We all get asked from time to time about which hobbies we enjoy or what sports we might play. And more often than not, when we answer “I play squash”, we’ll receive a knowing nod and then the predicted response:
“Oh yeah, I know, it’s like racquetball.”
You may well think that squash and racquetball are the same thing, but actually that certainly isn’t true!
Are squash and racquetball the same thing? Squash and racquetball are two distinct sports. Both share a similar enclosed court, and use rackets and balls, but there are numerous differences between the two. These include the dimensions of the court, the bounciness of the ball, and the techniques required.
In this article, I’m going to explore the differences between squash and racquetball, how the games are similar and what makes them different. We’ll get into a little bit of history behind the games too.
Squash and racquetball are similar in some respects, both games are played with rackets on a closed court. Yet, straight away racquetball wins points in the recognition column because its name is derived from two components integral to playing the sport: a racket and a ball. It’s an easy game for people to recognize by its very name, even if they’ve never played it before. Squash? Not so much.
Squash, for people not in the know, is likely to be associated with a large member of the gourd family, a sort of elongated pumpkin, if you will. Which invariably leads us to begin explaining the game by making a comparison, giving a point of reference.
“No. Squash is a game. It’s kind of like racquetball.”
While both sports employ the swinging of a racket to strike a ball and are played between two opponents running back and forth in an enclosed court, this is a similarity casually observed at first glance.
A Punctured Ball And A Bored Guy From Connecticut
Why is it called squash? That’s the question that always follows any explanation of what squash is. Couldn’t they have come up with a better name? They could have but they didn’t.
The game came to be called squash because in 1830 students at the Harrow School in England were toying with the existing game of rackets. By chance, they discovered that when a punctured ball is hit against the wall it “squashes” and bounces back unpredictably.
In other words, the game of squash was created by observing a punctured ‘racket” ball bounce and deciding that it was thus more challenging and fun to hit a defective ball than an intact one. Eventually, softer “squashed” balls were produced along with the hard balls that are still used in the game of rackets.
Racquetball was born out of boredom. Back in 1949 Joe Sobek, a handball and tennis player from Connecticut was growing bored with his indoor sports choices. He liked tennis and handball well enough but had the idea to combine both sports to create something faster that could be played indoors year round.
He modified an old tennis racket and began hitting handballs against a wall. A lunatic? Perhaps. Nonetheless, he persisted.
A few prototypes later he had created the first racquetball racket, introduced it to friends, and by the early 70s, the game was a phenomenon. It seemed that everyone was now playing and racquetball courts were being built across the country.
Balls And Rackets
The rackets for both sports today feature composite construction from materials such as titanium or graphite, but were once made of wood, usually ash.
Squash rackets can measure up to 68.5cm in length, which is 12.7 cm longer than the maximum length for racquetball stick. Squash rackets once featured exclusively circular heads and resembled badminton rackets.
Beginning in the 80s the heads began to take on a more of a tear-drop shape similar to what had already developed with racquetball rackets. Racquetball sticks still feature a wider head than a squash racket.
Squash balls are softer than racquetballs and measure 4 cm in diameter. The balls used in racquetball are slightly larger, have much more bounce and measure nearly 6 cm in diameter.
The Combat Zone: Different Court Dimensions
Squash and racquetball courts are both enclosed that’s where the similarities end, the playing surfaces are actually quite different.
A squash court measures 21 x 32 x 15 feet while a racquetball court is bigger with dimensions of 20 x 40 x 20.
As far as the surface, anything goes in racquetball where even the ceiling is considered fair game. In squash you aren’t allowed to hit the ceiling, and there are boundary lines along the front and back walls in addition to boundaries on the side walls. Squash also features a 19-inch high tin strip out of bounds area at the base of the front wall.
In squash, you’d better make your first serve count because you don’t get a second serve as in racquetball or tennis. Also is squash (same in tennis) you must hit the ball while it’s in the air, without letting it bounce. It’s the opposite for racquetball where must bounce the ball before striking a serve.
In squash, you must serve the ball into two alternating service boxes, and your ball must land above the tin and below the service line to be considered a good serve.
Racquetball serves can hit any part of the front wall and then must land behind the “short line” for a good service.
Win By Two
The two point rule is in effect here; in both sports you must win by two points.
Racquetball games are played until a player reaches 15 points, you must win by two points, and you can only score points on your serve. Regular squash matches are contested to nine points and go to 11 in tournament play, with a player having to win by two points-same as racquetball.
Just like in tennis, you can score points in squash if you win a rally, regardless if it’s not your service.
Both sports (same for tennis) don’t allow the ball to bounce off the surface twice, and in squash the ball must hit the front wall, above the tin and below the out line, before touching the floor.
To win a match in racquetball you only need to take two games, in squash, you must win three.
The Physical Nature Of Squash
Many players tend to agree that unless squash is played at a higher level the rallies rarely go past 8 to 10 shots with the first bad shot losing the point. In these situations, the ball rarely gets warmed up enough to bounce. For this reason, it’s important to choose a ball (dot rating system) that is commensurate with your game.
Rallies in racquetball tend to go longer on average and it takes more skill to kill the ball.
Yet squash is considered to be the more physical of the two. Many older squash players have transitioned to racquetball because squash is notoriously hard on the knees.
In squash you are forced to work harder to hit the ball whereas in racquetball players let the ball come to them. There is more movement and ball placement in squash too.
All things being equal a good squash player can usually beat a racquetball player of equal ability at his own game. The ball moves faster in squash, is harder to hit and the court dimensions are smaller. For those that have played both games, squash players relate how racquetball seems slower, not slow, but the game seems more manageable.
Chess Versus Checkers
When interviewed some years ago by the Washington Post about the differences between squash and racquetball perhaps Geff Fisher, president of the National Capital Squash Racquets Association put it best.
“It requires a longer racquet, smaller court, and faster ball,” “Squash is a harder game to learn, requiring more skills and hand-eye coordination. There’s also more strategy involved in trying to psyche out the other player.
“Squash is to racquetball as chess is to checkers.”Geff Fisher
Where is squash most popular?
The United States, Egypt and England are three countries where squash enjoys a good level of popularity. Squash is an international game and many people play in Pakistan, India, France, Germany, Australia, Hong Kong and Malaysia.
Which sport is more expensive, squash or racquetball?
Both sports require specialized equipment, rackets, shoes, clothing, as well as a sport-specific court in which to play. At least in America, there are far more racquetball courts than courts built for squash so the fees for membership and for court time at a squash club are typically higher than racquetball.