The USAR National Doubles tournament is right around the corner. The Doubles in the Desert will be held again this year in Tempe, Arizona, at the Arizona State University Recreation Center. The tournament is routinely held over the week of Valentine’s Day allowing a reprieve from the colder weather. In preparation for the tournament, I want to highlight the rules applicable to doubles play.
One of the challenges facing tournament directors is the seeding of players in the various divisions. Most players rate their level of play fairly, but question which division to enter when combining different levels of play. To clarify, rule 4.1 specifies, “A team with different skill levels must play in the division of the player with the higher level of ability.” Therefore, a team consisting of an ‘A’ and a ‘B’ level player would need to register for the ‘A’ division. When playing an adult age event, the team must play in the division of the younger player. Remember that tournament directors have the discretion, and the duty, to reassign players as necessary to ensure they are competing in the correct event.
Since the vast majority of rules apply similarly to singles and doubles play, let us discuss some of the rules exclusive to the serve in doubles. According to Rule 4.3 a team is assessed a fault serve if, “The server’s partner is not in the service box with both feet on the floor and back to (but not necessarily against) the side wall from the time the server begins the service motion until the ball passes the short line.” If the server or doubles partner steps into the safety zone before the ball passes the shortline, the team is assessed a Safety Zone Violation, resulting in a loss of serve.
A served ball that hits the doubles partner while in the doubles box results in a fault serve. However, if the ball hits the doubles partner while outside the doubles box, the result is a loss of serve. The rule is ambiguous about “outside the doubles box,” but typically construed to mean stepping beyond the short line. The USAR removed in recent years the requirement for team members to serve in the same order during a game, allowing either team member to serve first. However, if either partner serves again after that partner had previously lost a rally while serving, the penalty is an immediate out for that team. Needless to say, it is imperative for referees to track first and second server after each side out.
Many rules apply to both players of a team as if they were an individual. For example, both players must be permitted an opportunity to retrieve and return the ball during a rally. I hear frequently that a defensive player moved to allow one of the opponents an opportunity to return the ball while restricting the other. Both offensive players have the right to the ball, requiring the defensive team to yield position. Otherwise, the defensive team may be responsible for a replay or penalty hinder. Similarly, the defensive team must allow the required shots or risk a penalty hinder (see Know Your Rules – Penalty Hinders).
Given the number of players on the court in doubles, contact between players is inevitable. Just like in NASCAR where “rubbing is racing,” contact is doubles is racquetball. However, this does not provide a license for unnecessary or excessive contact. Players are expected to assume proper court position as not to obstruct an offensive player’s opportunity to see or hit the ball. Players that hit the ball back to themselves or their partners are often guilty of this infraction, and should not be rewarded by an opportunity to replay the point. A rally is lost if one player hits that same player’s partner with an attempted return.
Doubles racquetball can be a rewarding version of the game when played correctly. Understanding and applying the rules, especially during recreational play, encourages a safer and more pleasurable experience. I hope to see many Coloradoans on the courts in Tempe and upcoming local tournaments. The CRA recommends that players consult the official rulebook (available on the USAR website), and attend a local rules clinic for case studies. Please contact me with your questions or suggestions at Dave@coloradoracquetball.com.