Today I'm going to talk about tactics at the start of the match. This is all about setting a tone for the match and future matches. We all know that winning the first game plays an important role in winning the match. Many people get off to slow starts and some begin the match without a game plan. This is why it's so vital to have a good warmup routine. The warmup is not just about getting your body warm, but your mind focused and prepared for battle.
So you've had a good warmup, but still aren't performing well at the beginning of matches. Is it that you have trouble adjusting to your opponent? Or maybe you are a bit nervous and it takes some time to settle in? Other people just seem to take longer than others to establish their length and width. A lot of kids in particular give up many free points at the start of the match. They aren't quite settled into the game yet and go short too soon. Sometimes these may even be good openings to go short, but I find that in the early stages of the match these tend to lead to mistakes.
Early in a match I like to have a very simple game plan, establish my length. If your length is better than your opponents you will likely win the match. If you haven't established your length and gotten your opponent behind you there isn't really a point to force the ball into the front of the court yet. Even if you get a quick point attacking from a high risk situation, this doesn't bode well for the rest of the match. So in your next match, go in with just a simple game plan at the start, establish your length. If you can do this you well you will get lots of opportunities to volley and attack the front of the court later on when you have settled down and feel more relaxed.
This early match tactic may sound like you are playing not to lose as opposed to playing to win, but when you watch the pros you will see long rallies at the beginning of the match as they jab each other, settle their nerves, and feel each other out. The person that finds better length will soon be attacking and dictating the points.
If you're not playing well or are playing someone a bit stronger than you. If you haven't found your length yet, don't give up on it. Just keep trying. Maybe you need to slow the pace down and lift the ball a little, or perhaps keep it straighter. What I see at the beginning of matches is people too amped up and overhitting the ball and it comes out loose and either lands too short or bounces way off the back wall. Overhitting your length doesn't put any pressure on your opponent. If this is what you tend to do, maybe you need to start matches aiming for the service line or even a bit higher on your drives. Focus on the depth of your length. As a bonus this also helps you conserve your energy so you can pick up the pace later in the match if you chose to.
An effective start of the match tactic can get you well on your way for success. Maybe you need to stick with it for x number of points. Others will just know when they've established their length as the begin to create plenty of better openings to attack. At the beginning of the match I do not consider this reactive squash, you can still be proactive hitting most of your shots deep. This is just a way to settle in and get comfortable before playing short shots. The deeper you push your opponent into the back of the court the more area you have to attack in the front. Not to mention that you are also testing out your opponents strategy. You may be surprised that they have no strategy and give you some easy free points at the start of the match and let you relax and get a running start.
In summary, warmup is for your body and mind. This is why it's called a routine, they prepare the same way each day to get into the same mindset. Once you get on court, keep it simple! You should't be consciously thinking about too things when you play squash. If you do this your focus is too broad. Have a basic plan (like establishing your length) and stick with it until you do. If you don't find your length early, keep trying. If this is a new way for you to play it may take some time before you begin to do it instinctively. Settle into the match before you start attacking the front of the court at will. It's such a confidence booster for your opponent when you hand them free points at the beginning of the match. Maybe they were feeling nervous and tense about the game and now you've let them relax and get ahead. Plus if you make a few early unforced errors you will lose that confidence for going short later in the match.
At the beginning of matches, dig in, fight and scrap. Send a mental message to your opponent that you are there for a fight and are going to give it all you got. I've won countless matches without being forced to play my best squash. People think they need to do something special to beat me and force it short and give me free points. It's such a nice feeling. When they do this I can play entire matches without an unforced error because I know they are beating themselves so I just keep hitting good length and counter attack. I don't know what the odds are of winning a match after you've won the first game, but it must be pretty high. Therefore having a solid strategy at the begging of the match can increase your chances at winning. Get into a habit of setting a winning tone at the start of your match. Do this by implementing a fundamental tactic.