Racquets - Encyclopedia

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RACQUETS, or Rackets, a game played in an enclosed court with a ball and an implement with which the ball is struck called a racquet, from which the game takes its name. The racquet is about 22 ft. long, the head, which was formerly pear-shaped, being in the modern racquet nearly circular, from 7 to 8 in. in diameter and tightly crossstrung with cat-gut. The balls, which are about 14 in. in diameter, are made of strips of cloth tightly wound over each other, with a sewn covering of smooth white leather, the floor and walls of English courts being coloured black; in India, where the floor and walls of the court are painted FIG. I. - The Racquet.

white, black balls are used. There are no regulation dimensions for a racquet court, nor for the racquet or ball, though substantial uniformity is observed in practice. The game is usually played either by two or by four players; and in England the court is the same for the four-handed and the two-handed game, the floor measuring usually 60 ft. by 30 ft., or occasionally an inch or two more each way; but in America larger courts measuring on the floor 80 ft. by 40 ft., a size formerly not The word comes, through Fr. raquette, from Sp. and Port. raqueta. The origin is doubtful, but Arab. raha(1), palm of the hand, has been suggested; " fives " played with the hand long preceded the game with a bat; cf. also Fr. name for fives, paume. uncommon in England, are sometimes built for the fourhanded game. Modern racquet courts have four walls and a roof, though in India they are sometimes left unroofed for the sake of coolness. The floor, which must be perfectly level and smooth, should be made of cement; but is sometimes paved, with less perfect results. The floor cannot be too hard, since the faster the ball travels the better the game; similarly the walls, which should be built of masonry faced with cement and most carefully smoothed, cannot be too hard and fast. The front and side walls are about 30 ft. high, the back wall being about half that height, with a gallery for spectators (containing the marker's and umpires' box) above it. The court is entered by a door in the centre of the back wall, which when shut must be perfectly flush with that wall, and without any projecting handle. The court is lighted from the roof. The diagram (fig. 2) shows the divisions and markings of the court. On the front wall is fixed a wooden board, the upper edge of which, 26 in. from the floor, constitutes the " play-line," and which usually fills the whole space from that height to the floor; and at a height from the floor of 8 ft. or a few inches more is a second line, called the " cut-line " or " service-line," painted white or in colour. At a distance of 38 ft. (in a court 60 ft. by 30 ft.) from the front wall and' parallel to it, a white line is painted on the floor from wall to wall, called the " short-line "; and from the centre of the short-line to the centre of the back wall is the "fault-line," dividing into two equal rectangles the space between the back wall and the short-line. These rectangles are the service-courts and are called the righthand and left-hand court respectively. Against the side walls outside these courts, but so that one side in each case is formed by the short-line, are squares 8 ft. by 8 ft. called the service-boxes.

Service Line




The Game. - Racquets is usually played either by two persons (" singles "), or four persons playing two against two (" doubles "); and the general idea of the game is the same as that in tennis, lawn tennis and fives, the object of the player in all these games being to score a point by striking the ball either before it reaches the ground or on its first bound, in accordance with the rules of the game, in such a way that his adversary may fail to make a " good," i.e. a valid, stroke in return. In the four-handed game one of each set of partners takes the righthand court and his partner the left. The game consists of 15 points called " aces." Aces can only be scored by the " hand-in " (the player, or side, having the "innings "), and the " hand-out " must therefore win a stroke or strokes to obtain innings before he or they can score an ace; in " doubles " each of the partners has an innings, and both must therefore be ousted before " hand-out " obtains the innings; brit to this rule the first innings of each game affords an exception (see below). The " hand-in " always has " service," i.e. he opens the rally (the " rally " being the series of strokes made alternately by the two sides until one or other of them fails to make a good return) by " serving " the ball from the hand. This first stroke, or " serve," must be made in the following manner. The server, standing with one foot at least inside one of the service-boxes, must toss the ball from his hand, and while it is in the air he must hit it with his racquet so that it strikes the front wall above the service-line and falls to the floor within the servicecourt on the opposite side; after striking the front wall the ball may, but need not, strike the side wall or back wall, or both, and it may do so either before or after touching the floor. The serve is a " fault " if the ball (I) strikes the front wall a' a li Elevation of End Wall a Play Line i ? i? i ?

Floor Level ' 't --- --' 30;Short Line 60 ' 'Back Wall es' high Gallery above FIG. 2.

above the board but on or below the service-line, in which case it is called a " cut "; or (2) touches the floor on the first bound, outside the proper service-court, when it is called " short " or " fault " according to the position of its pitch (see below). If the " hand-out " player to whom the fault is served " takes " it (i.e. if he plays at it), the fault is condoned and the play proceeds as if the serve had been good. If, however, the fault be not taken, the server must serve again from the same box; and if he serves a second fault he loses his " hand " or innings, and his partner or his opponent, as the case may be, takes his place. Two consecutive faults have thus the same result as the loss of a stroke in the rally by the " hand-in." A serve which makes the ball strike the board, or the floor before reaching the front wall, or which sends it " out-of-court " (i.e. into the gallery or roof of the court), counts the same as two consecutive faults; it costs the server his innings. Skill in service is a most important part of proficiency in racquets; a player can hardly become first-rate unless he possesses a " strong service." As in tennis a great deal of " cut " may be imparted to the ball by the stroke of the racquet, which makes the ball in its rebound from the wall behave like a billiard ball carrying " side " when striking a cushion; and when this " cut " is combined with great pace in the bound of the ball off the side wall, the back wall, and the floor, at varying angles which the server has to a great degree under his control, it becomes exceedingly difficult for hand-out to " get up " the serve (i.e. to hit it on the first hound, sending it above the play-line on the back wall), and still more so to make a good stroke which will render it difficult for his adversary in his turn to get up the ball and thus continue the rally. It often happens, therefore, that a long sequence of aces, sometimes the whole 15 aces of a game, are scored consecutively by service which hand-out is unable to return. A noteworthy instance of successful service occurred in the semifinal tie of the doubles Amateur Championship matches at the Queen's Club in 1897 when W. L. Foster opened service and scored all the aces in the first two games, and added six in the third, thus putting on a sequence of 36 aces before losing his " hand." To obtain first innings is therefore an initial advantage, although in doubles it is limited by the rule that only one partner shall have a " hand " (innings) in the opening service.

The question which side shall have this advantage is decided by spinning a racquet, the " rough " and " smooth " sides of which take the place of " heads " and " tails " when a coin is tossed. The side winning the spin opens the game by serving as described above. The server may begin in either of the service boxes; but when he has started, the service must proceed from the two boxes alternately till the close of the innings of the side, whether singles or doubles. When the other side obtains the innings they may in like manner begin in either box, without regard to where the last service of their opponents was delivered. In singles, hand-out changes sides in the court after each serve, answering to the change over of the server; in doubles the serve is taken alternately by the two hand-out players, who permanently occupy the rightand left-hand courts respectively, being allowed Lo change the order in which they receive the service only once in any game, or at the end of any game or rubber. Except in the very rare case of left-handed players most of the play in the left half of the court, including the taking of all service on that side, is back-handed; and the stronger of the two partners in back-hand play usually therefore takes the left-hand court. The best position in the court for the hand-out about to take the serve depends entirely on the nature of the service, and he has to use his judgment the instant the ball leaves the server's racquet in order to determine where it will strike the floor and at what precise point in its course it will be best for him to attempt to take it. A strong fast service, heavily cut, that sends the ball darting round the corner of the court, leaving the back wall at an extremely acute angle, or dropping almost dead off it, can only be got up by standing near the back wall a long way across the court and taking the ball by a wrist stroke at the last instant before it falls to the ground a second time. On the other hand when the server avoids the side wall altogether and strikes the back wall direct and hard, whether he achieves a " nick " serve (i.e. the ball striking precisely in the angle between the back wall and the floor) or hits the wall high up, hand-out will have little time to spare in changing position to get within reach of the ball. Some good players make a practice wherever possible, especially in the case of heavily cut service, of taking the serve on the volley (i.e. before the ball reaches the ground), sometimes of taking the ball after it leaves the side wall and before it reaches the back wall; practice alone enables the player to decide with the necessary promptitude how each stroke is to be played. In returning the serve, or in playing any stroke during the rally, the ball may strike any of the other walls before the front wall; but though this " boasted " stroke is quite legitimate, and is sometimes the only way of getting up a difficult ball, it is not considered good style deliberately to slash the ball round the corners in order to keep it in the fore end of the court. Good play consists for the most part in hard low hitting, especially as close as possible along the side walls into the corners of the back wall. One of the most effective strokes in racquets is the " drop," which means that the ball is hit so that it only just reaches the front wall and drops close to it, while the player conceals his intention by appearing to strike hard. " The drop-stroke," says Mr Eustace Miles, who regrets that it is less cultivated than formerly, " is one of the most beautiful, and of all drop-strokes, the volley or half-volley is the best." The " half-volley," in which the ball is struck at the moment of its contact with the floor and before it has had time to rise, is also employed with great effect in hard play; it makes the return much quicker than when the ball is allowed to rise to the full length of the bound, and requires corresponding quickness on the part of the adversary. It sometimes happens, too, that the player finding himself too near the pitch of the ball to take it at the end of the bound, yet not near enough to volley it, is compelled to take it on the half-volley as the only chance of getting it up. Accuracy in volleying and half-volleying, especially if the ball be kept low, is a most difficult art to acquire, but a good long rally in which are included a number of hard rapid half-volleys within a couple of inches of the board, is the prettiest feature of the game. If hand-out succeeds in returning the serve, the rally proceeds until one side or the other fails to make a good return. A good return means (r) that the ball is struck by the racquet before its second bound on the floor, and without its having touched any part of the clothes or person of the striker or his partner; (2) that it is hit against the front wall above the board without first touching the floor or going out of court; and (3) that it returns off the front wall into play (i.e. to the floor of the court or to an adversary's racquet) without going out of court. If hand-in be the one to fail in making a good return, he loses his " hand," or innings, and (in singles) handout goes in and proceeds to serve; in doubles one of the handin partners loses his " hand," and the second partner goes in and serves till he in turn similarly loses his " hand," except that in the case of the opening service in the game there is (as already mentioned) only one " hand " in any event. If hand-out fails to make a good return to the serve or to any stroke in the rally, hand-in scores an ace, and the side that first scores 15 aces wins the game. When, however, the score reaches " 13-all " (i.e. when each side has scored 13 aces), handout may, before the next serve is delivered, declare that he elects to " set " the game either to 5 or 3, whichever he prefers; and similarly when the score stands at " 14-all," hand-out may " set " the game to 3. He makes this declaration by calling " set-5 ! " or " set-3 !" and it means that 5 aces, or 3 aces, as the case may be, shall be required to win the game.

In the confined space of a racquet court it is not always easy, especially in doubles, for the players to avoid obstructing each other. It is provided in the rules that " each player must get out of his opponents' way as much as possible," and that it shall be a " let " (an Old English word for impediment or hindrance) and " the service or rally shall count for nothing, and the server shall serve again from the same service-box, (a) if the ball in play touch the striker's opponent on or above the knee, and if in the marker's opinion it be thereby prevented from reaching the front wall above the board (the playline); or (b) if either player undesignedly prevent his opponent from returning the ball served in play." If a player considers that he has been thus obstructed by his opponent he may " claim a let," and the marker adjudicates his claim. The marker's decision is final; but " if in doubt which way to decide, the marker may direct that the ace be played over again." It is the duty of the marker, who occupies a box in the gallery, to " call the game." As soon as the server serves the ball the marker calls " Play!" if the ball strikes the front wall above the service-line; and "Cut!" if it strikes below the serviceline; if the ball falls in front of the short-line the marker calls " Short!"; if the wrong side of the fault-line he calls " Fault ! "; but whether it be " cut," " short," or "fault," the serve counts as a fault in its effect. To every good return, as to every good serve, the marker calls " Play!" If a return is made after the second bound of the ball (called a "double ") the marker calls " Double!" or " Not up!"; if the ball is hit into the gallery, or against its posts or cushions, or above the girders or cross-beams of the roof, he calls " Out-of-court! " At the end of every rally he calls the state of the game, always naming first the score of hand-in: - " One-love " (love being the term for zero) meaning that hand-in has scored one ace and hand-out nothing, " Two-love," " Five-all," " Five-ten," " Fourteen-eleven," and so on, till one side has scored 15, when the marker calls " Game!" He then in similar fashion calls the state of the match - " Two games to one," or whatever it may be - before the commencement of the next game. The server in possession at the end of the game continues to serve in the new game, subject as before to the rule limiting the first innings of the game to a single " hand." The usual number of games in matches is five for singles, and seven for doubles. In matches where there are umpires and a referee, there is an appeal to them from the marker's decision except as regards questions relating to the service, on which the marker's decision is final.


Attempts have been made to trace racquets, like tennis, to an ancient origin; but although it is doubtless true that the striking of a ball with the hand or some primitive form of bat is one of the oldest forms of pastimes, and that racquets has been evolved from such an origin, the game as now known can hardly be said to have existed before the 10th century. Joseph Strutt's work on The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England, published at the beginning of the 10th century, makes no mention of racquets; and the century was far advanced before the racquet court was promoted from being an adjunct of the pot-house and the gaol, in which connexion the court within the purlieus of the Fleet prison has been immortalized in the pages of Pickwick, to a position scarcely less dignified than that of the tennis-court with its royal and historical associations. It was at the public schools that racquets first obtained repute. The school courts were at first unroofed, and in some cases open also at the back and sides, or on one side. Among the most famous of the early racquets professionals, before the period of the modern closed court, were Robert Mackay (1820), the brothers Thomas and John Pittman, J. Lamb, J. C. Mitchell and Francis Erwood (1860). One of the most famous matches ever played at racquets was that in which Erwood was beaten by Sir William Hart-Dyke, who used the " drop " stroke with telling effect, and who, after representing Oxford in the first four interuniversity matches, was the only amateur racquet player who ever defeated the open champion. A notable date in the history of racquets was the year 18J3, when the court at the old Prince's Club in Hans Place, London, was built. Here the annual racquet matches between Oxford and Cambridge Universities, singles and doubles, were first played in '1858, and the Public Schools Championship (doubles only) ten: years later. Modern racquets may perhaps be said to date from the time of the brothers Gray, who as professionals greatly raised the standard of skill in the game, and as teachers at the schools and universities improved the play of amateurs. William Gray beat Foulkes, the champion of America, in 1867; Henry Gray and Joseph Gray were also great players. The latter was beaten in 1875 by H. B. Fairs (" Punch ")") but held the championship from 1878 to 1887. Another member of the same family was Walter Gray, who was as distinguished for the power of his stroke as his brother William was for the accuracy of his " drop " and the ease and grace of his volley and halfvolley. Walter Gray was followed in the championship by Peter Latham, the first professional to combine the open Tennis Championship with the Racquets Championship; and in the opinion of Mr Eustace Miles " there has probably lived no player who could have beaten him at either game." Latham was the first to use the heavily cut service at racquets, and he is also remarkable for the power of his wrist stroke. In the last twelve years or so of the 10th century Latham stood alone, and in the opinion of the best judges he was the greatest of all racquet players. When once he had won the championship he never lost it, and when at last he resigned his title he was succeeded by Gilbert Browne, a player of a decidedly inferior calibre, who in 5903 was challenged and beaten by an Indian marker called Jamsetji. For the next six years, during which Jamsetji held the championship, comparatively little was heard of professional racquets; but in 1909 interest was revived by a handicap at Queen's Club for a prize of boo, in which Peter Latham himself took part, and which was won by Jennings of Aldershot. As a result of this contest a challenge was issued by W. Hawes, the marker at Wellington College, to play any other professional for £ 200 a side and the championship of England. The challenge was accepted by C. Williams, a young player of Prince's Club, who easily won the match, and with it the title of champion.


C. D. Buxton.


H. K. Foster.


E. M. Butler.


F. Dames Longworth.


P. Ashworth.


E. H. Miles.


H. Philipson.


E. M. Baerlein.


F. Dames Longworth.


H. K. Foster.


F. Dames Longworth.


E. M. Baerlein.


H. K. Foster.


S. H. Sheppard.


H. K. Foster.


E. B. Noel.


H. K. Foster.


E. M. Baerlein.


H. K. Foster.


E. M. Baerlein.


H. K. Foster.


E. M. Baerlein.


H. K. Foster.

The institution of annual matches between Oxford and Cambridge Universities in 1858, and of the Public Schools Championship in 1868, gave an immense stimulus to the game among amateurs. Of the 51 inter-university (singles) matches from 1858 to 1908, Oxford won 26 and Cambridge 25; of the 52 contests in doubles Oxford won 25 and Cambridge 27. Among the public schools Harrow has been far the most successful, having won the championship challenge cup 19 times out of 42 contests. Moreover, under the condition permitting any school winning it in three consecutive years to retain the challenge cup permanently, Harrow became possessed of three cups, having won the championship1871-1874inclusive,1879-1881inclusive, and1883-1887inclusive. The next most successful school has been Eton, eight times champion; Charterhouse having won five times, and no other school more than three times. For the first twenty years of the contest, with a single exception when Rugby won in 1870, no school except Eton or Harrow gained the championship; and it is not surprising therefore that the majority of famous amateurs learnt the game at one or other of these schools. Among Etonians were W. Hart-Dyke, C. J. Ottaway, the Hon. Alfred Lyttelton, the Hon. No Bligh (afterwards Lord Darnley), C. T. Studd and H. Philipson; Harrow has produced R. D. Walker, one of the best of the earliest amateur racquet players, C. F. Buller, T. S. Dury, A. J. Webbe, M. C. Kemp, E. M. Butler, the brothers Eustace Crawley and H. E. Crawley, C. D. Buxton, H. M. Leaf, Percy Ashworth and C. Browning. The famous Malvern family of Foster has been as conspicuous in the racquet court as on the cricket field, the eldest, H. K. Foster, being probably the finest amateur player of his generation. F. Dames Longworth, Major A. Cooper-Key, Colonel Spens, E. M. Baerlein and Eustace H. Miles have also been in the front rank of amateur players. The opening of the Queen's Club, West Kensington, was a notable event in the history of the game, especially as it was followed by the establishment of amateur championships in singles and doubles in 1888, of which the results have been as follows: - Amateur Championship I. Singles 1890. P. Ashworth and W. C. Hedley.

1891. P. Ashworth and E. L. Metcalfe.

1892. E. M. Butler and M. C. Kemp.

1893. F. H. Browning and H. K. Foster.

1894. H. K. Foster and F. C. Ridgeway.

1895. F. Dames Longworth and F. H. Browning. 1896. H. K. Foster and P. Ashworth.

1897. H. K. Foster and P. Ashworth.

1898. H. K. Foster and W. L. Foster.

1899. H. K. Foster and P. Ashworth.

1900. H. K. Foster and P. Ashworth.

1901. F. Dames Longworth and V. H. Pennell. 1902. E. M. Baerlein and E. H. Miles.

1903. H. K. Foster and B. S. Foster.

1904. E. H. Miles and E. M. Baerlein.

1905. E. H. Miles and E. M. Baerlein.

1906. E. H. Miles and F. Dames Longworth.

1907. W. L. Foster and B. S. Foster.

1908. F. Dames Longworth and V. H. Pennell. 1909. E. M. Baerlein and P. Ashworth.

1910. B. S. Foster and Hon. C. N. Bruce.

A military championship was inaugurated in 1903 and is played annually at Princes' Club. In 1908, mainly through the exertions of Major A. Cooper-Key, a " Tennis, Racquets and Fives Association " was founded for the purpose of encouraging these games, safeguarding their interests and providing a legislative body whose authority would be recognized by all tennis and racquet players.

Racquets in America

In the United States and in Canada racquets is a popular game, and most of the leading athletic clubs have good courts. The American champions Foulkes, Boakes and George Standing were all beaten by English professionals, but had a great reputation in their own country; and Tom Pettitt, Ellis and Moore are names that stand high in the records of the game. Among American amateurs, Lamontayne did much to encourage racquets in New York in the early period of its history; and in more recent times Quincy Shaw, de Garmendia, R. Fearing, Payne Whitney, Mackay, L. Waterbury and P. D. Haughton have shown themselves racquet players of very high merit, although Mr Eustace Miles is of opinion that " an English player like H. K. Foster, or Dames Longworth, or Ashworth, would give any American amateur upwards of seven aces." Squash racquets is a form of the game which provides admirable practice for the beginner, and has advantages of its own which offer attractions even to those who are proficient players of real racquets. It is played with a hollow indiarubber ball about the size of a fives ball (i.e. nearly twice the size of an ordinary racquet ball) and with a racquet rather shorter in the handle than those used in racquets proper. The court may be of any dimensions, but is always much smaller than a real racquet court; the squash ball, being not nearly so fast as the racquet ball, would not reach the back wall in a 60 ft. court on the first bound unless hit high as well as hard against the front wall. The rules of the game itself are precisely the same as in real racquets. Squash racquets originated at Harrow, where the boys were in the habit of playing in an improvised court in the corner of the schoolyard against the old school building; the windows, buttresses and water-pipe on the face of the wall forming irregularities which developed great skill on the part of the players in taking advantage of the difficulties thus caused. The marked success of Harrow in the Public Schools Championship at racquets, especially during the first twenty years of its institution (see above), has been attributed to the early training and practice gained at squash racquets in the school-yard, and in other courts which came into use as the popularity of this form of the game increased. Towards the end of the 19th century squash racquets became adopted at other schools and at the universities; and as the court is much cheaper to build than that required for real or " hard ball " racquets, and the game is cheaper as well as easier to play, many private courts came into existence. On the initiative of Lord Desborough, who had learnt the game at Harrow, several squash courts were provided at the Bath Club, London, where handicap tournaments are annually played. At Lord's cricket ground, when a new pavilion was erected in 1890, squash racquet courts were included in the building. The dimensions of the courts at Lord's, which may be taken as the best model, are as follows: length 42 ft. by 24 ft.; height of back wall 8 ft. 8 in.;height of service-line from floor 8 ft. 9 in.; height of playline 2 ft. 4 in. The short-line is 23 ft. from the front wall. The place which squash racquets has come to occupy may be estimated from the fact that Mr. Eustace Miles pronounces it " an almost indispensable preparation " for tennis and racquets as those games are played under modern conditions; and the same authority sufficiently describes its merits when he observes that it " gives, at a small cost of time or money, abundance of hard and brisk and simple yet exciting exercise for all times of life, of the year, and even of the day - if we have good artificial light." The squash courts at Lord's and at the Bath Club are lighted by electricity, so that play is not dependent on the condition of the atmosphere, or on the season of the year.

See Tennis, Lawn Tennis, Rackets and Fives in the " Badminton Library "; Racquets, Tennis and Squash, by Eustace Miles (London, 1902); Sporting and Athletic Register (London, 1908). (R. J. M.)

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