Shane Vanderson discusses how top racquetball players will constantly vary the height, speed, and angle of their serves. This strategy will keep their opponent off-balance and prevent the serve from becoming predictable.
Why do so many racquetball players hit the wrong shot at the wrong time? In other words, why do players make poor shot selections which are easily retrieved by their opponents, or even worse, hit a skip shot into the floor?
I believe many players get on the court and play in style which I describe as being on cruise-control with only one set speed and direction. What I mean is that your ingrained habits of play will severely limit your range of shot selections at any given moment during a match.
So, in order to improve your ability to take the right shot at the right time, you first need to learn to pay attention to the court position of your opponent. And second, you adhere to a set of shot selection guidelines until they become completely instinctual.
Shot Selection Guidelines
Play off the back wall. In midcourt, if the ball coming from the front wall is waist high or higher, then let it pass you and hit a shot off of the back wall. Do not defend the back wall like a goalkeeper. You do not need to volley the ball in the air. After striking the floor and then the back wall, the ball will slow down, making it much easier to hit at knee level.
Watch your opponent. If your opponent is behind you, and the ball is at knee level or below, then hit a pinch shot into the closest corner. If your opponent is next to you, hit a passing shot. If your opponent is in front of you, use a passing or ceiling shot.
Passing shots should be struck when the ball is between knee and waist high. If the ball is above waist high, then hit a ceiling ball or around the wall shot.
Whenever in doubt, hit a tight down the line shot.
Eliminate skip balls. Hitting good passing angles is more important than hitting the ball low. Passing shots should hit 12″ to 24″ high on the front wall.
This is another really nice video by Jo Shattuck demonstrating the proper racquetball forehand and backhand strokes, followed by a demonstration of the two-step drive serve technique.
First, notice that she shows how the swing is driven by hip rotation. Second, she is facing the front wall at the finish of her strokes. These are both vital elements of mechanically correct racquetball swing.
Racquetball Terminology and Vocabulary
Alley – the area along the court’s side walls, a Down the Line shot is targeted along this lane.
Appeal – the process allowed in official tournament play through which a player may challenge the ruling of a Line Judge.
Around-the-Wall Shot – a hard to return shot which travels from one side wall to the front wall, then the other side wall, before reaching the ground.
Failure to Move – a player does not move away from the ball’s path in order to give his or her opponent the opportunity to return a shot cross court or down the line.
Stroke Interference – a player moves or does not move in a way that prevents the opponent from taking a full swing when attempting to return the ball.
Moving into the Ball – stepping into the path of a ball being returned, preventing it from reaching its target..
Back Wall – the wall 40 ft from and running parallel to the Front Wall which players face away from during the serve; generally shots which intentionally reach or come close to the back wall are Defensive Shots.
Bye – a guaranteed pass into the next round of a tournament, usually awarded to the top ranked players to allow them to bypass the first round without having to play a game.
Ceiling Shot – when the ball hits the ceiling before it hits the front wall, it then hits the floor and takes a high bounce into the back court; generally a defensive shot used by highly skilled players to move their opponents from the safety of the Center Court position.
Center Court – the most desirable position to hold on court, midway between the side walls and just behind the Five Foot Line.
Cut-Throat – a racquetball variant for three players in which two players team up against the server, with players alternating at the server position.
Dead Ball – the ball at the end of a Rally; no longer playable until it is served again
Defensive Shot – a strategic shot intended to force an opponent out of his or her position at Center Court and into a more far-flung place such as a back court corner and perhaps set up a scoring opportunity on a later shot.
Donut – a shutout game in which one player loses without scoring for a final score of 15-0 (the zero sort of resembles a donut).
Draw – the positioning of players in a tournament bracket, also known as seeding.
Drive – an aggressively hit, fast moving ball.
Drive Serve – a hard and low serve, usually an attempt to get an Ace.
Drive service zone – line in the service area one on each end three feet from the side wall on each side designating areas restricted from entering when hitting a Drive Serve.
Short Serve – the ball lands on or in front of the Short Line.
Long Serve – ball strikes the Back Wall before hitting the ground.
Three Wall Serve – the ball strikes the Front Wall and both side walls before hitting the floor.
Foot Fault – the server steps over the line during the serve.
Out of Court Serve – ball bounces off the front wall and leaves the court area before bouncing off the floor.
Screen Serve – a served ball that rebounds so close to the server that is or her opponent is prevented from a fair chance at returning the serve.
Forehand – an essential stroke that moves from the racquet hand side across the body, the most common shot.
Forfeit – conceding a game to an opponent, whether voluntarily or involuntarily due to absence.
Grip – the manner in which the hand holds the racquet.
Half-Lob – a 10 ft high and slow moving serve intended to bounce just before the Five-foot line and rebound at the height of the opponent’s shoulder.
Hand-Out – See Half-Out.
High Lob Z – a slow-moving 15 to 18 ft high serve to the Front Wall near to a side wall which rebounds in a Z-shaped pattern.
Hinder – a situation that requires a replay because of interference or obstructed view; several situations result in a hinder call:
Court Hinder – called when the ball rebounds off an irregular or rough court surface, segments of the court may be designated as hinders.
Ball Hits Opponent – a return attempt hits the opponent before it hits the front wall, this is not considered a hinder if the ball, prior to hitting the opponent, does not appear to have the needed force or direction to reach the front wall.
Body Contact with Opponent – contact between the two players that prevents a return, incidental contact which has no effect on either player’s ability to return the ball is not ruled a hinder.
Lob Serve – A softly hit serve that rebounds high along the sidewall and heads slowly into a rear corner, it is often used as a second serve.
Long Serve – See Fault.
Match Point – the serving player or team needs to score only once more in order to win the match.
Out of Court Ball – a ball outside of the court’s boundaries.
Out Serve – a rules violation during the serve which immediately results in a loss of service or, in doubles, a Half-Out, these violations are:
Two Consecutive Faults – See Fault.
Missed Serve Attempt – a failed serve in which the swung racket completely misses the ball , the ball can, however be picked up by hand before the serve without a penalty.
Touched Serve – A rebounding serve makes contact with the server.
Fake Serve – an attempt to trick the opponent by pretending to serve, such as starting the swinging motion and then catching the ball before making contact; this is only an Out Serve if the referee rules it intentional.
Illegal Hit – hitting the ball more than once, carrying the ball with the racket, hitting the ball with the racket handle, the hand or anything other than the racket face.
Non-Front-Wall Serve – a serve striking any surface before hitting the Front Wall.
Crotch Serve – A serve hitting exactly the corner of the front wall, simultaneously striking the front wall and a side wall.
Out of Court Serve – a serve which hits the Front Wall and then rebounds outside of the court’s boundaries.
Overhead – a shot hit from above the shoulder, hard and fast in a downward direction toward the front wall.
Pass Shot –a shot hit near the side wall — it can be struck Down the Line or Cross Court – and should be outside of the reach of an opponent.
Pinch Shot – a hard and low shot aimed at a front corner, striking the side wall before the front wall.
Penalty Hinder – See Avoidable Hinder.
Plum – a set up opportunity for a great Offensive Shot, usually a shot which can be hit at knee level or lower.
Rally – an alternating series of shots that continues from the serve until a point is scored or a Side Out is achieved.
Ranking – a categorizing of players’ ability levels, often based on their placing in tournaments.
Rating – an evaluation of players’ ability levels, based on their success versus local opponents.
Receiving Line – the dotted line running parallel to and five feet behind the Short Line, running parallel to and 15 feet in front of the back wall.
Referee – the head officiator in charge of making decisions about rules.
Reverse Pinch Shot – a hard and low Offensive Shot which bounces from a sidewall to the corner opposite the hitter’s racquet hand.
Rollout – A perfect shot that hits the front wall at the Bottom Board so close to the floor that it rebounds without a bounce by rolling back into the court; virtually impossible to retrieve.
Safety Hinder – a halt in play caused by a situation that could lead to injury from the racket or the ball; the Rally is replayed.
Safety Zone Violation – entering the Safety Zone before the served ball bounces.
Screen – a rebounding ball that comes too close to the now defender, preventing the opponent from a fair chance to return the ball either because of limited physical space or visibility, this can be a Fault serve.
Serve – initial shot that begins play at the game’s beginning and after each Rally; a legal serve must be hit from inside the Service Zone and rebound off the Front Wall and then hit the floor behind the Short Line. See Fault.
Server – the player hitting the serve; the only player who can score.
Service Box – the box at each end of the court, parallel to the side wall and in between the Service Line and the Short Line; in Doubles the server’s partner must stand in this box until the served ball crosses the Short Line.
Service Line – the line parallel to the Front Wall 15 feet back, all serves must be hit from behind this line.
Service Return – The shot used to return the ball after the serve.
Short Serve – See Fault.
Short Hop – a shot returned quickly, just after the ball hits the ground – a low fast shot that takes skill to execute and is hard to return.
Singles – the standard game format, two players against each other.
Skip Ball – a too-low shot that hits the floor before it reaches the front wall.
Splat – An offensive shot hit from close to the side wall directly into the side wall at high speed, which then caroms at a sharp angle into the front wall at the Bottom Board.
Wallpaper Shot – a Down the Line shot that rebounds straight and sliding along a side wall, very difficult to return.
Z serve – a serve that rebounds off the front wall, then hits the side wall, followed by the floor, and then the other side wall near the back wall.