Written by Martin Shippey. Martin has been playing squash for more years than he cares to remember. He is an ESR Level 1 coach and currently assisting in a programme to introduce inner city schoolchildren to squash
Clearly if you are committed to improving your squash, a certain amount of practice will need to be involved. Merely playing a couple of games a week, whilst enjoyable and no doubt better than no exercise at all, will not improve your game, especially if you play the same person repeatedly. Playing the same partner, or a limited number of partners will result in a monotonous game, with each person selecting from the same limited number of shots which they know is likely to get them the point.
“If I’m getting forty minutes of exercise, what does it matter if I play an advanced game or a simple game?” may be asked. The simple answer is that the more advanced game will consist of longer rallies; the typical once or twice a week player’s game will probably consist of many two- or three-shot rallies – hardly any time to work up a sweat. A more advanced game will see extended rallies of 30 shots and over, with each player repeatedly trying to outwit and out-manoeuvre the other, with both players being sent repeatedly to all four corners of the court.
Longer rallies will clearly raise your heart rate and the rate at which your body burns calories. Now, you might not necessarily be trying to lose calories, but there are other benefits, such as increased cardio-vascular performance, and increased endorphin levels, which are said to help give you a positive and energising outlook on life. Is that what you are looking for?
In my own experience, a game consisting of a few long rallies is infinitely preferable to one consisting of many short rallies, where the ball remains cold and dead, and my own muscles hardly get warmed up or stretched. The feeling of satisfaction and achievement after such a long hard-fought game is well worth the effort.
So how can you start extending your rallies? Clearly, I’m not suggesting that you extend your rallies just for the sake of it. Hitting the ball back to your opponent so that he or she can hit it back to you is clearly not the way to go.
Yet strangely, when I’m watching games between what might be called recreational players, that is actually what they seem to be doing. The problem seems to be that many people think that playing squash should involve use of the side walls as often as possible. This is most emphatically not the case. In the vast majority of cases, hitting the side wall will result in the ball bouncing back to the middle of the court. Right where your opponent is (or should be) standing. Try to hit the ball so that it goes into the back corner, bouncing just behind the service box (it should not ever hit the back wall without bouncing – that is called ‘over-hitting’).
It is much more preferable (and incidentally, much more difficult) to hit a straight drive down the side wall which does not hit the side wall either on the way to the front wall, or on the way back. I have mentioned this before and it is worth repeating: the straight drive parallel and close to the side wall is the absolute basic bread-and-butter shot in squash, and if you want to play a game of extended rallies, you need to be able to play this shot, reliably and accurately, forehand and backhand.
Just playing a good straight drive will win the point in many games at a certain level (although it shouldn’t, if your opponent is watching the ball and knows how to return it).
So when you have both been hitting superb straight drives down the walls, with an occasional cross-court drive to try to catch your opponent out, at what stage do you try for the winner?
Here are some clues: 1 - If you are towards the rear of the court, and your opponent is on the ‘T’ or at least covering the front of the court, don’t play a ‘boast’ or a short ball. You will just be giving them an opportunity to put you under enormous pressure, or even win the point for themselves.
2 - If you are at the front of the court and your opponent is still at the back, play short (sounds obvious but it’s amazing how many players will send the ball right back to where their opponent is standing without thinking.
3 - If you are at the front of the court and your opponent is on the ‘T’, or right behind you, play to the back of the court, either straight or cross-court. That sounds obvious too, but again, it’s amazing how many times you will see a player responding to a short ball with another short ball, when a straight or cross-court drive would be the winner.
4 - Generally, don’t try to play a winner when you are struggling to get the ball back – that is the time to play a defensive shot; a lob, or at least something which will give you time to recover. An attempt at a winning shot from a defensive position will usually result in a ‘gift’ to your opponent.
Actually, the above points could be almost covered with the simple advice “Hit the ball AWAY from your opponent”. That is bearing in mind that if you hit the side wall, the ball will bounce back into the middle, probably just where you opponent wants it.
Lastly, if your opponent is in between you and the front wall DO NOT play the ball – you have already won the point; a ‘Stroke’. If there is doubt about whether you could have played the ball or if he or she had moved out of the way in time, it is a ‘Let’; an indeterminate rally – play the rally again. (The foregoing is a very general interpretation of the rules, see ESR Rules of Squash for correct definitions).
Hopefully, by incorporating the above into your game, the result will be a much more extended and enjoyable squash experience.