Rules Rule - November 2021
by Dan Horner, USAR Rules Commissioner
A recreational racquetball player wrote in recently to ask a good question. Since outside of a tournament very few matches are officiated by a referee, this made me think that it would be a good idea to discuss playing without a referee.
Q1. I was playing a club match tonight, and I did what I perceived to be a short serve and called it as such before my opponent returned it. He disagreed that it was short and said that as receiver, that was his call and his call alone to make. So my question is: in a self-officiated match, can ONLY the receiver call a short serve?
A1. Either player can call a short serve. Some serves are difficult for the server to see if they were short or not, but if you serve the ball right in front of yourself, then you have the best view of where the ball bounced. Rule D.3 states: "Fault Serves. The receiver has the primary responsibility to make this call, though either player may make it. The receiver must make the call immediately and not wait until the ball has been hit to gain the benefit of first seeing how good the return was that they have made. It is not an option play. Also, the receiver does not have the right to play a serve they know was short."
Honesty is an essential element needed for a fair match being played without a referee. Generally if you are playing without a referee and there is a disagreement, then the rally should be replayed. So if it is second serve and the server hits what they think is an ace but the receiver says short, it should be replayed as second serve. As you can imagine, if one or both players aren’t being completely honest, then I’m sure you know how this is going to end: the match will be contentious and will take a long time since everything will turn into an argument and result in replay after replay. The two parties could find a neutral party to assist as necessary and as possible.
Following are some of my comments regarding the section in the USAR Rulebook entitled Self-Officiating -– “How to Ref ‘Without’ a Ref”! This can be found in Section D, pages 41-42.
- It is critical that the server announce and both players/teams agree on both the server’s and receiver’s score before each serve.
- Each player should stop play and make a call against themselves if they do something such as hit the ball with the handle of their racquet, get hit by the ball, strike the ball on the second bounce, etc.
- Either player may call out fault serves, as mentioned in my response above.
- A screen serve may only be called by the receiver. The screen serve is demonstrated by the receiver not returning the serve and instead calling “screen serve.” This means that the server must always expect to play the rally until they hear otherwise.
- Penalty hinders can still be called even without a referee. Of course, both parties have to agree to the call, but if both parties are well versed in the racquetball rules, this should not be a problem.
Here’s one more:
Q2. I am playing in a match and my opponent is serving. What is the result if during the rally my opponent is going for the ball and they take a swing at the ball and whiff it and I just so happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and it hits me before bouncing for the second time? Also, does it make a difference if they could have gotten to the ball to attempt a second hit or not?
A2. This is a great question and one of the more popular ones I get asked. The answer is that you lose the rally and your opponent scores a point. It does not matter if they could have gotten to the ball for a second attempt or not. This is true even if your opponent didn’t take any swing at the ball and is clear on the other side of the court with no chance of getting to the ball. Rule 3.13(j) states, “During a rally, if a ball in play hits the front wall and then touches a player, it results in a loss of the rally for the player that was touched.”
Please send rules questions, including stories from the court that beg rules interpretations, to National Rules Commissioner Dan Horner at: email@example.com. You might see your question in a future issue of Serving Up The News!
View/download the Official Rules of Racquetball.