is a bit more of a "bash it and see" game, to win against a strong opponent you must be even more on the look out for an advantage - a loose shot, opponent out of position, or a simple mishit - and press that advantage home with the right shot, with accuracy and correct length.
Copyright (C) Richard Hart 2015 - 2018