Simply stated, a foot fault in racquetball is when you step outside of the service zone during your service motion. It seems simple enough, but I’ve heard several different interpretations of what is considered outside of the zone and what exactly a service motion is, so I thought I’d clarify these terms for people.
First of all, the service box is the area of the court bounded by the the Short line, the Service line, and the left and right wall of the court. The lines that are parallel to the wall define the service box used when playing doubles, and the drive serve lines. For the purpose of this discussion, they can be ignored.
The service motion is defined “as any continuous motion that results in the ball being served” (USRA Rulebook Section 3.3, “Manner”). This is a little bit vague, but it covers everything from someone simply dropping the ball and swinging at it to that player that shuffles from one side of the service zone to the other while dropping the ball and swinging at it. There really is an immensely wide variety of service styles out there, the only requirement for them to be considered the service motion is that the motion be continuous.
Now that we have a good idea what a service motion is, let’s discuss exactly what is meant by stepping outside of the service zone. The USRA Rulebook breaks this up into two parts, the start of the service motion and the end of the service motion.
At the start of the service motion, the exact wording of the rule says “At the start of or during the service motion, any part of the server (or doubles partner), including the racquet, touches the floor outside of the service zone.” (USRA Rulebook Section 3.9 “Fault Serves”, Paragraph (a), Line 1). The key component of this wording is the phrase “touches the floor outside of the service zone”. The lines marking out the service line and the short line are usually red and are an inch and a half wide. You can stand on top of this line, but no part of you can touch the floor beyond the outside edge of this line.
At the end of the service motion, the exact wording of the ruls says “At the end of the serve, the server steps with either foot on the floor beyond the service line (with no part of the foot on the line or inside the service zone) before the served ball crosses the short line.” (USRA Rulebook Section 3.9 “Fault Serves”, Paragraph (a), Line 2). There are two key phrases in this wording. The first key phrase is “beyond the service line”. This means that you have to have stepped all the way across the service line at the front of the service zone with no part of your foot touching the line. The second key phrase is “before the served ball crosses the short line”. This means that if you’re close to stepping over, your foot can move beyond the line once the ball crosses the short line. A good example of when this might happen is if you’ve served a powerful drive serve and need to move your foot to prepare to return the ball and/or regain good balance.
If you want to see what this looks like, watch this video clip of match featuring Mitch Williams and Jason Mannino. Mitch Williams has a huge stride when serving his drive serve, and almost always crosses the service line with his foot. He a pro, so he doesn’t step past it very often, but it becomes much easier to see how it could possibly happen. You can see how having the extra inch and a half of space at the back of the service zone can make the difference between a good serve and a foot fault for some players.