The theme of this article is the most basic shot in the game, the Down the Line (DTL). In racquetball, unlike very few other sports, the ‘line’ is generally, always straight. Tennis, basketball, baseball, football, golf, and frisbee, all are played with shots that hook and slice. In these sports the ball often changes direction and bends along the way. In racquetball, with few exceptions, the ball is tremendously loyal and true. What you hit is what you get, and most importantly, what you SEE allows you to KNOW fairly precisely what will, or can happen next.
We are able to calibrate with very fine precision the flight and path of the ball. The walls do not move and the angles are normally consistent. This allows us to calculate angles and speed with great efficiency. The ultimate goal is to hit a shot that wins the point outright. Next is to strike a shot that creates the greatest degree of difficulty for the opponent. The shot selected is based on overall game strategy and our relative positioning on the court.
Hitting the line allows us to do both. However, many players do not recognize its importance. The DTL skill is like ‘eating your vegetables’, ‘pounding the rock’, or ‘chopping wood’. It is what you do to establish your presence as a PLAYER during the game, and it is also strategically the best way to consistently take center court—which is critical to success. At the same time, it allows you to ‘check off’ internally and perhaps select a Kill Shot while still maintaining the appropriate line. A sequential example follows:
…You want to move your opponent out of the center.
…You want to turn your opponent’s momentum toward the side wall and preferably back.
…You want to limit the number of ‘levers’ your opponent can apply with their shot.
…You want to make your opponent physically challenged.
…You want to be able to easily see their shot, and to limit their capacity to respond effectively.
…You want to capture the center court ‘control’ position and move them to the side and back.
By doing the above repeatedly, you sell your opponent on the concept that they must
play you ‘back’ or at least honestly from the center-back. Their positioning is based on their
respect for your ability to put them deep via hitting the lines. The front court will now open up for you; ie. pinch and splat (for those fortunate to have the skill)—as well as an occasional
drop shot, for those with the inclination.
A good DTL can be hit from almost anywhere front to back (given a dominant side position) on the court. It is used during the rally and as a service return. Oftentimes, it is used with greatest effect when your opponent is positioned forward, and you are positioned somewhat deep on the court. The idea is similar to striking a ball in soccer past the goalie. Your job is to ‘clear’ the opponent with the ball. The height of contact on the front wall is relative to the speed of the ball and the distance it must travel to reach the back wall on or close to its second bounce point. Balls hit too low without the proper angle or hit too high such that the ball rebounds off the back wall with some impetus, are called ‘Fat’. We do not want to leave fat balls for our opponent; we prefer those that are fast, determined, and lean! Finally, we try to eliminate the side wall as part of the equation. Once one perfects the DTL, the shot may factor in the side wall.
In closing, what is of most import is the line. Find the line and your opponent will have difficulty
finding the ball.
Jim Cameron is a native of Illinois and resides in Albuquerque, New Mexico USA. He has an extensive background in teaching and coaching the racquet sports; primarily racquetball and squash racquets. His expertise brings him onto the court for multiple hours per week, helping beginners to professional players.