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General squash tips for C level players

Watch ball or opponent?

This is an easy subject to create a debate about because the answer is "both". But your primary focus should be on the ball.

As you know, you can not actually see the ball at every moment in a game, as it passes in front or behind you opponent often - as it happens with crosscourts and boasts. Maybe you might look closer at the situation(s) that have made you ask your question and be more specific to get a better answer. There are clues you can pick up from observing both the ball position and/or your opponent's preparation that vary with different shots. Of course players who are good at disguising their shots with deceptive wrists, delays, foot position and swing etc. will give you fits if you only watch them.

If you are regularly getting fooled on one or two particular shots pay more attention to the ball and count the percentage of times in similar situations which way the ball was struck by your opponent. Once you have a pattern of uneven percentage be ready for either but be totally prepared (anticipate) to go to the popular side with your racket prepared.

Just one example case (which could have obvious variations): You are just getting back to the T after hitting a loose high boast out of your left backhand side that hits the front wall about middle and bounces out at an angle about 8 feet from the corner to your opponent's forehand. So now you have a situation where the ball is going to pass in front of your opponent and momentarily out of your view. There are 3 basic things to observe here and you have time since it was a slower high ball you just hit. First, is your opponents racket way back early to hit with power or only about halfway back to drop or lob? Next, is he preparing with his lead foot closer to the sidewall than his back foot or is he staying more open to hit a strong crosscourt? Finally, if you are anticipating the crosscourt but get even a glimpse of the ball as it passes him he is likely hitting a rail. When he takes the ball just a moment earlier in front of his lead foot for the crosscourt you will not see the ball at all a higher percentage of the time. So again, watch the ball, watch your opponent's set up with your peripheral vision (as much as possible) and watch the ball again.

Remember what Master Hashim Khan said, "Keep eye on ball, is most important thing I tell you."

On the same topic of watching the ball, many players incorrectly turn their heads quickly from watching the ball back towards the front wall, a moment or two before their opponent completes his swing and actually makes physical contact with the ball. They do this automatically without thinking about it to try to get their focus ahead of the object, much like you would do to lead a duck with a shotgun. Players wrongly do this naturally because it is what they must do when they run to retrieve a ball and even when they strike it.

In a situation where you are anticipating one or two shots from your opponent it is that split second at impact that will let you see which one it is and be on your way to intercept it. If you wait to see the ball come off of the front wall you have lost about half of the valuable trajectory input necessary for your brain to calculate where you will need to be to meet it. While you must be able to determine where the ball will be and physically "lead" it to that point with body and racket you do not want do do that with your eyes.

Remember the other elements of readiness and anticipation. Try picking between two shots you feel your opponent is most likely to make and react on your first good positioning clue and the snapshot you get from the ball leaving his racket. Do not just stand still on your heels, or toes either, waiting to react to the result.

The other element of this close watching of the ball is anticipation. You must choose what you feel is the most likely shot(s) your opponent will hit? From the back corner, if your opponent is late getting there he will most likely hit a boast first or a moderate-to-slow paced rail, if he has the skill to do so. If he is on the ball quickly and it is up for him but tight to the side he's probably going to hit another down the same side. If it is looser and you are cheating by staying back and to the same side he might boast it or on rare occasion drop it. If it is 2 1/2 to 3 feet or more from the side wall and you are turned to the same side or are up high (too high) on the T to cover his short shots watch for a hard cross court drive right around you. Keep your body completely facing forward with your racket head up and the crosscourts won't get past you very often.

Another thing to try in order to overcome flat footedness is, when you see the initial swing of the racket downward towards the ball, try making a short hop with both feet off your toes at the same instant in order to break the inertia and initiate some movement in advance. You may want to start this by hopping several times just before and during the engagement of the ball by your opponent. Almost all top squash players do the hop and so do tennis pro's, where it may even be more evident to see as they prepare for receiving the serve.

Eliminate the cross-court shot

The cross-court is the second loosest shot to play after the boast. It is difficult to control where the ball will land. Unless it is hit perfectly to die in the back corners, it will bounce out and leave the court open. With an open court, you give your opponent choices to play a number of shots to put you under pressure.

Also the cross-court is very easy to volley by a good volleyer. The only work-around is to hit it wider but then you run the risk of having it come out too much, thereby opening the court up. You can play a high cross court lob, but this shot is difficult to control where it will land since it has to travel such a great distance.

So when do you want to play cross-courts and why play them at all? The cross-court is an excellent variation shot once you have established a basic straight pattern. If your opponent starts cheating to one side, then it is time to keep them honest with a hard hit cross-court. If hit properly your opponent will be late to retrieving it. On the other hand if your opponent is ready and waiting on the T, then you never want to hit a cross-court as they will either volley it or play an attacking shot after it bounces away from the sidewall.

How to handle players who always accurately kill the ball a half-inch above the tin from anywhere in the court

Do not allow your hard-hitting opponent the opportunity to make those shots. In other words, you best defence would be a strong offense. Make your opponent hit shots on the run. Take pace off your shots so that your opponent is forced to generate all the power on his own. All this is much easier said than done.

Also make sure the ball is not shiny when you play a hard and low hitter. If it is, then the ball will slide quickly when it hits the floor. Wash the ball so the surface remains grippy. This way the ball will slow down and bounce up from a hard / low hit.

One advice is to play high to their backhand. This is because it is very difficult to generate power on the high backhand side. While taking the pace off the shots may be effective some of the time, it would also give your opponent time to wind up and take aim. The key is keeping the ball tight to the walls. I would also recommend trying to volley more, keeping your opponent consistantly under pressure and on the back foot - he would be a lot less accurate when he his rushed. Use a variety of pace so your opponent finds it difficult to keep rythym and timing. As you said, this is a whole lot easier said than done.

If they are able to hit the shot from anywhere, they should not be playing you. They should be playing more challenging players. Unconvientional squash players are very frustrating.

Help! My game is getting worse?!

It is very expected that your game will temporarily get worse as you learn new techniques. You can easily spend months loosing to people you once could beat when you are changing stroke, grip, strategy or footwork.

This is particularly true when u play people with unusual games. It can be very frustrating losing to them since they are doing everything "wrong" but always seem to be winning. The reason is they have perfected an "imperfect" game, while you have an imperfect "perfect" game.

The good news is that you will slowly but surely make improvement with time, however, they will be stuck at whatver level they are. I noticed you will always find such unorthodox players at all squash levels from E to A.

Best thing is to get frequent coaching from pros to make sure you are learning and applying the correct techniques and strategies. I recommend lessons every few months at least. It takes time for the new skills to seep in your game. Expect to spend at least 500-1000 hours of court time at each level before moving up. Let the process happen on it's own and be happy with whatever skill level you are at.

Next article -> Do I need a new racquet?

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