How to Win at Racquetball

Back in the day, I was a racquetball fanatic. For a guy who hated nearly all forms of sports and who couldn't do a push-up to save his life, this game completely bowled me over when I discovered it. I'd been a miserable failure at tennis, but racquetball seemingly removed everything about tennis that I stunk at. You could hit the ball as hard as you wanted, and it wouldn't go over the fence. You could do trick shots off the back wall. You could bellow in rage, and the echoes would sound really cool. But as I played the game more, I discovered that, though I was having fun, I wasn't winning. So after a little study and a little practice, I learned how to win. And it's easy. You can do it.

1. Learn how to hit backhand.
Many racquetball players have never learned how to hit with their backhand. They approach every return with their forehand, even if they have to twist themselves in knots to make contact with the ball and even if the ensuing shot is weak.

Practice with a friend. Have them hit every ball to your backhand until you can hit as well with your backhand as you can with your forehand. When you can control both sides of the court while your opponent can only control one, you've got a massive advantage.

2. Learn how to hit to your opponent's backhand.
This can help win the match for you easily, especially if your opponent has trouble hitting backhand. Again, practice your shots. Learn where to hit the front wall so that it will head for your opponent's off-hand. Learn how to do this with both your forehand and your backhand. Learn how to do this with your serve, too.

3. Aim low.
If your shots hit fairly low on the wall, their first bounce is going to be closer to the front wall, and your opponent will have a more difficult time even getting to the ball before it makes its second bounce. Ideally, your return should hit the front wall about an inch or two above the floor--this shot is nearly impossible to return and is called a kill shot. It is very difficult to do--the pros can hit 'em no problem, but for the rest of us mortals, just concentrate on hitting as low as you can.

4. Quit with the smashing.
Yeah, it's lots of fun to hit the ball as hard as you can, to smash it so hard it leaves blue spots on the walls, to blast it so hard it doesn't make its first bounce 'til after it's ricocheted between the front and back walls a few times. But when you use that much power, you lose your ability to control the ball. You can't hit low, you can't hit to the backhand, and you give your opponent the chance to set up his kill shot.

Get the macho smashing action out of your system early, then start learning how to control the ball properly. You can get truly amazing results with light taps into the front wall, with subtle wrist twists that send the ball in unexpected directions, with zigzagging cross-court shots that are more difficult to track. But don't neglect your power shots either. Power and control are both important tools, and both must be added to your arsenal if you want to win.

5. Control the center of the court.
It's vitally important, for both offense and defense, that you stay toward the center of the court as much as possible. If you need to get to either the back or the front of the court, you don't have far to travel. If you're stuck at the back of the court and you need to get to the front of the court, you probably aren't going to make it in time.

If you're stuck at the back, you need to force your opponent out of his position in the center. Shots that arc high toward the back of the court are ideal for this--while he moves back to make the return, you can move forward and take his place. If you're lucky and position your shot correctly, maybe you can even get the ball to land in the juncture between the back wall, the side wall, and the floor--no telling where it'll bounce then, if it'll even bounce at all.

6. Don't get too flashy.
You'll see some hotshots out there who, in returning the ball, will actually hit it as hard as they can toward the back wall and let the force carry it all the way to the front wall. This is stupid. Again, you lose all control over the ball and end up standing in the back of the court facing the wrong way, while your opponent will be able take the time to line up a great shot and take the next point. Besides, it takes too much energy. Pulling hotshot stunts may make the pretty girlies ooh and aah at you, but actually winning the game will make more of an impact. And it'll leave you more energy for post-game celebrations.

7. Practice!
'Cause there are a lot of shots out there, and I can't tell you how to return all of them in one writeup. You'll have to learn how to get most of 'em yourself.

Research: Memories of the days when I wasn't too fat to squeeze through that itty-bitty door