- Racket or racquet?
- What are the most played racket sports
- What is the origin of racket sports and their evolution
- Types of racket sports
- Racket sports in the Olympics
- Lefthanders in racket sports
Racket sports are some of the most popular sports around the world, for both playing and watching. One of the reasons for the popularity of racket sports is how accessible they are. They also tend to be relatively cheap to start playing, assuming there are public courts available nearby. While most people have heard of the main 4 racket sports – tennis, badminton, squash and table tennis – there are so many other variations played across the world.
Racket or racquet?
I always get confused. In the past I used to use racquet, as the old traditional term that’s generally used. But nowadays, racket is more frequently used which is the standard spelling in the United States.
The origin of the word “racquet” comes from the Flemish work “raketsen” which came from the Middle French word “rachasser”, or “to strike the ball back”.
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What are the most played racket sports
- Beach Tennis
- Table Tennis
- Gym racket
What is the origin of racket sports and their evolution
Modern racket sports have evolved way back from an old game called “jeu de paume” or “game of the palm”. That then evolved into what’s now known as “real tennis” which has been played as far back as the Middle Ages.
Types of racket sports
Real Tennis was also known as Court Tennis or Royal Tennis, and there’s even a court that’s still used at Hampton Court Palace, where Henry VIII played. Otherwise, real tennis is only played at around 40 courts worldwide.
A real tennis court is indoors, with 4 irregularly sized walls and enclosed. Court roofs slope over the net which is 1.5 metres high at the sides, and 0.9 metres in the middle. The courts is split into the ‘service’ side and the ‘hazard’ side in which the receiver stands. Players use pear-shaped rackets to hit cloth balls.
There’s a World Real Tennis Championship which is decided by a challenge match, where a player challenges the champion to defend his title.
The origin of tennis isn’t clear cut. Some talk about a version played by ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, thousands of years ago. Others credit the French and English with creating the game of tennis more recently.
One suggestion is that tennis originated in the 12th century, when French monks used their hands to hit the ball on a rope hanging in a courtyard. This was known as jeu de paume. The name changed to tennis because before they served, the monks used to shout the word “tenez”, which means to take or to receive in French.
The influence of the English at the beginning is clearer. The first official tournament in the world was held in London in 1877, Wimbledon.
A tennis court is a flat court surface of grass, clay or hard courts (cement, synthetic rubber, carpet etc). A oourt measures 23.77 metres in length, 8.23m in width for singles, with doubles courts at 10.97m wide. The net across the middle of the court measures 0.91m high in the centre, and 1.07m at the ends.
Tennis balls are made of rubber halves moulded together with a hollow core. Pressurised gas inside make the tennis ball* bounce, and it’s covered with synthetic felt. Tennis balls are usually yellow or green with white stripes. They generally weigh between 56 to 59 grams, with a diameter between 6.54 and 6.86 cm.
Tennis scoring has points won by adding on 15 (15, 30, 40). To win a game you need to get to 40 and win the next point, or if the score is 40-40 (deuce), win 2 more points (advantage, game).
Players win games, with generally 6 needed to win a set. If a set gets to 6 games all a tie break is played. Tie breaks have players score single points, each serves twice before passing the serve to the other player. Tie breaks are mostly played to 7. Matches are mostly played best of 3 sets, but in the Grand Slam matches, men play best of 5 sets.
To speed up tennis scoring there have been recent adaptations, with more tie breaks being played in a final deciding set, where previously the final set had to be won 2 games ahead of the losing player. There’s also Fast 4 (especially in junior tennis), which removes the Advantage point at 40-40 score. Instead it’s sudden death, next point wins.
A new Tie Break Tens format is starting to be played too on occasion. This faster way of playing is good for children to watch, as matches are shorter and they get to see more players on court.
Key championships in tennis are the Grand Slams which are played on 4 surfaces: US Hard, Australian hard, Wimbledon grass, French clay. Not many players have won all 4, it’s even harder to win a golden grand slam of all 4 major events won in a single year and an Olympic gold. Only Steffi Graff, Andre Agassi, Rafa Nadal and Serena Williams have achieved this so far. The Davis Cup is the annual men’s world team event, with the Billie Jean King Cup being the women’s version.
Badminton started in India and was brought to England by its military around 1870. Back then the sport was called poona, in reference to the city of Pune, where the first rules were created. It is thought that the name change was due to the country house of the Duke of Badminton, in Gloucestershire.
A badminton racket is much lighter and daintier than a tennis racket, weighing up to 100g.
There’s no ball in badminton, instead a shuttlecock is used. Shuttlecocks weigh under 6 grams. They have 16 goose feathers (although plastic practice shuttlecocks are also common) attached to a cork base which is how the shuttlecock is weighted and hit. Although it’s light, a feather shuttlecock can reach a speed of more than 300 km/hr when hit.
A badminton court is 13.4m long and 5.18m wide for singles matches, and 6.10m for doubles. There are 6 lines: double side, single side, central, double long service and single long service. If the shuttlecock lands on a line, it’s in.
The badminton net is 1.55m high and divides the court in half.
Badminton scoring sees matches usually played to the best of 3 games. The server continues until they lose a point, when it transfers to the opponent. Each game is 21 points long, with players needing to win by 2 points. At a tie of 20 points, whoever opens a 2-point advantage wins the game.
You can buy garden badminton sets* here to get started.
There are two versions for the origin of squash, both in England, in the 19th century. In a London prison called Fleet, prisoners practiced a variant of tennis, hitting the balls against the prison wall. The other version was at Harrow School, where the first squash courts were built.
Squash rackets are similar to a tennis racket, but are lighter, weighing between 130g to 160g. Over the years, the heads have got larger and more tear drop shaped.
Squash balls are made of black rubber, with approximately 13cm circumference and 20g weight.
A squash court is indoors, with four walls, good quality squash courts have the back one made of glass. The court size is 9.75m length and 6.4m width.
Squash scoring plays the best of 3 or 5 games, similar to badminton. The difference is in the amount of points in each game. In squash, the player needs to score 11 points to win a game, not 21 as in badminton. Unless there is a draw at 10, where whoever makes a 2 point advantage in the following points will win the game.
Table tennis or ping pong
Table tennis started in the 19th century in England, originating from indoor tennis. After dinner upper middle class Englishmen turned the table into mini versions of a tennis court. Various objects were used as equipment, with books as the net, the ball was a champagne cork or a rubber ball, cigar box lids as a racket.
Another version says that around 1880, tennis players from an English club improvised the game due to bad weather. They used a pool table, with books as rackets, a string as a net and a traditional tennis ball. (sounds a bit like my childhood version of squash using whatever we had available – against the bedroom wall using a ping pong ball and Beatrix Potter books as bats!)
At that time the sport was called by different names, e.g whif whaf and flim flam due to the noise of the ball hitting the table and the racket afterwards. In 1901 an English company, J. Jaques & Son Ltd, registered the rights to the name ping pong, which became the most popular name. In 1920 the sport became a registered trademark in Europe, receiving the official name of table tennis. The name ping-pong is still widely used for recreational purposes today.
In the early 1920s, table tennis spread across Europe and the United States. Countries like China, Korea and Japan learned the game from the English army’s military on duty in these countries. In 1926, the International Tennis Table Federation (ITTF) was created in Berlin. The ITTF instituted objective rules and started promoting championships that were dominated mainly by Europeans.
The use of rubber in the table tennis bat started in 1960, allowing players to hit with more speed and spin. In addition to this revised equipemnt, there was also a huge growth of players in Asian countries at this time. For the next 5 years, the Japanese were the main world champions, then passing the title onto the Chinese. From the late 1980s until the early 1990s, Europeans predominated. Especially the Swedes, who broke the Chinese domination in the sport.
Now, table tennis is the second most popular sport in China, which has about 10 million federated players. Worldwide, there are an estimated 300 million occasional players.
In table tennis scoring the server is alternated every 2 points, regardless of the score.The ball can only bounce once on each side of the table. When serving, the ball must touch once in each half of the table, otherwise, the server loses the point.
Matches are played as the best of any odd number of sets. Generally, national tournaments work with the best of 5 sets format, while international tournaments use best of 7 sets. Each set consists of 11 points. The set is won by whoever makes the 11 points first, as long as there is a 2 point advantage. So at a 10-10 tie, the set goes on until one of the players get a 2 point advantage
A table tennis table size is 2.74m long and 1.45m wide. It’s height should be 76cm from the floor. The surface can be of any material, as long as there is a consistent ball bounce of around 23cm when launched from a 30cm height. The color of the table should be dark and matte, with white lines 2cm wide along the side edges and the bottom lines. The table must have a central line of 3cm wide that divides each side in two parts, to allow doubles matches.
Read my Butterfly outdoor rollaway table review if you’re looking to buy your own
A table tennis net measures 1.83m long and 15.25cm high.
The playing area must be 14m long, 7m wide and 5m high, wider than the table to allow for movement around.
Table tennis balls are made of celluloid or similar plastic material. The ideal weight is 2.74g and it’s color should be white or matte orange. The 40mm ball diameter started being used at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Until then, the table tennis balls* used in matches had a 38mm diameter, which made them faster.
To get started, why not try a retractable net for any table.
If you’ve never heard of Padel you will soon. It’s one of the world’s fastest growing sports.
Padel is played on a court that is smaller than a tennis court, around 10 x 20 metres, and is enclosed with walls. In padel the ball can bounce off the walls similar to squash. The windows can be used as soon as the ball has bounced, and a player can exit the court through the access points on each side of the net to return a ball.
Padel bats* are stringless, perforated rackets with holes in, and are smaller and more compact than traditional tennis rackets. Padel balls* are similar to but smaller than tennis balls with less pressure. Scoring is the same as tennis, and the serve is underarm, with the aim of getting the ball in play. Because they bounce the ball off the walls and the ball is slower, it means rallies can go on for longer. There’s also a much higher percentage of women playing padel than tennis.
Padel is a fun, sociable sport played as doubles. It was first played in Mexico in the late 1960s. Nowadays there are over 20 million players worldwide, with the majority in Spain, and increasing in South America. In the UK, there are only a few padel courts, but more are being built as the months go by.
Racquest ball is similar to squash. It’s played on an enclosed court similar to a squash court, but with no tin at the bottom, and it’s slightly longer. The ball in racquetball is much larger than squash’s ball and bouncier.
Racquetball developed from tennis during the 1950s, and like tennis, you score a point when your opponent fails to return before the second bounce of the ball. However, a racquetball player can only win a point on their own serve, with fifteen points needed to win the first two sets. If the match goes to a deciding third set a player needs 11 points to win.
Racquetball is one of the most practiced racket sports in the United States.
In the UK, it’s played as racketball and on a squash court. It is favoured by some older squash players in the UK, as it is easier on the knees than squash with the impact on the ball being higher with the higher ball bounce.
Paddle or POP tennis
The English got creative once again… and this time at sea. They made an adaptation of tennis in 1890, calling it “high seas tennis”. It was played on boats, with smaller dimensions and screens protecting the sides. The sport arrived on dry land in 1924, when the North American Frank Beal improvised a few courts in New York. It then became known as “paddle tennis”, since it used a short-handled palette instead of rackets.
Paddle isn’t to be confused with Padel. In fact, POP tennis was developed from Paddle tennis to reduce some of the confusion between the two.
POP tennis is played on shorter courts with shorter, solid rackets without strings, and balls are lower compression with the same rules/scoring as tennis, except players get one underhand serve. It can be played all year round, on indoor or outdoor courts which are either 50 or 60 feet in size. The larger courts are certified by the ITF. POP tennis is largely played in the US, primarily as a doubles sport.
The pickleball racket is shaped like a paddle, and is usually made of wood or graphite. The ball is hollow plastic ball with holes.The pickleball court is similar but slightly smaller than a tennis court, and uses the same net. Because of the smaller court, it’s good for all ages and abilities.
The sport has become globally in recent years, but especially in the United States. All shots, including the serve, are largely played from below waist level height. Both the receiver and then the server must let the ball bounce once at the start of a rally, after which they can volley if they so choose.
You can only score on your own serve in pickleball, with 11 points needed to win a game, although this can increase to 15 or 21 in tournaments. There has to be two clear points to win the game.
Beach Tennis developed from matkot in the 1980s, in Italy. In 1996 rules were introduced and “International Federation Beach Tennis” (IFBT) was founded. There are approximately half a million global participants, played around the world, but particularly in Italy, Brazil and Spain.
A beach tennis racket is usually made of fiberglass, graphite or carbon / kevlar, the latter being the most used by professionals. The racket has holes to decrease air resistance, so it doesn’t take much force to hit the ball.
The court is similar to a beach volleyball court, with a sand surface, 16m long and 8m wide. A net with 1.7m separates the court in half. It is a hybrid of beach volleyball and tennis. The ball cannot touch the sand. Therefore players use a variety of volleys to get the ball back across the other side of the high net
Scores on beach tennis follow the same line as tennis, but with no advantage. One difference is with the serve, where the players don’t have a second chance. If you miss the first serve you lose the point
Matkot is a racket sport played on beaches, usually with two people. The sport was developed in the 1940s in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, between 1945-1946. Today it is played in several countries, being particularly popular in Israel. In portuguese, matkot is called frescobol. Italians call it Racchettoni (makes it sound like a pasta shape!).
Matkot is played with a wooden racket and a rubber ball. It’s the only racket sport where it’s important to collaborate with your team mate. Players try to volley the ball to each other as many times as possible without it hitting the floor.
Gym racket is generally played as doubles. It was created in Italy and has been part of IFBT since 1997. The sport can be played on both indoor and open courts.
Gym racket rackets resemble beach tennis rackets, without strings and a surface with a few holes. Its length, from the cable to the head, cannot exceed 50 centimeters, while the width limit is 30 centimeters.
It’s played with a rubber ball, with an outer surface coloured red and yellow. The diameter should be between 6.35 and 6.50cm, with a weight between 38 and 40 grams.
Ball badminton is a variant of badminton that is very popular in India, played with a woollen ball. This makes the ball light,with it moving slowly through the air. Ball badminton is usually played outdoors on a court similar to a badminton court so wiind speeds can massively change the direction of matches.
Crossminton (aka Speedminton)
This is another sport developed from badminton, the main difference being that there is no net in speedminton. Instead there are two squares on the ground with a large gap in between that make up the court. The court is as long as a tennis court, but half the width. Each side of the court has scoring areas that measure 5.5m x 5.5m
Similar to badminton, a shuttlecock is used which is termed a speeder and is smaller but heavier than a standard shuttlecock. It was originally created as a way to play the game outside without the wind impact on the shuttlecock.
Crossminton rackets are shorter but similar to squash rackets
Best of the rest racket sports
Racquets was where most of these racket sports started, played at Harrow School, England. It is played with a hard rubber ball and wooden rackets. Squash developed out of racquets when they found that if they punctured the balls they made them ‘squashier’. This led to a game of greater movement, agility and speed.
Platform tennis was invented in New York in 1928. The aim was to devise a sport that could be played in a small area, on any surface all year round. It’s played on a platform (often heated underneath) about a third of the size of a tennis court and enclosed by a high wire fence. 18 inch paddles perforated with holes are used to hit the sponge ball which can be bounced off the tightly strung wire screens surrounding the court. The same scoring as tennis is used.
Soft tennis’ main difference over normal tennis is that you use a soft rubber ball, meaning it’s a less intense game with more loosely strung lighter rackets. Otherwise it’s very similar to standard tennis with similar court dimensions and rules. Soft tennis ihas particularly grown in India, Japan, the Phillipines and Thailand.
Racketlon is a multisports combination, where players compete in the sports of table tennis, badminton, squash and then tennis. An overall winner determined with the results of each event. It’s played by two players or two pairs, and every point counts. The serve switches every two points with games played by sets with each set played up to 21 points. If the score is tied, another extra point will be allowed to determine the winner. The sport originated in Scandinavia, Sweden and Finland.
Fontenis developed from pelota in Mexico about a hundred years ago. It is played on an enclosed court that’s bigger than a squash court. It can be played with either a tennis racket, or a speciality frontenis racket, and a rubber ball.
Pitton is a hybrid between pickleball and badminton. It is played on a pickleball court, and with pickleball paddles. However, you use a ‘birdie’ instead of a ball. This is similar to a shuttlecock.
Paleta frontón was developed in Peru just after the Second World War. The game can be played either indoors or outdoors, needing a court marked on the floor and a front wall. Players use a solid paddle racket usually made of wood, and a rubber ball.
Speed-ball is similar to the popular garden game of Swingball. Invented in Egypt in 1961, it started as a method to train tennis players, but later grew into a sport in its own right. A rubber ball is attached to a piece of string round a central metal pole, with the ball hit by opponents using plastic paddles. There is a singles version and a doubles version of the game
Qianball is a Chinese racket sport that differs from all other racket sports in that you use a ball on a rubber band that is attached to a hook on the floor. The court is similar to a tennis court, but with both players on one side of the net. The idea is to hit the ball towards the empty side of the court, but it will bounce back for the opponent to hit it. The ball is not allowed to touch the floor.
Squash tennis was developed in America, and unsurprisingly is cross between squash and tennis. Squash tennis is played on a squash court, with a tennis ball and tennis rackets.
Stické is played on an indoor court similar to real tennis, with tennis rackets and a depressurised tennis ball. The walls can be used to hit off like in squash, with the scoring similar to tennis.
Tamburello is an ancient racket sport from Italy, invented during the 16th Century. It’s similar to squash, played in an large enclosed court – sometimes up to one hundred yards long. The scoring system is similar to tennis scoring.
Tennis Polo is an outdoor sport similar to lacrosse. It is played on a field with two teams of ten players each. There are two goals similar to hockey goals. A tennis ball is used and the two teams attempt to throw the ball around the pitch and score a goal in the net. The goalkeeper always has a racket. There are different versions that can be played, sometimes outfield players have a racket to hit the ball, and sometimes they play without.
Xare is played between two two-player teams on a court with four walls. The left wall features a frontage about 2ft wide with a slanting roof that projects onto the court. Unlike racquets used for other sports where the strings are tight, the strings in xare racquets resemble a woven mesh. Rather than striking the ball, it’s more like a catch and throw action. Besides the racquet and a ball, a bicycle helmet is the only other equipment used.
The rules in Xare are similar to other wall-based sports, where the ball has to be returned back to the front wall with at most one bounce on the ground. The ball is allowed to bounce any number of times and is also allowed to roll on the roof of the front. Teams score points if the opponents are unable to return the ball back onto the wall. Matches are played in points and sets format
Racket sports in the Olympics
Tennis at the Olympics began at the very first Summer Olympics in 1896. It did not stay there long, because it was withdrawn after the 1924 Olympics due to disputes between the International Lawn Tennis Federation and Olympic officials over professional and amateur tennis players. After the open era of tennis began allowing all athletes to compete without limits on sponsorship and compensation, the sport was reintroduced in the 1968 and 1984 Olympics as a demonstration sport, and was fully back in the Olympic programme in 1992.
Other racket sports were later. Badminton started in the Olympic Games in 1972 as a demo sport and in 1988 as an exhibition sport. It was made a full medal sport event in 1992.
Table tennis secured a spot as a medal sport in 1988. In table tennis, the Chinese Olympic team has consistently won the most medals, leaving the next-most-awarded country, South Korea, way behind. China also triumphs in badminton, again beating South Korea into second. Great Britain holds the most total medals in tennis, the United States carries the most gold medals.
Lefthanders in racket sports
As for lefthandedness in sports, it’s often seem (especially in racket sports) that there’s a higher proportion of lefthanders vs normal population. There’s been numerous studies about left-handedness in sports, and the advantage that left handers often see.
Which racket sports have you participated in? Are there any missing?