Today I'm going to talk about getting back to the T. Getting back near the middle of the court after hitting a shot is always one of the most common errors for players of all levels. Many people watch their shot, hop back, or take the incorrect path back. I will cover some common problems with this seemingly simple yet very challenging concept.
Even some pros move incorrectly back To the T, especially from the front corners. They play a counter drop and move directly back to the T or stand over their shot. The rules state that you must give your opponent the direct path to the ball. I really dislike playing players that do this. I would like to see them penalized more severely for this infraction in the rules. Always, lets move away from those that intentionally move back incorrectly. This topic is about how to properly move back to the middle of the court.
1) You move directly back to the T
2) You stand and watching/admiring your shot
3) You don't expect the next shot to come back
4) You are fatigued and think this is a chance to grab a quick break/breather
5) You take the wrong and long route back to the T
6) You take too many small steps/hop back to the T
7) You don't get to the correct area around the T (this is shot dependant)
8) You expect you're opponent to hit a certain shot and they don't (this ties into #7)
9) You turn and run back to the T
10) You don't get back to the T faster when you've hit a weak shot
11) You go back to the T when you hit a loose ball
12) You are positioned incorrectly on the T
I should also mention that I've heard that getting back to the T too quickly can also be a problem. You get back there and have so long that you lose that spring and spend too much energy and have to do multiple split steps before moving again. This is pretty rare, but I think I did this once upon a time. But I digress again, let's look more closely as the common problems I've listed above and what you can do to correct them.
#1 You Move Directly Back To The T
I already mentioned this is an issue in professional squash and is also a problem with amateurs. They have simply been told to get back to the T, but have not learned to circle around their opponent. This is an infraction of the rules and if you are constantly bumping into players you are likely guilty of this.
#2 You Stand And Watch/Admire Your Shot
This is pretty common as well. Even just a split second of watching your shot before recovering to the T will cost you against a good player. This also happens often after people serve. After they serve they are still standing in the service box watching and are vulnerable to get beat on a simple straight drive or a hard crosscourt hit right at them.
#3 You Don't Expect The Next Shot To Come Back
This is similar to #2, but is not always the same. Some people watch their shots regardless of who good it is while others are just surprised that the shot comes back at all. This often happens when you're not used to playing against someone as quick as your current opponent.
#4 You Are Fatigued
You will see this happen more and more as the match goes on. As people fatigue they begin to get flat footed and walk back to the middle.
#5 You Take The Wrong And Incorrect Route To The T
This can be the same as # 1, but also includes when someone runs too far out of the way to clear and then back to the T. Many people do this because they don't feel comfortable moving along their opponent as they hit into the same corner. This ends up being a waste of energy and you get to the T later than you should. Sometimes in the back corners you may feel pushed further out wide against opponents that take too much space or are large. This is a tough situation and won't be an enjoyable free flowing match. You either give them the extra space and take the extra steps or you take the correct path and give them an appropriate amount of room to get into the corner and you may bump into them a few times. This will either results in let decisions or your opponent adjusting.
#6 You Take Too Many Small Steps Or Hop Back To The T
This is very common. If you watch the pros moving back to the T, especially from the back of the court they simply put one foot in front of the other once they get to the middle line. This is not only more efficient, but is faster.
#7 You Don't Get To The Correct Area Around The T
Many people think the T is the actual T line. This is rarely the case. Other people hang way too far back, while some don't move their T side to side when they anticipate a specific shot. You'll often hear the term, 'floating T' because it isn't an exact point. Watch some of the pros and you'll see that their T position depends on their shot and the anticipated shot of their opponent. If they hit a good pressure shot they may be nowhere near the T trying to poach and continue the assault.
#8 You Expect Your Opponent To Hit A Certain Shot And They Don't
This ties into # 7. Sometimes you don't expect your opponent to go short from the back of the court so you're caught hanging way to far back on the T. This has to do with anticipation and knowing your opponent. If an opponent is really crafty it may happen quite a bit. If you play the same player often this shouldn't happen too often. Are you anticipating or cheating for the next shot?
#9 You Turn And Run Back To The T
This is very common for new squash players. It's a last resort way of moving as you don't want to turn your back to the ball, your opponent and the front wall. When you do this you can have trouble picking up the play again. Although this may be the fastest way back sometimes it is not efficient and does not get you back into an ideal set T position. When I see someone do this from the front of the court I simply hit the next one short again.
#10) You Don't Get Back To The T Faster When You Hit A Poor Shot
This is why it's so tough to put away a top player. They realize instantly that they hit a loose shot and get back to the T as fast as possible. The rule of thumb is to get back by the time your opponent hits their shot. If you hit a poor shot and they are going to hit the ball sooner than normal, you have to get back in position quicker than you normally do.
#11 You Go Back To The T After Hitting A Loose Ball
This is normally only an issue for novice players. Most of us that have played for awhile know that if we hit the ball near the T we can't go back there. We must give our opponent the whole front wall to hit their shot.
#12 You Are Positioned Incorrectly On The T
I could write a while post about this topic. Many people are flatfooted, have their racquet by their ankles, don't turn their head and watch their opponent hit the ball from the back, or completely turn their body and watch their opponent hit. Knowing how you want to be set when you get back to the T is very important for anticipation, covering a variety of shots, for quick reactions and for volleying. Some people that don't wear goggles don't want to turn and watch their opponent because they fear getting hit. But some eyguards and watch your opponent as they hit the ball. If you don't you will never get to a good shot with enough time and set properly. I like my racquet to be around waist height, but this also changes if I hit a poor shot and am under pressure. When this happens my racquet will be low as I know I am going to have to scramble just to get my racquet on the next ball. As for your body position, this depends on the quality of your shot and what options your opponent has. If for example, you opponent is in the back right corner and has a number of options available my rule of thumb is to have your bellybutton pointed towards the front wall sidewall joint. Keep your racquet more in front of you can get beat if they hit it the other direction.
Proper Court Movement
In most situations you want to clear back towards the middle of the court slightly and then back towards the T. But don't clear to the other half of the court unless you hit a very loose ball.
If you hit into the same corner that you're in you have to clear quicker and towards the middle. This is why many people boast, hit crosscourt drives and crosscourt drops. They don't have to worry about clearing correctly.
If you hit a drop or trickle boast from the front of the court you have to get back to the T even faster because your opponent is going to hit the ball sooner than if you hit the ball deep.
Always anticipate the next ball coming back into play, so until the ball has bounced twice get back into a position ready for the next shot to come back. It may not against your current opponent, but against others it will and you will be prepared for it.
If you get too close to the ball you will often find it difficult to get to the middle and out of the way of your opponent. Try and stay further from the sidewalls so you are closer to the mid-court line and closer to the T.
As you improve your anticipation you will learn when and where to move around the 'floating T.' This is important if you want to volley and cut the ball off.
Some people have a lot of difficulty adapting their T position to different players and different courts. If you play a more attacking player you need to be more on your toes and higher on the T. The same things goes for if you're using a colder ball. If you are playing with a really bouncy ball or someone that only hits length you can get away with a deeper T, but this isn't an ideal spot to be volleying short from. If you're too deep your opponent could be back up in front of you by the time you are going to hit your volley.
Another area I haven't mentioned yet is when people try and clear their shot before they've hit the ball. This often leads to a poor shot. If you watch professional players in slow motion you will notice that they begin to clear almost immediately after making contact with the ball. And sometimes when they are in a difficult position they will have no other choice but to try and clear as they are hitting the ball. What happens to most amateur players when they begin to clear before they are finished hitting say a straight drive is that it comes out towards the middle of the court. If you pause the frame at the point of contact you will likely see their shoulders are no longer squared up the sidewall and this causes the loose shot. The fraction of a second they gain in getting back to the T quicker is worthless when they quality of the shot is so poor. I also find that this tends to happen on the forehand more frequently.
Reminder: if you and your opponent move properly around one another there should be little physical contact and very few let decisions.
Drills For Improving Movement Patterns and Speed Back To The T
1. Improve you fitness so you can get back to the T for the entire match
2. Circling/ghosting around another player
3. Rotating Drives but you have to get right up to the actual T line which is a bit higher than most people normally play
4. Rotating drives but you have to touch the floor with the butt of your racquet keeping your hand on the grip. This means you have to get back even faster
5. Boast, drop, straight or crosscourt drive. This drill will punch someone for clearing to the sidewall after hitting a drop. It also makes you have to clear back to the T fast after hitting a drop from the front
6. Boast drive getting to the T after each shot. The boaster can go directly to the T afterwards because they have hit the boast to a different corner and will not be running into their opponent
7. Rotating drives with the option to boast. This makes sure the player on the T plays high enough on the T.
8. Improve your agility and coordination so you can be quicker and lighter on your feet.
9. Strengthen your core and your lower body. This will help you explode off the T faster and clear quicker after you hit the ball. You will be able to stay further from the ball and closer to the T.
10. Any drill or condition game with options for 1 player. You can also have 1 player always have to hit into the same corner they are hitting from so they learn how to circle around their opponent properly.
11. If you play too deep of a T. Maybe you need to get better at volleying up above your shoulders. Or maybe you need to improve the efficiency of your movement into the back corners.
12. Watch yourself on tape and chart your T position. Does it change as you get tired?
13. Take a lesson! Well you'll need more than one to change your movement patterns.
Ok, so that's it for today. I feel like I had a lot to talk about and still have more I could write about. This is an area that almost every squash player in the world can improve. Get to more balls, volley more, and play more free flowing squash by learning to clear properly.