May 16, 2022 What is the Call

by What’s the Call? -- Blast to the Past!

What’s the Call? -- Blast to the Past!

By Otto Dietrich

Former USA Racquetball National Rules Commissioner


We all adore rules discussions! On the veritable eve of the return of National Doubles & Singles on May 25th, enjoy this article from the January 2017 issue of Racquetball magazine, provided as “What’s the Call? by Otto Dietrich.


Jim W. wondered: On a serve, is it in or out if it lands on the “back service zone line” (the short line)?


I responded: The Service Zone extends exactly 5 feet as measured from the very back edge (closest to the back wall) of the Short Line to the very front edge (closest to the front wall) of the Service line. Please see pages 2 and 3 in the current rulebook for details and a diagram. Since the entire Service Zone is considered in as far as the server is concerned, then the served ball must not touch the floor until it is at least beyond the Service Zone to be judged a good serve. If it doesn’t, but instead bounces on or in front of the Short Line, then that is a fault serve with all the outcomes associated with it being a fault. So, the server can step on those lines as part of his service motion, but not over them except, that is, at the conclusion of the service motion as described in Rule 3.9(a)2.

Ernie P. said: During a recent rally, I hit the ball in such a way that it hit the front wall first, then hit the floor after hitting the front wall. The ball then went out of the gallery opening on the back wall. I know that a ball that hits the front wall and goes out of the court without hitting the floor first is a lost rally for the person that hit the ball. But I do not know the rule for my recent situation. My first thought was that I could not have lost the rally since I met the criteria of a good shot by hitting the front wall and then the floor, before the ball did exit the court into the gallery opening. The guy I was playing against felt that it was a lost rally for me since the ball went to a place he did not have a chance to make a return. Can you tell me if I should have lost that rally? I am thinking it was a good shot that happens only rarely and would fall into an unreturnable shot category – like a rollout off the front wall.

I replied to Ernie: Any ball that hits the front wall and then goes out of play immediately after touching the floor is a Replay Hinder (not a loss of rally). Please see the last sentence of Rule 3.14(a)1 on page 13 of the USAR Rulebook.

Greg F. inquired: I recently made an illegal drive serve call that was disputed not only by the team that the call went against, but by several spectators as well. I've watched your videos and reread the rules and have concluded that I made the right call, but wanted to run it by you as well. The server started his service motion inside the 3-foot line on the left side of the court continuing into the service zone striking the ball so that it traveled behind him at the completion of his service motion. I assessed a fault serve for an Illegal drive serve. Was this the correct call? 

I told Greg:  From your description, it sounds like you did get it right. If he started his continuous service motion that resulted in a drive serve from inside the 3-foot Drive Serve Zone without stopping for a moment (thus a new beginning of his service motion) then a drive serve to the side that he started from is, as you noted, an illegal drive serve. Why not download the copy of the Rulebook to your cell phone and if you are questioned again, you can just show them Rule 3.3 and Rule 3.6.

Elizabeth B. asked: Will you please explain the difference between "backswing hinder" and "stroke interference"? I thought any interference on someone's backswing should be a penalty. 

I answered: Backswing hinders occur when the hitter draws back his racquet to increase the starting point of his full stroke. In doing that he might touch an opponent with his racquet. When he does that, it may or may not be significant enough to disrupt his attempt to hit the ball. If there is only a slight disruption of the hitter, he might he continue his attempt uninterrupted, then the referee can just let them "play on." Sometimes play happens so quickly that backswing contact simply can’t be avoided. In that case, the referee might call it a simple replay hinder. Note that while this concept is under Rule 3.14(a)5 (Replay Hinders), that rule also says that it might be a penalty hinder. Backswing hinders, especially the slight ones, are usually very hard for a referee to detect. The players are often close together and any such contact could occur in that rather small space between them. That is why the rules do allow the person hitting the ball to call that type of hinder himself, even if there is a referee. He is required to call it at once and not try to claim it happened after seeing how "good" his eventual shot turned out. Some players will simply “play on” through a very slight backswing contact in favor of accepting the resulting shot on which they think they still may have an advantage. Incidentally, I will add that the player touched by an opponent’s backswing should never try to call it because the other player could just deny that it ever happened and then the referee will have a mess on his hands – especially if he didn’t see it happen. Stroke interference, on the other hand, is any contact that happens on the forward motion of the racquet -- that part of the swing that goes directly toward the ball (i.e., everything that happens once the backswing ends). Even a very slight contact on that part of the swing can be disruptive, so the rules envision that the only proper action is to call such contact a penalty hinder. This type of hinder is usually more visible to the referee as well, and the adverse effect of the contact is often much more obvious. In my experience, most backswing hinders probably should be called as penalty hinders for obvious reasons. 



Current National Rules Commissioner Dan Horner welcomes questions from members and will respond timely along with occasionally featuring a few each month in USAR’s Serving Up the News. Write to Dan at, and you may see your questions in a future issue of this newsletter!

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