Today I'm going to discuss a topic that was suggested to me by a reader. I'm going to talk about what makes good length, drives, lines or rails. I think everyone know that hitting the ball tight is important, but what other qualities make up good length? Length is the base of the game and whoever hits better length will normally win the match. They normally win because they will spend more tim in front of their opponent meaning they will be able to volley more and hit more attacking shots off loose boasts or drives.
When I was a kid I didn't value length. I basically only hit length when I couldn't attack short. I didn't realize the pressure you can create with length and that it helps to set up a better opportunity to go short. So yes, I understand that length is essential to playing a high level of squash, but what exactly defines it? Good length can be hit straight or crosscourt. The qualities of a good straight drive are different than a crosscourt obviously. With either shot the main objective is to get your opponent off the T. Depending on the caliber and location of your opponent will dictate how tight your drive or wide your width has to be.
So you get your opponent off the T with your length, that's great. But when you get to an even higher level giving your opponent too much space and time even from the back is dangerous. My second objective with length is to limit the number of options my opponent can hit. If I hit a great length they should not be able to hit crosscourt and if I hit a near perfect length they may be limited to a boast. You can see how this is a huge advantage. Now I can shift my T position and cover only 1 or 2 possible shots. I would also anticipate a looser reply and look to attack and stay on the T. If you can consistently get your opponent off the T and limit their shot options you are going to do well. But that's not all that defines someone that hits good length.
We can't always hit dying length and we shouldn't always try to. When we are out of position, under pressure, or your opponent hits a tight shot we need to play more defensive and hit a rallying drive. A rallying drive is meant to come off of the back wall and gives you more time to get back to the T. If we try to hit an attacking drive when we are in a defensive position and we don't hit our target our opponent will have an opening to attack and we won't have time to get to the T. So being able to overhit your drives when under pressure is an important quality. There are many ways in which you may have to play a length under pressure. This can be off your back foot (open stance), choking up on your racquet and shortening your backswing in the back corner when you have limited space, or trying to return a shot that is running right on the side wall. Great players can consistently hit high quality shots under pressure. Having good footwork, balance and strength is important for hitting high quality length under pressure.
So we have a good idea about what makes someone good at hitting length. Knowing when you want to hit the ball low and hard, medium pace and medium height, or high and soft are al important qualities. Many people never lift the ball from the back corners, but this is a shot I really like. Shaman is one of the best at lifting the ball from the back and getting his opponent off the T. I believe this change of pace and height is an important, but not an essential quality for being great at hitting length. People that hit everything one pace are more predictable and are prone to make mistakes when they are under pressure.
Most of what I've discussed so far as only applied to straight drives. Crosscourt drives aren't that much different. The main problem with most people is that they hit crosscourt too often and not wide enough. If you hit it too wide you may ed up with a let or even getting drilled by your opponent. This is still better than hitting it too loose and they cut it off. If your opponent knows a crosscourt is coming it has to be hit so precise or it can get your in trouble. That's why I feel that disguising your crosscourt length is essential. This is another trait of someone that hits good length. Not only are they pinpoint accurate, but they also don't become too predictable and they can disguise their shot.
A good width depends on where your opponent is standing around the T and how long their reach is. You'll even see a few of the pros play crosscourt drives through the middle to keep their opponent on edge. If you hit a great width they should have to boast. They should definitely not be able to hit a good width in response to your width.
There are a few other qualities that I haven't mentioned yet. To be top notch at length you need to be able to adapt to different courts, opponents, and balls. When a court is slow or a ball is lively it dramatically changes the game. Footwork into and out of the back corners are also extremely important to hitting good length. Also I feel that the efficiency of the movement into the corners is important. Whoever can do this smoother and expend less energy will have a better chance of winning. The backhand side (for righties) is of particular importance. This is where many rallies take place and if you hit the ball tighter than your opponent here you can always play this side when you need a point. To be a high level player you should be able to keep it very tight here all day long. Personally it's about getting your racquet head squared and running parallel to the sidewall at the point of contact. I've hit so many of these drives that I can feel the slight tension in my forearm at the point of contact and it allows me to be very consistent with my timing.
The other thing I haven't mentioned yet is another advanced skill, spin. People generally hit the ball with a slightly open racquet face on the backhand side and higher on the front wall. When you have time and space I like closing the racquet face and hitting the ball flatter and with more pace. You will see some pros hit with a slight topspin or flat racquet face quite often.
The last quality of good length is something similar I talked about earlier, disguising and being less predictable. Top players can attack well from the back corners and this makes their length more effective because their opponent has to play a higher T and cover the front as well. Although this isn't hitting length, it's a subtle thing that improves the quality of their length hitting.
Knowing when to hit which type of length takes practice. So does being able to hit the ball parallel to the side wall like Shabana. Solo practice is great and so it doing rotating drives and length games. I like using targets for different types of lengths. I also recommend doing some technical testing to see just how accurate you are. Now I'll finish off with some conditions games you can practice and an overview of the most common errors on peoples length game.
Length Based Condition Games
1) You get 1 short shot each per rally, everything else is length
2) If the ball lands short int he service box you can hit anything, otherwise you have to hit length
3) Length game, if you volley you can go short
4) Rotating drives on one side of the court (e.g., the left side). A player gets a point if they hit a crosscourt width that gets by you to the right side of the court. If you cut it off and can hit a straight drive you get a point
5) Straight game (short or deep). 5B) You can add in a crosscourt or trickle boast from the front to keep them honest
6) Straight (short or deep) vs. anything
7) Deep, deep, short 7B) deep, deep, short, shot
8) Rotating drives with option to boast for 1 player. If they get the boast back they they now have the option to boast. If they don't the other player gets the point and still has the boast
9) Everything over the service line except 1 shot per rally can be hit under
10) The player the won the last rally can only hit length, the other person can hit anything
Common Length Errors
1) Too many crosscourts
2) Crosscourts are not wide enough
3) Length is too short (especially on the forehand side)
4) Overhitting all of their drives, which doesn't create as much pressure
5) Hang too far back on the T
6) Don't use disguise
7) Unable to shorten their backswing and dig out tough balls
8) Failure to use height and vary the pace
9) Unable to play off their back foot (open stance), especially when under pressure
10) Drives are it too late and hit into the sidewall and slow the ball down
That's it for today. I hope you enjoyed the post. Thanks again to the reader who suggested the topic! I'm always open to suggestions if you have one. I'm leaving soon for another tournament with the kids so I may not have a post for a few day. The World Championships are starting today, so I should have lots to talk about. I saw a post on Twitter about how little the players make. The winner gets a little less than $50,000. After tax, maybe that's around $40,000 to be a world champion. If you make it to the quarters and lose you get a little under $10,000. Crazy low and it shows that all professional squash players do it for the love of the game. And that they will all need a job after they finish playing professionally!