Earlier this year, I wrote an article about UK racquetball, a version of squash that is immensely popular in Great Britain.
Here is what some UK racketball fans in America think about the game:
It is a great game. It teaches racquet preparation. There is less dynamic lunging. It is a fantastic cross-training sport. You can stay healthy. Your legs don’t get inflamed. It saved my career. I was fifty years old. My meniscus was shot, a big tear in it, and I thought my squash-playing days were over. I was back in Norfolk, England. I saw the game. I started to play. The rallies went on and on. Tightness and early preparation were rewarded. My knee slowly felt better. You can’t get fit playing squash—you have to get fit to play squash. That is the old saying. But you can get fit playing UK racketball. We should adopt the game as our own. In my opinion, properly handled, it could be the savior of squash.
I am a huge fan of UK Racquetball. I play mostly in the off-season. Every now and again I will play in the fall or winter. Mainly I use the game as a fun way to get a great workout. I find that it does not get your heartrate up to a strenuous workout (like the fast pace and change of direction like singles) but the rallies last a long time and the constant running and moving create a solid workout. After the matches I am usually drenched. But my legs, especially quads, butt, ankles, feel great and I am able to still play some singles later or add another workout to the day. Physically it is a great game to play for all ages especially those that may not like to play singles due to the strain it can cause on knees and other joints. So much better than the elliptical. Also, the swing and hitting of the ball is fun to mess around with. You can use all sorts of spins and swings to move the ball around the court. You must be exact with certain shots or else the ball spins off the wall and gets into the middle of the court. This makes the game interesting and fun for me because it brings elements of singles and doubles into one game. It’s an extremely fun game with the amount of focus you need to hit the correct ball when playing good players. Anyone can pick the game up as well because of the size and bounce of the ball and the large racquet size of a racquetball racquet. The workout can be an exhausting one or a simple sweat but the body always feels better afterwards compared to the physicality of singles.
In the 1990s, the club I was a training a lot at was Racquets Fitness in Thame, just outside of Oxford. Simon Martin, now the owner, was playing in the European Open in England and I tagged along as a seventeen-year-old. I lost in the quarters while Simon went on to win the event. The following season, I played Nationals, which I won, beating the defending champion in the first round 3-1. Since then I didn’t drop a game in a singles match and remained undefeated until I moved to the U.S. in 2000. I was in the Guinness book of world records in 1999 for most national racketball titles won. I won at least two men’s doubles, two mixed doubles and somewhere around five or six singles titles I think. I was also playing the PSA tour, which was where the challenges waited. A number of the ranked squash players gave the racketball nationals a go. I played a number of PSA ranked players in exhibitions, some in Germany and Grance when we trying to grow the game in Europe. During my time playing, we experimented with a number of different black, red and blue balls made by Karakal, Price, Dunlop, all trying to find the right balance of durability and bounce characteristics. I have had people play it in Cleveland and at the Cincinnati Country Club and they all enjoy it. Great fun game. Would love to see it grow in the US. I tried the U.S. version of racquetball, and the rallies are just too short. No work out or tactics. Back at Racquets Fitness, there is more racketball played now than squash. It was at least 50/50 when I was back in Lee-on- the Solent, Brian Patterson’s old stopping grounds a couple of years ago and home now to Timmy Vail. Dunlop/Slazenger took notice of the rise of Racketball before England Squash. Around 1995 they sponsored Tim Henman, England Tennis #1, Simon Parke, England Squash #1 and they wanted me as England #1 in racketball to sign for them for squash and racketball; which I did. They also went after the badminton #1 to have all the racquet sports.
I was introduced to UK racquetball last summer by my good friend Hal Tendler who plays at the Greate Bay Club in Somers Point New Jersey. He and I have played several times. He plays on a regular basis with the GB club pro and touring doubles pro Greg Park. I have to admit when Hal first was trying to get me to play with him, I thought he had invented a new game that he imagined he could beat me in. I liked it from the start, although it took a little getting used to. Being a true squash snob, telling people that I was playing UK racquetball did not roll off the tongue smoothly; in fact, at times it was just easier to tell people that I had been playing squash. Eventually I got my own racquet and balls from Harrow, thanks to Dave Rosen. and started playing once a week (Mondays when the golf course is closed). My line to everyone that I ask to play is “do you have an open mind?” They are all always a bit curious, so they give it a try. One night I was playing at PCC and a half a dozen people who were playing doubles, each came on for a game to try it out. I have gotten a few highly ranked juniors to play, like Matt and Brian Geigerich and Brian Hamilton . They seemed to like it and picked it up pretty quickly. Eric Pearson, an accomplished racquets (of any kind) athlete was very curious to try it when he came back from San Francisco to Chestnut Hill recently. As I suspected he also picked it up quickly. UK racketball is probably the farthest thing from hardball singles, and yet I believe I heard Eric utter. “This may get me back on the court.” I like it because it is a great workout and a new challenge. I recommend it to people as a game they could play to get exercise when rehabbing from an injury, because you can glide more smoothly to the ball, as opposed to the much faster softball squash game. It is also a game one could still enjoy with their non-dominant hand if there is an injury to the dominant hand. Anyway, I like it and will continue to play it in the late spring and summer, as long as I can get people to give it a try. I keep three racquets on hand so I can loan them out.
The perfect game for the aging squash player. I am not suggesting we’re aging but having just played UK racketball, I feel great. No aching bones like I’ve just played squash, just a great workout and some of the same challenges of squash. As you may be aware I am a fan of inducing pain on my opponent and UK racketball allows me that great thrill of a slow death.
I played for a season in the UK—mostly during breaks from coaching at the England National Squads. I played David Campion who was a former World Junior runner up—lost to Parke in Paderborn 1991. So not very often (once a month) but enough to learn nuances with regard to striking, movement, ball spin, etc. Played the Nationals once at the end of that season and lost in the final to Daryl Selby. Loved competing at something different and the fact there were no decision from referees—my main gripe about playing any competitive squash after retiring. I was done with that level intensity/desire/desperation. Also played so many different players than my normal events – these were mostly high level amateurs, club coaches or at the very most lower-ranked PSA players. The only exception was Daryl in the final. The event was at Edgebaston Priory Birmingham, England. I believe it helped my squash game—despite having already retired—as you could get away with being less accurate and running around more but I was tired of that style of play for obvious reasons. Therefore, I really focused on playing smarter, staying on the shot longer and being very deliberate with where and how I hit the ball. From a technical point of view it certainly helped my follow-through as that was vital in improving the racquetball shot. I also varied between a flat racquet face or completely open one hitting with large degree of slice/cut, the normal squash open face did not really work for me either hitting short or long. I really enjoyed playing the game as gave me a great workout but without the harshness of the squash type lunges so I finished games feeling tired but not hurting physically.