Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Resetting A Rally

Today I'm going to talk more about strategy. Today I'm going to discuss the importance and how to reset during a rally. When you watch top players they are rarely full out sprinting. They are also rarely getting a tour of all 4 corners. Why is this? Obviously the players at a high level have the racquet skill to put the ball where they want, but still players find a way to get back in control and regain the T during a point. Let's take a look at how this happens.

Let's start with most amateur players. The reason a good player can constantly tour them around the court and tire is because they are loose, predictable and they don't hit shots to relieve pressure giving them a chance to catch a breath and get back to the T. Whereas more advanced players make better decisions to use height when under pressure and are able to given themselves time to reset on the T. When they hit it high, they can usually get the ball quite tight as well and can create a difficult volley for their opponent to attack again. So this is how top players reset during a rally. They may be chasing for a shot or 2 or 3, but it's very unusual for it to be for more shots in a row than that. And it doesn't matter how fit you are, if you're doing court sprints all around the court and your opponent is volleying and taking everything early everyone will eventually slow down and tire. It's not that you need to get fitter, but you need to improve your strategy and your ability to relieve pressure.

I should also mention here that always just relieving pressure does not mean you are then applying any onto your opponent. If you're just waiting for them to attack and then defending it can take a long time to win a match and you will be doing most of the work. So as the saying goes, the best defence is a good offence. But playing attacking shots from defensive positions can get you in trouble. The pros will do this when they feel there is a chance at a counter attack or they have no alternative (e.g., their opponent has hit a super tight drop, so they try to scrape it off the wall and counter drop). Watch Ramy Ashour when he eventually gets back on tour. He has the best lob and this is why I feel he is so tough to beat. He can get almost anything back and gets out of trouble and resets in 1 shot. And of course if you attack and your shot isn't good enough he has about 1,000 attacking options which puts added pressure on your attacking shot.

Resetting in a rally can also be useful when you are a bit fatigued. If it's a big rally don't cave in and go for a cheap winner or error. These long rallies are mentally very important to win. As I've heard mentioned on Squash TV, the top pros try and back up long hard rallies with another as a psychological blow to their opponent. They are making a statement that they are fit and prepared to do anything for the W. If you can hit a good straight, tight, slow paced drive/lob high on the front wall up and down the backhand side there won't be much your opponent can do. Even if your opponent knows it's coming, if you execute this shot correctly they will have no choice but to either try and volley a clingon (a term coined by my father) or go to the back and attempt to do the same. This is a good method for slowing the pace down and catching a slight breather. If you move more efficiently and are less tired than your opponent it is also an effective method to prolong rallies and wear down your opponent. If you want to get good at this shot you have to practice it when you're doing length drills or solo hitting.

You can practice resetting during a rally in the following drills and condition games.
1) Straight or crosscourt length vs. only straight drives
2) 1 player hits anything vs. only length
3) If you volley you can hit anything, if you don't you can only hit straight drives
4) Boast, straight or crosscourt drive or lob, straight drive (looking for the volley)
4b) Boast, straight or crosscourt drive or lob, straight or crosscourt drive, straight drive (only 1 person working)
5) 1 person hits every shot to a single corner, the other can hit anywhere
6) Drive drive drop (learning how to hit a straight high and soft drive to get your opponent off the volley)
6B) drive drive boast
6C) drive drive, drop or boast
7) Drive drive drop drop
7B) drive drive drop or boast, drop
8) Straight short or long vs. anything

See if when you do these you can give yourself time to regain the T when you're under pressure by lifting the ball and getting it high, soft, and tight. You can also dull your opponent by playing a slow up and down the wall backhand drives and then wait until you feel they are not paying as close of attention and go for a drop, boast, or crosscourt.

To be able to get out of pressure in the back corners you will need to know how to shorten your swing, and possibly choke up on your racquet and dig out a ball and get it back down the side wall. It's rare that a top player ever has to boast, meaning that they hit attacking boasts and very few defensive ones. I spend a lot of time teaching people how to get the ball out of the back corners when they cannot take a full swing. If you cannot do this yet you will be prone to getting toured around the court now and again.

Knowing how and when to reset a rally is important. We only play to 11 now so each point is more crucial than it once was. Hitting attacking shots when you're furthest from the T means your shot will have to be quite precise or you will be doing more chasing. I have a rule where if both of my feet are within the outside width of the service box line (if you imagine it extending up to the front and back wall) I use height and lift the ball to give myself the time required to get back to the T. I try and avoid getting both my feet right in any of the corners because I know that will leave more area of the court exposed if my next shot isn't hit with a high degree of accuracy.

Last point about resetting a rally. This philosophy is also applicable for the attacking player. You have your opponent on the run and working hard and have to respect if they hit a high quality defensive shot that you may have to reset the point and go back to establishing length before going on the attack once again. I know the feeling of having your opponent on the ropes and feeling like you have to keep moving them, but if they hit a good shot you don't want to hand them an easy point because you're forcing the action. Hit a good shot and stat on the prowl for another opportunity to attack.

So there you have it. A few things to think about for your game. Do you get out of trouble well? Can you hit it high and soft and tight? Straight and crosscourt? From the front and the back corners? Especially as I've gotten a bit older this is such an important skill set, but we also see this skill used regularly on the world tour. Next time you watch top players play, watch how consistently they use height on the front wall. Some do this better than others. Shabana is another one that is great at this. He's not faster or fitter than the younger top guns now so he has to play smarter, to play better.

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