Shots of the Game

 

There are essentially two kinds of shots in racquetball, offensive shots designed to win the rally and defensive shots designed to force your opponent deep into the back court so that you can take a good center court position. A complete player has command of both types of shots.

 

Defensive shots

 

Ceiling ball

 

The most important single shot in racquetball is the ceiling ball. It can be struck from almost any place on the court, but is typically hit from the back court. The ball strikes the ceiling 4-8 feet in front of the front wall, hits high on the front wall, lands in the front court or mid court, takes a very high bounce and dies on or near the back wall. A perfect ceiling ball hits the crack between the floor and the back wall and dies. A good ceiling ball lands on the floor within a foot of the floor crack or anywhere below the two foot line on the back wall. Many courts have lights in the ceiling about the right distance away from the front wall and are excellent targets. The harder you hit the shot, the further back from the front wall to hit the ceiling. The softer you hit, the closer to the front wall is the target.


This is the most important shot because it can be hit easily from anywhere, it forces your opponent deep into the back court, and, because the ball travels slowly, it allows you plenty of time to saunter into good center court position. Remember, dominating the center court is the key to winning racquetball games. The ceiling ball allows you to do that. Hitting a ceiling ball is like hitting the reset key in a video game. It gives you time to regroup. If your opponent is in good center court position, and you are not sure that you can hit an offensive shot without setting up your opponent, go to the ceiling. If you are out of position or the ball is above your waist, go to the ceiling. When in doubt, go to the ceiling.

 

You do not have to be deep in the back court to hit a ceiling ball. Hitting from around the dotted line is a good strategy if you are jammed or simply havenít got a setup. In this case it is sometimes easier to hit a reverse ceiling ball which hits the wall 16 feet up or higher, hits the ceiling, comes straight down and then rebounds to the back wall. To hit the ceiling ball or reverse ceiling ball from around the dotted line requires that you use a lot of wrist because most of the shots in that area will be below your waist.

 

Another reason to use the ceiling ball is to test the patience of your opponent. If you are constantly hitting ceiling balls, your opponent might be tempted to try an offensive shot from deep court. This is not a problem because you are in good center court position. Your opponent might try to hit a winner from deep court. This is a low percentage shot and there is a good chance your opponent will skip it. On the other hand, your center court position allows you a play on all but the best shots. Also, some players just hate ceiling balls and other players get worn out by having to run to the back court to cover them.

 

Donít try to hit the ceiling ball along the side wall. There is too good a chance that it will hit the side wall and pop out for a setup for your opponent. Keeping the ceiling ball in the center of the court still pulls your opponent deep into the back court and doesnít run the risk of setting up your opponent.

 

You should watch your opponent so that you can determine if he or she is going to return the ball to the ceiling (a ceiling ball rally). If your opponent is going to the ceiling, you donít have to hustle to center court. Stay in front of your opponent, but in the back court. Save your energy. However, if he or she sets up for an offensive shot, move to center court.

 

 

How to hit a ceiling ball

 

Forehand ceiling ball

 

Letís assume that you are in a ceiling ball rally and your opponent has just hit a ceiling ball. When the ball hits the floor and takes its high bounce, face the side wall, raise your hitting arm, and get the racquet in the ready position. Turn your shoulders away from the front wall and wait until the ball drops about head high on the forehand side. With the racquet face open, so that the strings are pointing at the target on the ceiling, rotate your shoulders toward the front wall and, with your arm partially extended, take a step forward, lift the ball toward the target. The motion is similar to throwing a baseball from the outfield. The racquet moves from low to high, then follows through below the shoulder. Contact the ball approximately at the midline of your body. If you contact the ball too far in front, it will miss the ceiling. If you hit the ball too far behind the midline, you will hit the ceiling too far back. It will miss the front wall. Some players like to point at the target on the ceiling with their off hand to help line up the shot. This is a control shot, so you donít need a lot of power. In combat you are likely to hit the ball harder than in practice, so you should probably practice hitting the ball a little further back from the front wall or practice hitting very gently. You do not want the ball to hit the back wall too high so that it rebounds to center court and sets up for your opponent. The perfect ceiling ball cracks out from the back wall.

 

Backhand ceiling ball

 

Using the mirror image of the forehand, turn toward the side wall, move the racquet to the ready position, and turn your shoulders away from the front wall. Wait until the ball falls to shoulder height. Then take a step toward the front wall and lift the ball toward the target. The motion is again from low to high, then following through below the shoulder. Contact the ball at the midline of the body. Take it easy.

 

You can practice the ceiling ball by simply engaging in a ceiling ball rally with yourself. Start by bouncing the ball to about head height and hitting a forehand ceiling ball. See how many you can hit in a row. (This requires that you keep the ball in the middle of the court.) A good ceiling ball player should be able to hit 50 in a row.

 
For a video, click here.

Underhand ceiling ball

 

There are two ways to hit an underhand ceiling ball. The first is to just snap your wrist straight up, flicking the ball toward the ceiling. Use this stroke when you are jammed in the mid court. Keep the ball in front of you. The second way is to use a standard forehand or backhand with the racquet face open (35 degree angle from horizontal) to impart the upward trajectory to the ball. Adding a flick of the wrist will help get the ball to the ceiling. For a video showing several examples of using the ceiling ball to stay in the rally, click here.


Use this stroke in the back court to return a really good drive serve to the ceiling. To see some examples, click here.

 

 

Lob

 

Occasionally you will encounter a player that cuts off the ceiling ball. He or she will run up to the dotted line with the racquet held overhead, catch the ball on its rebound off the floor and direct it low into the front wall. It takes a lot of energy to do this, which is probably why you donít see it very often, but it is most annoying when it does happen. In this case the appropriate defensive shot is the lob or the Z. The lob is hit just like the lob serve, although from behind the service box, at a point 12 to 18 feet up on the front wall and directed into one of the back corners.

 

Z ball


Every now and then you will find yourself chasing a ball in the front court that is over your head. You have two obvious choices. If you are close to a side wall, the first choice is a Z ball which is hit like the Z serve upwards into the opposite corner, striking the front wall close to the side wall, then hitting the side wall, traveling to the opposite side wall, and finally sliding across deep back court. If your opponent canít cut it off in mid court, it will pull her deep into one of the corners where she will have a difficult time generating an offensive shot.  This shot does not have to be hit hard to be effective, but most players who use it tend to hit it hard.


The second choice is a reverse ceiling ball, which is hit almost straight up into the top of the front wall. It has all the advantages of the standard ceiling ball.

 

Round the world

 

This shot hits high on the side wall, then high on the front wall, then the other side wall. It then bounces in mid court, rebounds to the opposite side wall, and dies on the back wall. I donít recommend this shot because it is too easily cut off in the mid court.

 

Back wall-front wall

 

This is a desperation shot when all else fails. Hit the ball with an open racquet (35 degree angle) into the back wall so that it rebounds off the back wall high toward the front wall, generating a high lob or ceiling ball. You do not have to hit this ball hard, just with the correct racquet face. All you are doing is keeping the ball in play, forcing your opponent to hit the ball one more time, and hoping for the best. Beginning players hit this shot way too often, usually in an attempt to avoid hitting off the back wall. Donít make that mistake. Donít get lazy. This shot is only for the last resort. If your opponent is an advanced player, she will probably run up to the front court when she sees you are in trouble and cut the ball off with a dink to the front wall, leaving you helpless in the back court.

 

In summary, hit a ceiling ball when a setup is not available. When in doubt, hit to the ceiling. If your opponent is cutting off your ceiling balls, use lobs or Zís to move her into the back court.

 

 

Offensive shots

 

 

While a defensive shot is designed to move your opponent to deep court and allow you to move into center court, the offensive shot is designed to win the rally. There are two kinds of offensive shots: pass and kill. The pass can win a rally in one of two ways. The first is that the ball gets past your opponent so that she cannot return it. The second way is that the pass draws your opponent deep into one of the back corners forcing a skip or a weak shot that you can exploit.

 

Passing shots

 

Down the line

 

The DTL pass travels from the front wall directly to the back corner on the same side of the court, bouncing twice before hitting the back wall without hitting the side wall. The target is a point on the front wall somewhere in the area between 4-8 feet from the side wall, depending on your court position. You should try to hit the front wall between one and two feet above the floor. This should keep the ball from bouncing once and rebounding off the back wall for a setup for your opponent.

 

Try to avoid the temptation to hit the ball very close to the side wall in an attempt to get the ball to travel parallel to and within a few inches of the side wall. It is possible to hit this shot, but it is very likely to hit the side wall and pop out as a set up for your opponent. Click here for some examples of the down the line shot.

 

 

Cross court

 

The CC pass hits the front wall at a point within 4 feet of the center of the front wall, depending on your court position, and rebounds directly to the opposite back corner. Hit the ball one to two feet high on the front wall so that it bounces twice before reaching the back corner. The main problem that most players have with the CC pass is hitting the front wall too far away from the center so that the ball hits the side wall and bounces out to your opponent as a setup. Practice hitting CC passes from various positions in the back court and noting the correct point on the front wall. After awhile your body will remember the target, so that you can concentrate on other things. Click here for some examples of the cross court pass.

 

Wide angle

 

The WA pass hits the front wall one to two feet high at a point a foot or so closer to the opposite side wall (making a wider angle) than the CC pass. The ball rebounds from the front wall, contacts the side wall around the dotted line, and then angles to the back court so that it dies near the middle of the back wall. It is a very effective pass if your opponent is in good center court position because she might be able to cut off the CC pass. The WA pass is too close to the side wall and has a good chance of getting past her. It is also a good choice for doubles because there are two players covering the center of the court.

 

You have to practice this shot from various positions in the back court so that you learn the correct target. If you hit the front wall too close to the side wall, the ball will hit the side wall too soon and bounce directly to your opponent in center court resulting in a setup. Click here for some examples of the wide angle pass.

 

Hitting the pass

 

The pass is hit with the standard forehand and backhand stroke. The key is to keep the stroke level (flat) and to let the ball drop somewhere between the waist and the ankle. Trying to hit the ball down from a point above the waist can lead to skips.

 

Kill shots

 

 

A kill shot is defined as a shot that bounces twice before the short line 20 feet from the front court. A rollout is a ball that bounces twice before the foot fault line 15 feet from the front wall. A "flat rollout" simply rolls out from the front wall with no bounce at all. The purpose of the kill shot is to end the rally. The target is six inches or lower on the front wall. (These shots are very difficult to hit with regularity. Try standing in good center court position behind the dotted line and see how many shots you can drop and hit so that they bounce twice before the short line. One out of four would be a good result. Now try it from deep court. Good luck.)

 

Use good stroke mechanics and contact the ball at a point between your knee and ankle. Hit level, donít hit down. Bend your knees, lower your butt, and keep your head down. Attempt a kill shot only if you have a nice setup. I never try to hit a kill shot. My kills are usually the result of accidentally hitting a pass too low.

 

One wall kill shots

 

There are two kinds of kill shots: one wall and two wall kills. The one wall kills, also known as ďstraight in killsĒ are simply DTL, CC, or WA passes that are hit so low that they bounce twice before passing the short line.

 

Two wall kill shots

 

The two wall kills contact the side wall first, and then hit the front wall.

 

Pinch shot

 

The pinch shot strikes the near side wall at a point two feet or lower within 4 feet or so of the front wall. The ball hits low on the front wall, rebounds sideways and bounces twice before hitting the opposite side wall. It typically bounces twice in front of the short line for a kill. The further back on the side wall the harder or higher the ball has to be hit so that it doesnít skip before hitting the front wall. If you hit the pinch too high, it will hit the front wall too high, bounce once, hit the opposite side wall and set up for your opponent. This is the dreaded left-up pinch. It is a plum setup for your opponent. Click here for examples of the pinch shot.

 

Reverse pinch shot

 

The reverse pinch is the mirror image of the pinch. It hits the opposite side wall two feet or lower and within 1-2 feet of the front wall. It then hits low on the front wall and bounces twice before hitting the near side wall.

 

The most common reverse pinch is hit from in front of the dotted line into the opposite side wall usually within a foot of the front wall and within a foot or so of the floor. It hits the front wall immediately and frequently comes straight back at the shooter. To avoid a hinder, the ball has to bounce twice before coming too close to the shooter. For that reason it is usually hit very low on the side wall. Click here for examples of the reverse pinch.

 

Inside out pinch

 

Both the pinch and reverse pinch can be hit in such a way that the ball strikes very low on the front wall first and then cracks out from the side wall. This shot is probably best hit by accident. Click here for some examples of pros hitting the inside out pinch.

 

Splat

 

The splat is hit when the ball is within a foot of the side wall. In fact, it is best hit when the ball is within six inches of the side wall. It is hit with the tip of the racquet so that the ball strikes the side wall almost immediately (at approximately a 15-35 degree angle to the side wall). It ďcatchesĒ the side wall, slows down, and angles toward the middle of the front wall. After hitting low on the front wall, it dribbles off sideways towards the opposite side wall, bouncing twice before reaching the next wall and before crossing the short line. (If you hit the splat perfectly, the ball hits the front wall and then bounces twice within a few feet.)  If you hit it with a lot of power, the ball makes the distinctive ďsplatĒ sound that gives the shot its name. 

 

The splat does not have to be hit with excessive power, just hard enough to get to the front wall. However, if you are attempting to hit a splat from well behind the dotted line, youíd better hit with power, otherwise it is going to skip. Click here for some examples of the splat shot.

 

To learn when to hit these shots, read the section on shot selection and the William and Mary Way.

 

 

Some exotic shots

 

Overhead shots

 

When the ball is over your head deep in the back court, the usual recommendation is to hit a ceiling ball. However, it is possible to remain aggressive even in this case by hitting either an overhead drive or overhead pinch. The overhead drive is a passing shot that is hit like a serve in tennis. Hit the ball slightly in front of your body with a wrist snap to bring the ball down. This is most likely to happen on a ceiling ball that is dropping a foot or more short of the back wall. Your target is a point two feet or higher on the front wall. Donít try to kill the ball because you tend aim too low and are very likely to skip the ball. Use a DTL or CC pass to bring the ball into one of the back corners and put pressure on your opponent. You should avoid the DTL if you are close to the side wall, because the ball will come straight back and could result in a penalty hinder. Click here for some examples of the overhead.


This shot is best hit as an occasional change of pace instead of a ceiling ball. Remember, if you can hit an overhead drive, you might have enough room to let the ball drop into your hitting zone and hit a nice pass instead. The overhead can be hit with the backhand, but most players are weaker on that side and the resulting shot is often ineffective.

 

It is possible to hit an overhead pinch or overhead reverse pinch instead of a CC or DTL drive, but you have to aim very low to avoid leaving the ball up in mid court. This is a very low percentage shot..

 

Jam shots

 

Some players can be handcuffed by hitting the ball directly at them. One such shot is the front wall jam shot which is hit quite hard, three or four feet up on the front wall, directly in front of your opponent. The ball flies directly at your opponent, forcing her to adjust quickly and frequently results in a weak return or a clear winner if it hits her. A Z jam is a Z ball hit quite hard, 8-10 feet high on the front wall, so that it hits the front wall, the side wall, and the opposite side wall without hitting the floor. It rebounds from the third wall directly at your opponent who will have to react quickly. Finally, the wide angle jam is just the standard WA pass, but hit high (4-6 feet up) on the front wall so that it rebounds off the side wall into your opponent about waist high, presumably forcing a weak return or an outright winner.

 

Big Boy


Occasionally, you will attempt to hit a pinch shot, but the ball will rebound back along the side wall rather than bouncing diagonally toward the opposite side wall. This shot is a miracle of physics and is only hit by accident.

Drop shots

 

If you are in good center court position, your opponent is in deep court, and the ball comes to you, you might want to hit a soft shot low into one of the front corners so that the ball dies before crossing the short line. This is a kill shot, but instead of hitting with power, you are hitting softly and with control. The ball can also be hit directly to the front wall, but a two wall shot is more likely to keep the ball down. It is a great change of pace shot that can keep your opponent off balance. If you have been pounding DTL and CC passes keeping her in the back court, a drop shot means she canít trust you to keep pounding the ball. As always, but especially when hitting the drop shot, keep eye on ball. Watch the racquet contact the ball.

 

You can also use the drop shot in the front court. Occasionally, the ball will fly off the back wall and not bounce until it is close to the front wall. In this case you can run to the front court, wait until the ball drops below your knee, and simply push the ball low into the front wall or one of the corners. However, you can also simply hit it with authority. If you hit it low enough it will roll out from the front wall. Remember, your opponent is likely to be charging from deep court, so I recommend the DTL shot over the pinch most of the time. The drop shot is the obvious choice when the ball is about to take its second bounce in the front court. Run with the racquet stuck out at a 35 degree angle in front of you and try to slip it under the ball at the last second. Your momentum from running plus the upward angle is frequently enough to get the ball to die on the front wall. Add a little wrist snap if you can.

 

It is not a good idea to try drop shots from deep court. It is a low percentage shot that if not hit perfectly will skip or stay up as a setup for your opponent. (Although  the look on your opponentís face when you float a killer drop shot from 35 feet makes it almost worth the risk.) See the section on The Touch Game for more on drop shots.



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