The Screen Call

When does a court hinder result in stoppage of play? Sounds obvious, although it  depends on which set of rules are applicable. The Mile High WPRO stop held recently at the Denver Athletic Club offered divisions with three sets of rules – WPRO, CPRT and amateur. Kudos to Deb Beldring and her tournament staff for managing these differences and running a great event. Although the majority of rules as defined by the USAR are applicable to all divisions, there are a few variations that make each of the professional tours unique. Examples of the variations include the number of games, point total, and the duration of timeouts. However, these modifications usually have little impact on the rally.

In this article I want to address a subjective topic that is relevant to all divisions and the rally – the screen call. Enclosed in a 20’ x 40’ court, it is inevitable that one player (or team) will impair another player’s view of the ball. The screen call was designed to provide remedy to the receiving player or team when their view is obstructed by another player. Note the defensive player is not entitled to a clear view of the ball, and therefore, cannot receive a screen call. The subjective nature of the screen call makes it more difficult than one would think. First, let’s take a look at the definition of a screen as detailed in the official rules of racquetball:

Any ball rebounding from the front wall so close to the body of the defensive player that it prevents the offensive player from having a clear view of the ball. (The referee should be careful not to make the screen call so quickly that it takes away a good offensive opportunity.) A ball that passes between the legs of a player who has just returned the ball is not automatically a screen. It depends on whether the other player is impaired as a result. Generally, the call should work to the advantage of the offensive player.

There are two critical elements of a screen described in the definition – proximity and impairment.  It is essential that both elements are met to award a screen call. It is plausible that the ball may pass very close to a player without impairing the receiver’s view. Although this situation may warrant a hinder call, it is unlikely to warrant a screen call. Similarly, there will be instances where a receiver may not have a clear view of a ball, although it does not rebound close the opposing player(s). Again, a screen call is unwarranted since only one element exists. Regardless of the point in the rally the potential infraction occurs, the receiving player is eligible for a screen call only when impaired to a clear view of the ball after the ball has passed close to the body. The rule of thumb when referring to “close to the body” is approximately the length of a racquet – 22”. This is not an absolute, nor is it possible to precisely measure when balls move so quickly.

The screen call is seen most often during the serve, although it can be used at any time during a rally. Referring the screen call during the serve, Rule 3.9(i) states, “The receiver is obligated to take up good court position, near center court, to obtain that view. Screen serves usually occur on drive serves, although they may be warranted for jam or ‘Z’ serves. Normally, ‘Z’ serves do not result in screen calls with the possible exception of balls passing in front of the server. The drive serve line, also known as the three foot line, demarks a zone where drive serves are automatically considered a screen, and therefore, a fault serve. Rule 3.6 explains that a server may not initiate a service motion in the three foot zone and drive serve back through that zone. However, in one questionable scenario, a server stands in the drive serve area and serves a foot in front of his body. Although the ball passes relatively close the server, the receiver has clear view of the ball from the point it is struck. The correct call – no screen serve.

As noted above, the screen call should not be made so quickly as to negate a good offensive opportunity. As part of my pre-match routine, I usually brief players on my policy for calling screens. I prefer to allow players to return all but the most obvious screens with the understanding that players keep the shot they elected to take. Players that desire a screen call should raise their hand while continuing play until the referee concurs. Referees are empowered to make screen calls, although they must rely on their vantage point. Just as it is important for players to assume proper court position, it is equally important for referees to assume proper positioning to make the correct calls.

The screen serve is considered a fault serve and may result in a sideout if it occurs on the second attempt.  For divisions that use the one serve rule, players called for a screen serve on their first attempt are offered a second and last opportunity. For screen calls during the rally, the result is a replay of the rally according to rule 3.14(a).  However, when a player moves across an opponent’s line of vision just before the opponent strikes the ball, a penalty hinder should be awarded. Also, when a player hits a ball that rebounds back where he is standing, the offensive player is then entitled to an offensive opportunity. Any attempt to make an offensive shot that is disallowed due to the closeness of the opponent should result in a penalty hinder. A screen should be called when the offensive player has no ability to see and react to the ball. As a side note, the ball must be retrievable in order to obtain a screen call.

There are many scenarios that make the screen call a debated issue in competitive racquetball. The CRA encourages all players to attend a local rules clinic to improve their understanding of the rules and the on-court applications during matches. For additional questions regarding the screen call, or to schedule a rules clinic, please contact David Stone at Dave@coloradoracquetball.com.

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