Rackets (sport)

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For the individual piece of sports equipment, see Racquet. For the illegal business, see Racket (crime).
Not to be confused with Racquetball.
R. P. Keigwin (right) with AEJ Collins the College's rackets team at Clifton College c. 1902

Rackets (American English) or racquets (British English) is an indoor racquet sport played in the United Kingdom, Ireland, United States, and Canada. The sport is infrequently called "hard rackets," possibly to distinguish it from the related sport of squash (formerly called "squash rackets").


Boys hitting up outside the Harrow Old School (ca late 1700s)
A Toff playing with the rabble in prison
Rackets being played at a prison—where the game developed

Historians generally assert that Rackets began as an 18th-century pastime in London's King's Bench and Fleet debtors prisons. The prisoners modified the game of fives by using tennis rackets to speed up the action. They played against the prison wall, sometimes at a corner to add a sidewall to the game. Rackets then became popular outside the prison, played in alleys behind pubs. It spread to schools, first using school walls, and later with proper four-wall courts being specially constructed for the game. The lithograph at right from the late 1700s shows school boys 'hitting up' outside the Harrow School 'Old School' buildings.

Eglinton Castle has a "Racket Hall" which is first shown on the 1860 OS map, but estate records show that it was built shortly after 1839, the first recorded match being in 1846. The floor is of large granite slabs, now hidden by the wooden floor. It is the very first covered racket court and is now the oldest surviving court in the world, as well as being the oldest indoor sports building in Scotland. It has been restored as a racket hall, but used as an exhibition area.[1]

Some private clubs also built courts. Along with real tennis and badminton, rackets was used as an inspiration for the game of lawn tennis, invented in 1873 by Walter Clopton Wingfield. A vacant rackets court built into the University of Chicago's Stagg Field served as the location of the first artificial nuclear chain reaction on December 2, 1942. The Stagg Field court is often mistakenly identified as having been a "squash rackets" court.[citation needed] Rackets was part of the 1908 Summer Olympics program.

The Book of Racquets was published by J. R. Atkins in 1872 and is a good guide to the game. It was reprinted to commemorate the 1981 World Rackets Challenge Match between W. J. C. Surtees and J. A. N. Prenn as a limited edition of 250 copies.[2]

Manner of play[edit]

The Rackets Hall built by the 13th Earl of Eglinton.
Interior of the Eglinton Castle Rackets Hall in 1842.
A racket court layout

Rackets is played in a 30 by 60 feet (9.1 by 18.3 m) enclosed court, with a ceiling at least 30 feet (9.1 m) high. Singles and doubles are played on the same court. The walls and floor of the court are made of smooth stone or concrete and are generally dark in colour to contrast with the white ball. A player uses 30.5-inch (770 mm) wooden racket, known as a bat, to hit a 38 mm (1.5 inch) hard white ball weighing 28 grams. Currently there are only two companies in the world producing rackets bats: Grays of Cambridge (UK)[3] and Harrow Sports (US), in Denver, Colorado. A good stroke must touch the front wall above a 26.5 inches (670 mm) high wooden (often cloth-covered) board before touching the floor. The ball may touch the side walls before reaching the front wall. The player returning a good stroke may play the ball on the volley, or after one bounce on the floor. The play is extremely fast, and potentially quite dangerous. Lets (replayed points) are common, as the striker should not play the ball if doing so risks hitting another player with it. Matches preferably are observed by a "marker", who has the duty to call "Play" after each good stroke to denote that the ball is "up." Games are to 15 points, unless the game is tied at 13–all or 14–all, in which case the game can be "set" to 16 or 18 (in the case of 13–all) or to 15 or 17 (in the case of 14–all) at the option of the player first reaching 13 or 14. Only the server can score—the receiver who wins a rally becomes the server. Return of service can be extremely difficult, and, in North America, only one serve is allowed. Matches are typically best of five games. If an opponent is cleanswept 15–0 15–0 15–0 (or in the more common terminology "Joplinged"—a term that originated from the name of a player who failed to win a point in every competition game he played), it is customary for the defeated player to buy drinks for all those who spectated. The most recent notable example is Steve Tulley in the Neptune Professional Singles 2014.

The main shots played are the volley, forehand and the backhand. They are played in a similar fashion as one plays them in squash; because the game of squash rackets (now known as "squash") began in the 19th century as an off-shoot of rackets, the sports were similar in manner of play and rules. However, recent advancements in the game have led to the introduction of a far greater range of possible shots. The "drop shot" for example is a shot which, over the past few years, has been extensively tested in the court of St Paul's School. Notable users of the drop shot include Nico Hughes, National School's Rackets Doubles Champion (2014, 2015), and Alex Engstrom, National School's Singles Champion (2015) and National School's Doubles Champion (2014, 2015). In 2013, soon after the advent of the drop shot, a judging panel was formed to rank drop shots according to their merit. It was decided that an "A*" drop shot would constitute to a shot, hit in the final of a national tournament, that lands approximately 5cm above the gutter. An "A" would be awarded to any shot that lands 10cm over the gutter, a "B" to 15cm and a "C" to over 20cm. However, if not in the final of a national tournament, an "A*" can never be achieved. To this day, never in the history of the game has an A* drop shot been recorded. Other notable shots include the "slut drop", a variant of the "drop shot" and the "Blackwood Wood", a shot that comes of the wood of that racket that results in the winning of the point.

Even though the rules and scoring in squash have evolved in the last hundred years or so, rackets has changed little; the main difference today is that players are now allowed brief rest periods between games to play for example, Super Stickman Golf 2 where powerups are not allowed at all. In the past, leaving the court could mean forfeiting the match, so players kept spare rackets, shirts, and shoes in the gutter below the telltale on the front wall.

The governing bodies are the Tennis and Rackets Association (UK) and the North American Racquets Association.

Court locations[edit]

United Kingdom[edit]

There are about twenty courts in some of the major public schools and private clubs in the United Kingdom.



There are also private clubs that the public may join, and a nomadic club, The Jesters.

North America[edit]

There are eight active courts in North America, all at private clubs:

The Racquet Club of Chicago has 2 courts. Opened in 1924, with a Court Tennis and two double squash courts. The courts are in exceptional condition, and have hosted the prestigious Western Open and other tournaments multiple times. The lobby of the courts contains plaques with the names of yearly winners going back to 1924. This club is open to both Men and Women and features many other gym facilities. It is known as one of the most exclusive clubs in the Chicago area. There are multiple dining and social areas, including a billiards room for social events. The current Rackets professionals are Mr. William Hopton and Mr. Johnathan Cashman.
(A rackets court underneath the now-demolished west stands of the original Stagg Field at the University of Chicago was the site of the world's first nuclear reactor CP-1)
The Detroit Racquet Club opened in 1902 as the 'Detroit Racquet and Curling Club', designed by the noted architect Albert Kahn who also designed the more famous Detroit Athletic Club. It is a proper Gentlemen's club, with only male members, but females are welcome to play in open Racket tournaments. Originally the club had two curling lanes but these were replaced in 1904 with three hardball squash courts to aide in the training for the bigger game of Rackets. The Rackets court was originally open to the air with natural lighting until it was glazed over with lights added in 1912. The club was constructed by Joseph Bickley. The club has a home color of navy blue.
The Rackets court has a very large gallery with six tiers of seating and a large standing room area. A dark wooden bar, a small living room, and a dining space make up most of the social space of the club. The Detroit Racquet Club is the smallest Rackets club on a world circuit with less than 70 resident members. Members include many of the prominent businessmen, lawyers, and doctors of the metro Detroit community. The club is reportedly the origin to the cocktail the stinger which has been a mainstay at the club since opening. Main components of the club went under a considerable renovation in the summer of 2014 including a refinishing of the Rackets court and squash courts. The current Racket professional is Mr. Steven Toseland.
The first court was built in 1825. The Montreal Rackets Club (founded in 1889) is the oldest in existence according to Alastair Bruce, 5th Baron Aberdare, whose father won the championship there in 1930. The court was constructed four feet longer and two feet wider to facilitate doubles play. It was resized to regulation 60 by 30 feet in 1909. Yearly, North American clubs host a male guest from British boarding schools known as a "fellow" who usually is between the age of 18 and 19. The fellow program lasts three to four months. The fellowship program allows young men from Britain to experience the United States clubs (there is an active court in Montreal). Normally these men travel to all the North American clubs to play in tournaments. Their duties include being an unpaid teacher of the sport to wrapping and trimming Rackets balls. The current Racket professional is Mr. James Rock.
New York
The New York Racquet and Tennis Club opened in 1918 on Park Avenue, the building designed by Mckim, Mead and White. The building originally housed two courts: one was converted to a double squash court in 1956. It is one of the remaining large clubs with a male only policy. The first court in the City was built in 1850 by a wine merchant from Montreal, Mr E.H. Lamontagne. The current Racket and squash professional is Mr. James Stout who is the current world champion.
Tuxedo Park
Opened in 1902. The Tuxedo Park courts are part of a large private gated community which hosts many tournaments bringing in players from all around the world.
Opened in 1907 with two courts, one of which now has been converted to a double squash court, at The Racquet Club of Philadelphia.[5]
Boston Tennis and Racquet Club
Opened in 1902, with one rackets, one court tennis, and six North American squash courts, it was the original site of the Boston Athletic Association which now orchestrates the Boston Marathon; after late 1990's structural renovation, three international squash courts have displaced three of their narrower counterparts.


Carlow Sports & Social Club racket hall is located in the formor British Army Officers mess, on College Street in Carlow Town, adjacant to Carlow University - This club is active playing a local variant of the sport in which a modern tennis racket & tennis ball are used. Typically the game is played as doubles games lasting an hour, the winning team being that with the highest number of points scored after an hour of play.

Disused, lost or converted courts[edit]

Country Name City Information
North America The University Club Detroit, Michigan The last court built in North America, constructed by Joseph Bickley. This building has now been demolished to make way for a McDonalds
The Tavern Club Cleveland 36th and Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio, USA. Now houses a doubles squash court.
The Halifax Racket Club Halifax, Nova Scotia Two courts were built here in the 1840s, both were demolished by 1883.
The Pittsburgh Athletic Association Pittsburgh 5th Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. The court now houses three squash courts installed laterally, making use of the original walls of the hard rackets court. The marker's gallery is still present.
St Louis Racquets Club St Louis Now houses a doubles squash court.
Lakewood New Jersey Now used as a student lounge, adjacent to the refurbished real tennis court.
UK Devonshire Park Eastbourne, Sussex Built in 1875, this court is now used as a prop store for the Devonshire Park Theatre. A section of the front wall has been bricked up and used as a ladies' toilet for the pub next door. This court could be converted back for play.


Belmont House Wraxall This is in Bristol. Built in the 1860s by Williams Gibbs, who made his fortune out of guano – bird droppings imported from the Pacific, a popular Victorian garden fertilizer. It passed through the family and was last owned by the second Lord Wraxall. This court has now been lost. Sections of it have been taken to be part of the main house and the remaining is to be converted into a theatre.
Copped Hall [6] Epping This is in Essex. The main house is under restoration. The rackets court has now been converted into a tea rooms; the gallery still remains.

Copped Hall - geograph.org.uk - 826703.jpg

Park Place Estate Henley-on-Thames Built in 1900, it is at the moment in disrepair. Plans were afoot to restore it to its former glory, but its future is now unsure.
Eglinton Castle Kilwinning, Ayrshire, Scotland Built in 1842 and refurbished c. 1985 as an exhibition hall.
Fyvie Castle Scotland Fyvie Castle was built in 1903. Restored and used as a playhouse / exhibition space.
Stonyhurst College, Clitheroe, Lancashire Converted to squash courts in 1933.
Newcastle University Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland Part of the University Building, was being used for play as late as the 1980s. Its future is now unsure. Now used for ping pong.
Kinloch Castle Rum, Scotland
Rossall School Lancashire Converted to squash courts.
Royal Naval College Greenwich These two courts were built in 1874, converted to squash courts in 1882, and now converted into an exhibition space.
Stonehouse, Plymouth Millbay Converted to squash courts in 1930s.
Samsome Walk Worcester Converted to apartments.
Ireland Leinster Lane Dublin Now used as a book archive for the National Library of Ireland.
Trinity College Dublin Now used as a bookstore and possibly to be absorbed in new building development.
Dawson Street Dublin Now used as a car park, including vehicle lift.
Carlton House Maynooth Believed absorbed in current commercial development.
Curragh Camp County Kildare Converted to squash courts.
Gibraltar Now converted into a Squash Club.
Australia Melbourne Club Melbourne Converted into squash courts 1913.
Pakistan Kuldana Cantonment, Murree Hills Pakistan Built in 1897, still standing, now a gymnasium.
India Calcutta Racket Club Calcutta Converted to squash courts in the 1930s.


The entrance and viewing balcony at the Eglinton Racket Court.
The old court at Eglinton Castle.

The world championship for singles (and doubles) is decided in a challenge format. If the governing bodies accept the challenger's qualifications, he plays the reigning champion in a best of 14 games format (best of seven games on each side of the Atlantic). If each player wins seven games, the total point score is used as a tie breaker. The current singles champion is James Stout. The current doubles champions are amateur James Coyne and professional Will Hopton, who beat amateurs, and World Title holders, Tim Cockroft and Alex Titchener-Barrett in a two-legged challenge in April 2013. The first leg was played in the Racquet Club of Chicago, and was won by the challengers 4 games to 1. The second occurred in London's Queen's Club, and was also won by the challengers 2 games to 1, reaching an unsurpassable two match aggregate of six games.

The tournament system for Rackets is being revolutionised by a new World Ranking System, developed by Richard Spender and ex-New York professional, James Beaumont. The scheme is on a year experiment with the Tennis & Rackets Association.[7] The development of the rankings model and the online system has been sponsored by Robinson McColl Architects+Designers, founded by former doubles World Champion, Alister Robinson.

There are various tournaments that are hosted in North America and the UK.

These are:

In North America
  • The Canadian Amateur Championships
  • The US Amateur Championships
  • The US Open
  • The Western Open
  • The Tuxedo Gold Rackets
In the UK
  • The British Amateur
  • The British Open
  • The Invitational Singles
  • The Manchester Gold Rackets

World Championship[edit]

Organized on a challenge basis, the first champion in 1820 was Robert Mackay (Great Britain).

Recent winners[edit]

  • 2008– James Stout (Bermuda)
  • 2005–8 Harry Foster (Great Britain)
  • 2001–5 James Male (Great Britain)
  • 1999–2001 Neil Smith (Great Britain)
  • 1988–99 James Male (Great Britain)
  • 1986–8 John Prenn (Great Britain)
  • 1984–6 William Boone (Great Britain)
  • 1981–4 John Prenn (Great Britain)
  • 1975–81 William Surtees (Great Britain)
  • 1973–4 Howard Angus (Great Britain)
  • 1972–3 William Surtees (Great Britain)
  • 1954–72 Geoffrey Atkins (Great Britain)
  • 1947–54 James Dear (Great Britain)
  • 1937–47 Donald Milford (Great Britain)
  • 1929–35 Charles Williams (Great Britain)
  • 1913–29 Jock Soutar (USA)
  • 1911–13 Charles Williams (Great Britain)
  • 1903–11 J. Jamsetji (India)
  • 1887–1902 Peter Latham (Great Britain)
  • 1862 William Hart-Dyke (Great Britain)
  • 1860–1862 Francis Erwood (First closed court champion)(Great Britain)
  • 1860 John Charles Mitchell (Open court champion) (Great Britain)


  1. ^ Eglinton Archives, Eglinton Country Park
  2. ^ Atkins, J. R. (1872). The Book of Racquets. A Practical Guide to the Game and its History and to the different Courts in which it is played. London: Frederick Warne & Co.
  3. ^ "Grays of Cambridge: History"[dead link]
  4. ^ http://www.stpaulsschool.org.uk/page.aspx?id=8391
  5. ^ "The Racquet Club of Philadelphia". Rcop.com. Retrieved April 2013. 
  6. ^ "Copped Hall Trust". Copped Hall Trust. Retrieved April 2013. 
  7. ^ T&RA Rackets World Rankings

External links[edit]