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Fastest Game in the World: Jai Alai

Updated on June 8, 2009

Jai alai, reputedly the fastest game in the world, requires rapid reflexes and tremendous physical endurance.

Photo by Harrieta171
Photo by Harrieta171

Jai alai is an extremely fast indoor ball game combining elements of handball, lawn tennis, and lacrosse. The name is derived from the Basque language and means "happy festival".

The game is believed to have originated in the Basque Provinces of northern Spain. It is most popular in Spain, Latin America, and Egypt. It is also played in Florida, where it is mainly a professional exhibition sport with parimutuel betting.

The jai alai court is a three-sided enclosure with a front wall of hard cement or granite, one sidewall, and a back wall. The front and back walls are about 35 feet (11 meters) square and 175 to 200 feet (50-60 meters) distant. Along the open side is a wire screen, which protects the spectators. The ball measures about 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter and consists of a hard rubber core and an outer covering of goatskin. Players use a curved wicker basket, called a cesta, that is about 2 feet (60 cm) long. It is strapped so snugly to one wrist that it becomes a powerful extension of the arm. The ball is caught in the cesta and immediately hurled against the front wall at high speed. In a fast game the ball may reach a speed of 150 or more miles (240 km) an hour.

When serving, a player stands about three-quarters of the way back in the court and delivers the ball against the front wall. The ball must bounce off the wall in fair territory, where it is caught in the opponent's cesta and flung against the front wall to complete one playing cycle. Thereafter the ball may be played off the side and back walls as well. Players are not permitted to hold the ball in the cesta or to run with it. Points are scored when a player fails to return a fair service properly, when he misses, or when the ball lands too low or too high on the front wall. The player who loses the point must retire from the court to the end of the waiting line of players. Usually eight contestants, playing singles or doubles, engage in games of five, six, or seven points.

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