It is a leisurely Saturday morning at Lanco Hills, Manikonda and a small group of individuals have gathered at the clubhouse, where everyone’s attention is focused on the ball in play at India’s first ever racquetball tournament, the ‘Lanco Hills India Open Racquetball Singles Championships - 2014’, organised by the Racquetball Association of India(RAI).
“Some people say racquetball is chess at 200 miles per hour,” says actor and sportsman Srinivas Avasarala, speaking to us at the event. Srinivas, who took to the sport during his time in the United States, is among the rising number of racquetball players in Hyderabad and India. “I began playing in 200 and I immediately fell in love with it,” he says. “It’s a very intense, fast paced game and you have to have great reflexes but it’s relatively easy to pick up. Even beginners have fun playing the game,” he says pointing out that the closed court makes it more fun to learn than tennis, where, as a beginner you will spend most of your time chasing the ball. Srinivas has been passionate about the sport from the very beginning and has also played competitively in the United States and more recently at the World Racquetball Championships in Seoul, South Korea. He also played at the Asia Open with President of RAI, Srikaran Kandadai late last year. Srikaran too began to play racquetball in 2006 during a stint in the US. What began as a workout quickly became and addiction. “Once you start, it is difficult to stop. I have been coming here after the courts were built and lots of people who tried their hand at it now come religiously every day. It is fun from the start as it is easy to pick up but it’s also very challenging as you go up the levels,” he says. The RAI has over 87 registered players, out of which only about 25 had previously played the game.
Handling the tournament desk is one of the country’s most proficient racquetball players and vice president of RAI, Raaj Mohan. Raaj has been playing the sport for over 7 years and came down from the US specifically for this event. “It’s four years since we started the association and it’s all finally coming to life so I had to come and be here,” he says. “I am really impressed how much the game has picked up here in the last few years. It’s easier to start playing if you play any racquet sport so we have a lot of tennis and badminton players taking it up.” Raaj has played in several inter collegiate tournaments, the US open and the World Championships as well and is India’s number one player according to the RAI rankings.
Very similar to squash, racquetball is played in a closed court where the ball is bounced off the walls of the court but unlike in squash, the racquetball court is slightly bigger and ceiling is also in play, making it easy to play but also leaving room for a lot of strategic placing of the ball during competitive play. Outdoor racquetball is the same but without the ceiling or the back wall.
Secretary of Asian Racquetball Federation Yuni Cobb was very excited to be a part of the sports first official tournament in India. “This tournament is all the more exciting because it has a lot of junior players. That’s a very good sign, because in order to develop a sport, we need to have junior players,” she says. The weekend’s tournament saw about 38 participants play 66 matches across all divisions, with children, men and women signing up to play, although majority of the players were men.
Since the sport is yet to catch on in India, racquetball courts are hard to come by in India. The decision to host the tournament was taken after President of RAI; Srikaran Kandadai visited the courts at Lanco Hills and found they were up to international standards.
The two courts here are the only ones in Hyderabad. “A tournament of this stature and genre, it had to only happen at Lanco Hills,” says CEO Pochendar. “For us it is another illustration of the exciting and elevated life at Lanco Hills.”
“We have heard there are courts in Mumbai but I haven’t heard from anyone who plays racquetball there,” says Srinivas. Building more, accessible courts across the city and the country is, hence, an important step for RAI’s mission to promote the sport here.
“In the next few months we hope to build 2-4 publicly accessible courts here,” informs Srikaran. “We don’t want it to become an elite sport like squash which is only accessible at a few clubs. Indoor courts are costly to build but outdoor courts are not very expensive to begin with.”
∙ Joseph Sobek, a professional tennis and handball player is credited with inventing the sport in 1950.
∙ The first World Racquetball Championships, which are organised by the International Racquetball Federation (IRF), were held in 1981.
∙ The sport is most popularly played in the United States
∙ The World Championships have been held biennially in August since 1984.
∙ The standard racquetball court is 40 feet long, 20 feet wide and 20 feet high
∙ Considered a ‘lifelong’ sport, racquetball can be played by people of all ages and is considered a great work out.