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 and was played at the Prince's Club in London.

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 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 (77 cm) wooden racket, known as a bat, to hit a 38 mm (1.5 inch) hard white ball weighing 28 grams.[a] A good stroke must touch the front wall above a 26.5 inches (67 cm) 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 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.

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.

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:

Chicago (2 courts)
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, Chicago Pile-1)
Detroit (1 court)
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 who also designed the much larger Detroit Athletic Club. The club was built by the construction company owned by Joseph Bickley It is a proper Gentlemen's club with an all male membership, however 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 home colors are dark navy blue and white.
The Rackets court has a substantial gallery with six tiers of seating and an upper level standing room area. The clubhouse features a dark wooden bar, small dining room, and a living room that make up most of the social space of the club. The locker room consists of a small changing area with multiple showers. There is also a sauna and a steam room. The Detroit Racquet Club is the smallest Rackets club on a world circuit with less than 90 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, however reports vary of the origins of the drink. Facilities in the club went under a considerable renovation in the summer of 2014 including a refinishing of the Rackets court and squash courts. The current athletic professional is Mr. Steven Toseland and the club steward is Mr. Glenn Rivers.
Montreal (1 court)
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 (1 court)
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, NY (1 court)
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.
Philadelphia (1 court)
Opened in 1907 with two courts, one of which now has been converted to a double squash court, at The Racquet Club of Philadelphia.[6]
Boston Tennis and Racquet Club (1 court)
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.


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 amateurs Alex Titchener-Barrett and Christian Portz, who beat professional, and World Title holders, Will Hopton and James Coyne in a two-legged challenge in April 2015. 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 3 games to 0, reaching an unsurpassable two match aggregate of seven 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 Jamsetji Merwanji (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. ^ Currently there are only two companies in the world producing rackets bats: Grays of Cambridge (UK)[4] and Harrow Sports (US), in Denver, Colorado.


  1. ^ Eglinton Archives, Eglinton Country Park
  2. ^ "DBTRAF Charitable Support". The Tennis & Rackets Association. 
  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. ^ "Grays of Cambridge: History"
  5. ^ http://www.stpaulsschool.org.uk/page.aspx?id=8391
  6. ^ "The Racquet Club of Philadelphia". Rcop.com. Retrieved April 2013. 
  7. ^ T&RA Rackets World Rankings

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]