Rackets (sport)

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R. P. Keigwin (right) with AEJ Collins the college's rackets team at Clifton College c. 1902

Rackets or racquets is an indoor racket sport played in the United Kingdom, United States, and Canada. The sport is infrequently called "hard rackets", to distinguish it from the related sport of squash (also 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.[citation needed]

Eglinton Castle in Scotland, now largely demolished, had 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][citation needed] Some private clubs also built courts. Along with real tennis and badminton, rackets was used as an inspiration for the game of lawn tennis, which Walter Clopton Wingfield claimed he invented in 1873, but this was not so, as others had been playing lawn tennis since as early as 1859, including J.B. Perera and Harry Gem. Wingfield did obtain a patent on his proposed peculiarly-shaped "hourglass" lawn tennis court in 1874, but it lasted in use no more than a year before it was shelved by the Marylebone Cricket Club's 1875 official rules mandating the rectangular court in use both before and after Wingfield's hourglass court. 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 and was played at the Prince's Club in London;[citation needed] the winner was Evan Noel.

After the second world war rackets saw a drop in popularity resulting in the closure of some courts and others suffering from a lack of maintenance. Dick Bridgeman, an advocate for the sport (and later a British Doubles Champion) established what was then the Dick Bridgeman Tennis and Rackets Foundation. The foundation sought donations to support young professionals thereby ensuring the future of the game. Now known as simply The Tennis and Racquets Foundation, it continues to raise money for young professionals raising the profile of rackets worldwide.[2]

The Book of Racquets was published by J. R. Atkins in 1872. 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.[3]

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-foot (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 a 30.5-inch (77 cm) wooden racket, known as a bat, to hit a 1½-inch (38 mm) hard white ball weighing 1 ounce (28 g). As of September 2018, two companies produce rackets racquets, Grays of Cambridge (UK) and Gold Leaf Athletics (US).[4]

A good stroke must touch the front wall above a 26.5 inches (67 cm) high wooden (often cloth-covered) board (also known as the 'telltale') 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 fast, and potentially 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 (hand-in) can score—the receiver (hand-out) 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.[citation needed]

The main shots played are the volley, forehand and the backhand all similar to the way one plays these in squash; because the game of squash rackets (now known as "squash") began in the 19th century as an offshoot of rackets, the sports were similar in manner of play and rules. However, 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. 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.[citation needed]

Court locations[edit]

United Kingdom[edit]

As of this date,[citation needed] there are about twenty courts in some of the major public schools and private clubs in the United Kingdom.[citation needed]


Two court venues[edit]
One court venues[edit]


As of this date,[when?] the known club courts are as follows.[citation needed] Here, the number of courts appear in parentheses.

Clifton College was recently refurbished,[when?] to be suitable to host world championships.[citation needed] There are also private clubs that the public may join,[clarification needed] and a nomadic club, The Jesters.[citation needed]

North America[edit]

As of this date,[when?] there are eight active courts in North America, all at private clubs:[citation needed]

Two court venues[edit]

  • Chicago. The Racquet Club of Chicago has two 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.[citation needed]

One court venues[edit]

  • Detroit. The Detroit Racquet Club, also referred to as the DRC, opened in 1902 as the 'Detroit Racquet and Curling Club'. The building was designed by the noted architect Albert Kahn, and was built by the construction company owned by Joseph Bickley; its two original curling lanes were sold off during the Great Depression. The DRC is a proper Gentlemen's club,[clarification needed] and hosts three additional North American squash courts. The Rackets court was originally open to the air with natural lighting until it was glazed over with lights added in 1912. The home colors are dark navy blue and white.[citation needed]
The club is reportedly the origin to the cocktail the stinger which has been a mainstay at the club since opening.[citation needed]
  • Montreal. 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.[citation needed]
  • New York, NY. The New York Racquet and Tennis Club opened in 1918 on Park Avenue, the building designed by McKim, Mead & 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 Racket and squash professional is Mr. James Stout, who retired the unbeaten World Champion.[citation needed]
  • Philadelphia. Opened in 1907 with three courts, one of which now has been converted to a double squash court, and another to a single squash court, at The Racquet Club of Philadelphia.[5]
  • Tuxedo Park, NY. 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.[citation needed]
  • Boston, MA. The Boston Tennis and Racquet Club opened in 1902 in Boston's Back Bay in a building designed by Parker and Thomas in the classical revival style and built by Frank L. Whitcomb.


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

The Rackets World Championships 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 Tom Billings who defeated Alex Duncliffe-Vines in 2019. There will be another Challenge in November 2022 between Billings and the current World number 1 Ben Cawston.

The current Doubles world champions are Tom Billings and Richard Owen who defeated James Stout and Jonathan Larken in 2021, 5-1 at Queen’s and New York. In 2016 James Stout & Jonathan Larken, beat World Title holders, Alex Titchener-Barrett and Christian Portz in a two-legged challenge in November 2016. The first leg was played in London's Queen's Club, and was won by the challengers 4 games to 1. The second occurred in The New York Racquet's and Tennis Club, and was also won by the challengers 2 games to 1, reaching a two match aggregate of six games.

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
  • The North American Invitational Singles
In the UK
  • The British Amateur Singles
  • The British Amateur Doubles
  • The British Open Singles
  • The British Open Doubles (Separate tournament from Singles, played at a different time of year)
  • The Invitational Singles
  • The Manchester Gold Racket
  • The National Schools Championship - Contested by players still at school in two tournaments, Singles and Doubles, both held at Queen's Club.

World champions[edit]

Organised on a challenge basis, the first champion in 1820 was Robert Mackay of England. All championships were closed court, except for an open court series, in 1860.[6]

  • 1820-1824 England Robert Mackay
  • 1825-1834 England Thomas Pittman
  • 1834-1838 England John Pittman
  • 1838-1840 England John Lamb
  • 1846-1860 England John Charles Mitchell
  • 1860–1862 England Francis Erwood
  • 1862-1863 England William Hart-Dyke
  • 1863-1866 England Henry John Gray
  • 1866-1875 England William Gray
  • 1876-1878 England Henry B Fairs
  • 1878-1887 England Joseph Gray
  • 1887–1902 England Peter Latham
  • 1903–1911 India Jamsetji Merwanji
  • 1911–1913 England Charles Williams
  • 1913–1929 United States Jock Soutar
  • 1929–1935 England Charles Williams
  • 1937–1947 England David S Milford
  • 1947–1954 England James Dear
  • 1954–1972 England Geoffrey Atkins
  • 1972–1973 United States William Surtees
  • 1973–1975 EnglandHoward Angus MBE
  • 1975–1981 United States William Surtees
  • 1981–1984 England John Prenn
  • 1984–1986 England William Boone
  • 1986–1988 England John Prenn
  • 1988–1999 England James Male
  • 1999–2001 England Neil Smith
  • 2001–2005 England James Male (retired)
  • 2005–2008 England Harry Foster
  • 2008–2019 Bermuda James Stout (retired)
  • 2019–Present England Tom Billings


  1. ^ Eglinton Archives, Eglinton Country Park.[full citation needed]
  2. ^ "DBTRAF Charitable Support - Tennis & Rackets Association". tennisandrackets.com. Retrieved 7 April 2017.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ "Lysaker Squash". archive.org. 6 July 2011. Archived from the original on 6 July 2011. Retrieved 7 April 2017.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  5. ^ [1] Archived 2012-01-08 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ "WORLD SINGLES CHAMPIONSHIP" (PDF). Tennis & Racquets Association. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 October 2017.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]