Racquetball is a game developed from tennis during the 1950s. But even though one grew out of the other, there are a huge number of differences!
What Are The Differences Between Racquetball And Tennis?
Tennis and racquetball are played on very different courts, using different dimensions, and one being enclosed the other open. Racquetball uses a smaller racket and ball, and also requires safety equipment such as glasses and a wrist strap. Stroke play and serving technique is also different in each sport.
If you have ever considered trying your hand at racquetball you may have wondered how different the game is from tennis. Well, you’ve come to the right place!
I’ve played both over several years, and here I have listed below 14 of the primary differences between racquetball and tennis.
1. Court Dimension
The most noticeable difference between racquetball and tennis is the enclosed court on which racquetball is played.
Both sports can be played indoors or outdoors. However, racquetball uses a court surrounded by four walls which can all be utilized during the game.
The walls on a racquetball court are 20 ft high (source), although the back wall is permitted to be a minimum of 12 ft high. A racquetball court is 40 ft long and 20 ft wide.
In comparison, a tennis court is considerably larger, measuring 78 ft long and 36 ft wide. This width is reduced in tennis to 27 ft for a singles match.
2. Court Surface and Markings
A racquetball court is made from wood, such as hardwood like maple, allowing for a uniform bounce.
Tennis is played on three surfaces, clay, grass, or cement. While both sports can be played indoors or out, the enclosed courts of racquetball are more commonly found in an indoor setting.
If you were to look down on both courts you would see that the court markings are quite different between the two games.
Whereas a tennis player serves from the court baseline, in racquetball there is a service line 15 ft from the front wall, with another line called the short line 5 ft further back.
The short line is the halfway point of a racquetball court, and when you serve the ball must bounce behind the short line.
In tennis, there are two boxes on each side of the court where serves must bounce to avoid being called a fault. These boxes occupy the front half of each side of the court.
While both sports have singles and double games, the racquetball court markings remain unchanged. On a tennis court, there is a designated doubles sideline that comes in to play for that form of the game.
These sidelines extend the width of a tennis court by 9ft for a doubles match.
Because of the enclosed nature of a racquetball court, there is no out of bounds.
The ball must bounce twice to win a point. In tennis the baselines and sidelines designate the boundaries of the court and any ball which bounces beyond these lines on the full is called out and the point goes to the opposing player,
3. The Net
This may seem an obvious feature to point out, but the net in tennis is central to the game.
Whereas in racquetball the players occupy the same space without a net in between, the net in tennis divides both the court and the players.
The service boxes in tennis are on either side of the net.
Racquetball players strike the ball against the front wall on every shot and must make every effort to get out of their opponent’s way to allow them a fair shot.
The only time a tennis player will share their side of a court is when playing doubles.
4. The Rackets
The first difference is in the spelling. People often ask is it racket or racquet?
In tennis, racket tends to be the recognized spelling. As the name hints, in racquetball, the spelling is changed to racquet.
Away from the ins and outs of spelling, there are some notable differences between the rackets in the two sports. These differences help cater to the different rules and dynamics of each game.
The first difference you will notice is the size.
Racquetball regulations state that rackets should not be longer than 22 inches. Tennis rackets are considerably larger and can be up to 29 inches long.
The larger surface area of a tennis racket helps generate more power and accuracy on shots.
The other very noticeable difference is the shape of the two rackets.
Tennis rackets are more oval in shape, rounding off towards the head of the racket. In comparison the racket in racquetball tends to form a teardrop shape, narrowing toward the base of the racket.
However, the racquetball racket can also have a quadriform shape, which gives it a squarer form.
The shape plays a role in the sweet spot of a racket. A teardrop or triangular-shaped racket provides for a larger sweet spot area, giving a player more control.
The quadriform-shaped racket has a smaller sweet spot but offers more power in return.
There is also a slight difference in weight between the rackets.
In racquetball, the rackets are usually under 220g in weight, while the average weight of a tennis racket is 300g. Technological improvements in tennis rackets over the years mean they have become much lighter, a trend that is likely to continue.
5. String Tension
Similar to why the size of the racket differs between the two sports, the tension of the racket strings also varies to account for the different ways the games are played.
Since the rackets are shaped differently, the strings cover the space between the frame differently.
String tension in both sports allows the player to feel more control.
Increasing the string tension provides more control, but at the cost of power. If you are looking for greater power in your shots, then you would look to lower the string tension of the racket.
Racquetball strings tend to be set to a lower tension than tennis to allow players more power in a frenetic, fast-paced game.
Most racquetball rackets will have a string tension of between 30 and 40 lbs. This compares to tennis rackets which on average are between 45 and 60 lbs (source).
Therefore, tennis rackets allow for a higher tension setting.
However, the strings used in both sports are constructed from similar materials and have a similar thickness.
The average thickness or gauge measurement in racquetball is between 15 and 18, while in tennis it is marginally higher in range, with a gauge measurement between 15 and 19.
6. The Ball
The main difference between the balls used in these sports is the size.
The tennis ball is the larger of the two with a diameter of 2.7 inches.
This compares to the racquetball which measures 2.25 inches in diameter.
The tennis ball is heavier and can weigh between 56 and 59.4 grams, whereas the ball used in racquetball weighs in at a lighter 40 grams.
While both balls are hollow and made of rubber, the ball in racquetball does not have the fuzzy wool covering of a tennis ball.
On the pro tour, the tennis ball used is yellow in color, whereas the ball used in racquetball can vary, but is largely blue.
The design of shoes for racquetball is different from tennis to meet the demands of the different surfaces the game is played on.
Firstly racquetball shoes need to have gum rubber soles to prevent marking the wooden surface of the court. The rubber is breathable and allows for better traction, important in a game where rapid change of direction is a key element.
Tennis shoes are designed with stronger edges, important in helping a player’s lateral movement across the court.
They will often contain lateral support to help prevent injuries.
In racquetball, the focus is more on cushioning around the heel and forefoot. This is aimed particularly at preventing joint damage from the impact of the foot on the hard wooden surface.
While both sports involve scoring points for each winning shot, the scoring system differs between the two sports.
The most noticeable difference from the off is that you can only score on your own serve in racquetball.
As a receiver, you need to win the rally to get the serve back, but you can only pick up a point when you serve.
In tennis, points can be won regardless of who is serving.
Racquetball keeps its scoring system simple. If you serve and win the play, you win a point.
Generally, racquetball is played as the best of three sets, with 15 points needed to win the first two sets, while the third tie-breaker set if required is the first to 11 points.
Tennis scoring can be a little more complicated to the beginner but is quick to learn. The match is separated into games and sets, with six games needed to win a set.
If the final set is placed at six games all a tie-break may come into play which reverts to points, with seven points the target to win.
You need a minimum of four points to win a game, but these points are denoted as 15, 30, 40, game. Most tournaments are the best of three sets, with Grand Slam events the best of 5 sets.
9. Safety Glasses
One big difference in the kit you need between the two sports is the safety glasses required for racquetball.
Any regular player of racquetball will emphasize the need to wear these glasses. Racquetball is a high-intensity sport in an enclosed area where you share the same space as your opponent.
As well as the dangers of taking an accidental hit from your opponent’s racket, the smaller ball can fly around at speeds of 100 mph and more.
Racquetball glasses come with one or two lenses. They also have an adjustable strap to prevent the glasses from slipping down while you run and as you start to build up a sweat.
10. Wrist Strap
Another safety feature that differentiates a racquetball racket from a tennis racket is the wrist strap.
These strips are tethered to the base of the racket and placed over your wrist. Racquetball is a fast-paced game where opponents are in close proximity to one another.
The wrist strap is an important racket design that helps prevent a racket from flying out of slippery, sweaty fingers and striking their opponent.
While it is not unheard of for a tennis player to lose control of their racket, the unusual nature of its occurrence and the distances between players makes the wrist strap less necessary.
Both tennis and racquetball start their rallies with a service but the serving technique is different.
In tennis, you will see the ball tossed high, and the accuracy of the toss is key in maximizing the energy and power through from the turn of the body.
Tennis players look to strike the ball at the highest point, driving the ball down but at a trajectory that will clear the net and land within the opposite serving box.
As in tennis, racquetball players utilize different styles of serve to take advantage of an opponent’s weaker spots.
However, these serves use an underhand to lateral movement rather than an overhead serving motion.
Instead of having an opponent at the opposite end of the court waiting to receive the serve, they are positioned behind the server on the receiving line of the court.
Tennis players look to impart lots of spin on both the forehand and backhand sides.
By hitting up across the ball or slicing down under, they can generate the topspin or backspin required.
All balls are subject to spin, but tennis has an added advantage that allows players to impart more spin than racquetball.
The fuzzy wool covering of a tennis ball is there for a reason. Called the nap, the woolen fibers provide resistance in flight, causing the ball to move more slowly in the air compared to a smoother ball like the one used in racquetball.
By understanding how the friction and resulting drag force affect how a ball can deviate in flight, players can strike a tennis ball in a way that generates more spin.
13. Calories Burned
Racquetball and tennis are both excellent cardio work-outs.
On average a racquetball player will burn more calories than a tennis player. Naturally, this can vary from person to person.
However, if we focus on a 60-minute workout in both sports at medium intensity, racquetball can burn up to 650 calories. This compares to approximately 500 calories in tennis.
Again, factors such as fitness levels and weight will see variations between individual players.
For the average person playing racquetball competitively, they can burn up to 900 calories, while in tennis it is around 800 calories.
Tennis is a more accessible court in terms of court availability.
According to the ITF Global Tennis Report in 2020, there are 489,000 tennis courts around the world and 71,000 tennis clubs.
The US accounts for 15.8% of the global tennis courts according to this report, equating to around 77,000 courts.
Tennis is played globally, although 95% of the 489,000 tennis courts worldwide are located in just 37 countries.
According to the ITF figures, there are 87 million tennis players globally, though again 99% of this playing population is made up of 31 countries. Racquetball has around 5.6 million global participants in 95 countries.
The last available figures for racquetball participation in the US was for 2017 when it recorded 3.53 million participants. This compares to 17.68 million tennis players in the US in the same year.
Racquetball courts are specific to their game and need an enclosed space either indoors or outdoors.
The nature of the court means they can be costly to build and fewer are constructed. There are racquetball courts located in most US states and there are also around 600 outdoor racquetball courts nationwide.
People may look to book a squash court to play racquetball, but this can present its own issues as the courts have different dimensions. Most significantly a squash court has a lower ceiling.
Although racket and ball sports, there are a considerable number of differences between racquetball and tennis.
Both sports have their own specific rules, court, and equipment. Visually the most distinctive difference is in the nature of the courts used, with racquetball requiring an enclosed space with four surrounding walls.
A racquetball court looks similar to a squash court and means there is no separation of the players as there is on a tennis court.
However, the hand-eye coordination required for racket and ball sports should allow a player of tennis to transition to racquetball and vice versa.
The transition just may take longer than envisioned due to the many differences between the sports.