Racquetball may be the sport of speed and youth, as its adherents claim, but for a spectator the game is usually about as exciting as croquet at a nursing home. After watching a couple of recent tournaments, I have these observations:
1. Scoring is much too slow. Not only do racquetball games go to 21 points, but points are awarded only on serve. This strange custom, which paddleball, badminton, international squash and volleyball also inexplicably follow, causes matches to languish for minutes without any change in score.
2. Rallies are much too brief. Unlike croquet, in which some drama gathers amid the torpor, racquetball's serve-and-shoot rallies are over almost before they begin. A 10-shot point is infrequent.
3. Much of the on-court behavior would embarrass Ilie Nastase. Players are allowed only three time-outs per game, but they take innumerable and unnecessary extra breaks to change gloves, wipe sweat off the floor, yell at opponents and referees, and quote from the Scriptures. In one match, I saw four-time national champion Charlie Brumfield exhibit his middle finger when the lighting didn't please him, sock a ball off his opponent's back and then unveil his underwear when the offended player retaliated in kind. For his transgressions Brumfield went unpunished.
Racquetball is clamoring for television coverage. To get it, several basic changes must be made in the game:
•The players have to clean up their act. There should be strict rules of behavior, firmly enforced. It is a good sign that the lords of racquetball have finally begun to train and certify referees and linespeople. Now they must begin to oust troublemakers.
•A point should be awarded after each rally.
•A way must be found to lengthen the rallies. "I believe that there should be one serve instead of two," says Brumfield, the most perceptive thinker in the game. "That would lessen the number of aces. There should also be a slower and more consistent ball, and a slower floor surface." All worth consideration.
Finally, the sport must make a serious attempt to attract spectators. Tickets to the 1978 nationals in suburban Detroit cost up to $250 for the full eight days and as much as $50 for a single night's action. No wonder most of the fans were players and their friends. Of course, a certain splendid irony can be found in this: today's competitive racquetball is scarcely fit for anyone else's viewing.