Signal Not Ready

Ray Cornell

In order to have fair competition in any sport, a defined set of rules are known to the participants. Racquetball is no different. There are many rules that govern the game, not only during play, but also in standardizing court dimensions, equipment specifications for racquets, balls, and protective eyewear, and tournament management.

The racquetball serve and return of serve have many rules that cover just that one part of the game. How can not knowing the rules affect the outcome of a game or match?

I recently encountered a tournament rookie who did not know the service rule regarding the receiver signaling not ready. The applicable rule is 3.5(a): “ . . . It is the server’s responsibility to look and be certain the receiver is ready. If a receiver is not ready, they must signal by raising the racquet above the head or completely turning the back to the server. (These are the only two acceptable signals.)”

The companion rule 3.5(b), states: “Serving while the receiving player/team is signaling ‘not ready’ is a fault serve.”

Together, what do those two rules mean? If the receiver’s racquet is not above the head, and if the receiver is not facing the back wall, then the server may serve the ball after the referee has called the score or “second serve.” Even if the receiver is tying their shoe while facing the server, or pacing in the back court, the server is free to serve the ball because neither acceptable signal is
being used (just be careful about doing that safely).

Back to the tournament first-timer who was unaware of this rule. At one point in our first game, I signaled not ready – with my racquet above my head – as soon as the score was called. My opponent did not check me and served the ball. The referee called the fault serve. My opponent was upset, but was informed that raising the racquet above the head indicated “not ready” and that he had to check me before serving. It was not his habit and he faulted twice more, but on his second serve, a side out was called.  He got more upset.

During my serve a little while later, I checked the receiver, and he put his racquet up. I waited. He put his racquet down while facing the front wall, and I served right away (even though he may have wanted to make some other preparation for the serve). Service ace for me. Now he was really upset, and ultimately lost the first game.

In the second game, his attitude was one of not caring about the outcome – only halfway swinging at the ball, if he connected at all. The points came easily for me. He continued that way for most of the game and eventually lost the match.

It’s important to note that while some people complain that signaling not ready is just a “trick” on the part of the receiver, its purpose is safety. It serves as a communication tool between receiver and server, and ensures that the receiver is not unduly hit with a ball being served. As the above scenario shows, not knowing a rule can change the momentum (and make a difference in the outcome) of a game, but being well-informed can help you play an entire match with confidence.

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