By Ray Cornell
Most of us try doubles at some point, and that can make for interesting rally dynamics with twice as many players in the court! Since doubles is even played at National Singles, this article will cover some added considerations for doubles play. A previous article almost two years ago detailed serving in doubles, but there is much more to take into account.
The USA Racquetball Official Rules & Regulations of Racquetball, Section 4 is titled “Doubles.” The specific rule modifications defined there mainly refer to the serve, but also include team composition for tournament play. However, there also are references to doubles teams and partners in Section 3 – Play Regulations.
The primary aspect of doubles covered here is that, with regard to the rules, players must consider each team as a single unit. To a large extent, what applies to a singles player applies to a doubles team. For example:
- Regarding the serve, the rules governing being in the service zone or entering the safety zone apply equally to each player on the serving team (there is also a specific Doubles section rule for the position of the non-serving partner on a serving team).
- Regarding entering the safety zone by the receiver, the rule applies equally to each member of the receiving team.
- Regarding rally play, the last statement of Section 4 – Doubles, Rule 4.5(b), is key and says “Both partners on a side are entitled to return the ball.”
So, what are the practical implications to considering each team as a single unit?
In the serve, each team member must be ready to serve or receive serve, as appropriate, within the 10 seconds allowed between rallies, or risk a technical warning or foul for their team.
- If either player of the serving team has an entire foot past the serve line (the forwardmost solid line), or extended over/past the short line during the serve motion, it is a foot fault [Rule 3.9(a)(1)]. Generally, if the non-serving player has a foot extending anywhere outside his/her service box, it’s a foot fault [rule 4.2(b)].
- A screen serve can be called on either player of the serving team [Rule 3.9(i)], not only on the server.
- If either player on the serving team enters the safety zone before the served ball has crossed the short line, it is an out for the server [Rule 3.10(i)].
- The server can serve to either player on the receiving team, and not just to the one that’s on the same side of the court that they’re serving from. However, if you do serve to the opposite side, make sure that your partner knows to get out of the way of the return. Otherwise, your team could be called for a penalty hinder; or worse, your partner could get hurt by the return shot.
For the return of serve, either player can return the serve [Rule 4.5(b)].
- Either player on the receiving team can signal not ready. If the server serves the ball while either player is so signaling, then it is a fault serve [Rule 3.5(b)]. So servers, be sure to check both players!
- Neither player on the receiving team can violate the safety zone prior to the ball bouncing in the safety zone or crossing the receiving line [Rule 3.11(a)].
During rallies, in Rule 4.5(b), the statement of “Both partners on a side are entitled to return the ball” applies to the return of serve as well as during a rally and has several implications, including:
- A screen may be called on either player of the team who just hit the ball, depending on how each of the receiving players is positioned.
- A hinder (replay or penalty) may be called on either player of the offensive team interfering with either player of the defensive team’s opportunity to return the ball. Rule 3.14 (c) “It is the responsibility of the side that has just hit the ball to move so the receiving side may go straight to the ball and have an unobstructed view of and swing at the ball”; and Rule 3.15(c) (Blocking) includes “the offensive player who is not returning the ball.”
- Hitting your partner with the ball during a serve or rally is the same as hitting yourself with the ball (you lose the serve or rally see [Rule 4.4(b) and 4.5(a), respectively]. But note it’s only a fault serve if you hit your partner during your serve while your partner is still in the service box (Rule 4.3(b)].
In conclusion, serves and rallies can become complicated situations during doubles play; but if you evaluate each situation with the perspective of giving equal opportunity (and responsibility) to each player on a doubles team, then some outcomes might become clearer.