Ah, sports: the grand amphitheater of human emotion, greatness, and achievement. But also: completely arbitrary, melodramatic constructs that humans have created for the sole purpose of entertaining ourselves, of making our time on this planet feel a little less dull. (And this is coming from a sports fan.) Imagine an alien arriving on our planet and observing, without any context, the Masters. Or the Superbowl. Or a sport in which grown people brandish stringed paddles, run around a small, enclosed room, and thwack a rubber ball as hard as they possibly can against the walls of it.
Now, think about the fact that we humans have created not one, but two of those sports. Welcome to squash and racquetball.
Because as it turns out, squash and racquetball are two very different things. Let’s get into it.
Squash dates back to 1830, when it was dreamed up by particularly creative English schoolchildren. Racquetball was created by an American named Joe Sobek in 1949, who was looking for a game that was easier to learn and more forgiving on the hands than handball. He ended up combining aspects of handball, squash, and tennis into a brand-new game.
Both squash and racquetball have hollow, rubber balls, though the sizes differ: a squash ball has a diameter of 4 centimeters, while a racquetball ball has a diameter of 6 centimeters. Also: racquetball balls are bouncier.
You didn’t realize you were getting a bonus What’s the Difference, did you?! Racquetball is played with a racquet, which is 22 inches long and has a teardrop-shaped head. Squash is played with a racket, which has a narrower head than a racquet and is 27 inches long.
Both racquetball and squash courts are enclosed spaces, though racquetball courts are larger. (The exact dimensions are 40 feet x 20 feet by 20 feet for racquetball, and 32 feet by 21 feet by 18.5 feet for squash). In racquetball, all surfaces, including the ceiling, are in play; in squash, the ball needs to be kept off of the ceiling, and there are also out-of-bounds areas on each wall that the ball cannot touch.
In racquetball, players serve by standing anywhere behind the service line, bouncing the ball, and hitting it anywhere on the front wall; the ball must then bounce behind the service box before it hits the back wall. Players are given two serves per point, like tennis.
In squash, the players must have at least one foot in a demarcated service box and hit the ball into the opposite corner on the front wall; they do not bounce the ball before hitting it; and they only get one serve per point.
Scoring and Winning
In racquetball, players can only score points if they're serving. The first player to win 15 points wins a game (though it’s win by two), and the best of three games wins a match. If the score is tied two games to two games, then a tie-breaking game is played up to 11 points.
In squash, players can score points whether they’re serving or returning. Each game is to 11 points (win by two), and the best of five games wins the match.
Squash is by far the more popular sport of the two, with 20 million players across the world; racquetball, on the other hand, only has 5.6 million. But honestly, thinking about it, that’s pretty impressive for a game that was made up only 70 years ago by a guy named Joe. Way to go, Joe.