Today I'm going to discuss tactics. I'm going to talk mostly about shot combinations. What is your best shot and what is your favourite shot? How do you set yourself up to get more of these opportunities in a match? This is what shot combinations are. When you play a great boast do you instinctively look to cut off the crosscourt? Experienced players know what they are trying to do in a rally. They know their strengths and weaknesses and know how to make their opponent play to their strengths.
Top players are quite advanced tactically and have a lot of lethal shot combinations. Many plan 1, 2 3 or more shots ahead and change how they compose their rallies depending on their opponent. They will pick up on cues and look to expose them later on that rally or sometime in the near future. If they notice your hanging back on the T or not covering a short ball they will make a mental note of this for next time. Most amateur players don't recognize any patterns of play. This is a major part of learning the game and an area that can help you improve instantly. Here's how.
The first thing I like to do is think about what your best shots are? How do you win most of your points? Can you set up a game plan around these shots? Just having a strategy and thinking about your game in this way will make you better. You will continue developing and refining this as your game evolves and eventually you will be one of those crafty, smart, analytical players.
The second thing I like to do is practice drills in probable game type situations. For example, you may play a length game, but you can play a volley drop if you volley a crosscourt drive. This is one way to compose a rally with length. Hit it tight and put pressure and wait to expose your opponent when they play a lose crosscourt drive. You will begin to recognize pressure and openings and will start anticipating the next move easier. This is what makes people so fast on the court.
Experienced players will know when to stick to a game plan and when to adjust it. Just because you lose a game, it doesn't mean your game plan should change. When should you stick with it and when should you alter it? Some very experienced players will have a game plan that adjusts slightly as the match progresses while others. They know their opponent will be slowing down slightly and can open up the court more. A lot of us may play like this without even realizing it. This is why attention to detail and experience are so valuable. The better technical player doesn't always win the match, especially at the amateur level.
Before getting into specific shot combinations, I want to discuss one last thing. When you play, each shot should have a purpose. Don't just hit aimlessly to a corner. You should be trying to apply pressure, relieve pressure, extend rallies to tire out your opponent or neutralize their attack; whatever the case is, each shot you hit should have a purpose.
Now let's look at some shot combinations. I'm going to talk about possible combinations after you execute a good shot and put your opponent under a bit of pressure. Of course there are shot combinations on the defensive side of things as well, but this is more on your opponents terms than yours!
Following up after a straight drive that applies pressure: this depends on the depth, pace and tightness. The more pressure the less options your opponent will have available. This is why this is such a great shot. If you hit a dying length your opponent will be limited to a boast or back wall boast. You should be able to see them shaping up for these and then you have to know what you want to do to finish them off. If they hit a weak boast do you play a quick counter drop? This depends how high their boast is and how quick you get on it. You can also get their early and delay and then send it right back to the same corner. This doesn't work often at the amateur level as many amateurs sit and wait in the back corner when they think the rally is over with. So you should practice attacking off of a boast and back wall boast so you are comfortable when these situations arise. If you're opponent is only under a moderate amount of pressure they may be limited to a straight drive or a boast. This means you can poach on the T and look to cut off the ball if the hit a drive and you can still cover the boast. If you get a loose drive do you play the volley drop, boast or a hard low crosscourt drive? Again this depends on what you are good at and how well your opponent hit their drive. Practice volleying off a straight drive when you know they can't get a crosscourt by you.
Drills to practice:
1. Rotating drives with the option to volley crosscourt drive
2. Rotating drives with the option to boast, you can hit anything off of the boat
3. Length game with the option to go short off the volley, straight or crosscourt length off the short ball
4. Straight game (short or deep)
Following up after a crosscourt drive that applies pressure: a good crosscourt drive should make your opponent unable to hit a crosscourt drive back behind you. So if you hit a good width you should again be look g to force a boast. At the worst you want to limit them to a straight drive or a boast option. If they are under pressure you can anticipate a loss drive and look to volley it. The options you'll play off their boast or loose drive are quite similar to the ones above.
Drills to practice: see above (after a straight drive that applies pressure).
Following up after a tight drop shot: if you get your drop right on the side wall they will be very limited. If they are late to your drop and it's tight they will be even more limited. Here is where you get behind your opponent, push up on the T and look for the loose drive and stroke or a weak crosscourt. Only the top players will be able to hit a decent width off a clinger. If your opponent manages to hit a counter drop or lift the ball high and tight the tables may turn or you may have to rest the point.
Drills to practice:
1. Straight drive straight drive drop
2. Straight drive straight drive, straight drop, straight drop
3. Straight or crosscourt drive, straight drive, straight drop, straight or crosscourt drive
4. Long, long, short
5. Boast, straight drop or drive, drive off the drop and boast off the drive
Following up after a working boast that applies pressure: the later the are to the ball the less options they will have. If they are late they will have a lot of difficulty trying to counter drop or hit a straight drive. If you hit a good attacking boast you should look to volley a loose crosscourt drive. If they do happen to go straight it will likely be off target and you can still cut across and look for the stroke. If your opponent happens to hit a good lob then you just reset the rally.
Drills to practice:
1. Rotating drives with the option to boast, straight or crosscourt length off the boast
2. length game with the option to boast, anything off the boast
3. Straight drive, straight drive, boast or drop
4. Boast, straight or crosscourt drive, straight drive
Following up after A lob:
Drills to practice:
1. Boast, straight or crosscourt lob, straight drive
2. Boast, straight or crosscourt lob, straight drive, if you can volley the straight drive you can drop or boast
3. Boast, crosscourt lob, straight drive, if you can volley the straight drive you can hit a straight drive of boast
4. You can only hit under the service line if you volley
You can see this is just a list of the most common shots that produce weak responses. You can also expect certain shots back because of how someone sets up for the ball and by their shot history. There are also a number of other shots that you can hit that can produce weak replies. Basically you need to know what to do in the front and middle of the court when your opponent is stuck in one of the 4 corners. It's great to set up the loose ball, but you need to know what to do with it!
After a shot from any corner if I hit a good shot that limits the opponents options at all I'm looking to poach my position on the T and cut the ball off. If I didn't hit my best shot I will have to wait more in the middle of the court until I can either anticipate what the shot will be, or if it's a top player until they actually hit the ball. Most amateurs I can read very easily, but you don't want to give time to a good player, especially at the front of the court.
After Your Best Shots - whatever your best shots are you should know which options your opponent is limited to after you hit them. This of course is assuming that you hit your target. Just as above, when you squeeze your opponent or put them under a lot of time or spacial pressure they will be limited to what you can do. How do you follow your shot up and keep the pressure on? If they hit a quality defensive shot you may have to reset the rally, but you should be expecting a loose response after you hit your best shots. If your opponent is putting you under pressure off of your best shots chances are they are reading you too easily and/or they are at a higher standard.
Basically anytime you can hit a shot that limits your opponents options you are in good shape. Don't let these situations pass you by. I've talked about many of them already.
Another way that players think ahead a number of shots is by lulling them to sleep. Some smart players will lull you into a pattern and then apparently at random will do something that completely catches you off guard. They are likely thinking about setting you up for this well before it happens. They may have it in mind that they are going to hit the first few shots deep from the front and bury you further back in the court and then play a trickle boast later in the game when they need a point. I'll go one step further and not play any 2 wall attacking boasts from the back of the court until later in the match. When the person is starting to get comfortable, hanging back slightly on the T and perhaps even moving or leaning their weight before I hit the ball I'll mix things up on them with a boast. As they have been lulled into this length from the back and are not as fast off the mark, this is normally a winning shot or at a minimal puts them under a lot of pressure. If they don't get the boast back they expect to see if again pretty soon.
Many players have a general strategy when the play. They may for example want to keep the ball to your backhand. So when the ball is over on the forehand side they don't just hit it crosscourt every time. This would be too obvious and it's difficult to do off of a tight ball. So here they may wait until they have an opening that they know they can get the crosscourt wide enough and by you. Once they have done this, depending on the quality of their crosscourt you will be limited to what you can do next. They will then likely have a combination to play afterwards. If you hit a straight drive they may be there to volley it, either a drop if it's loose or something deep if it's tighter. If they forced you to boast they will read this and try and get on it early and have many options to attack. So you can see how important experience is. A technically strong player that has no game plan and is not thinking ahead is always going to be on the receiving end of the rallies and reacting to what the smarter player does.
In the end it doesn't matter how pretty your swing looks and how hard you hit the ball if you can't think the game. Squash is a very strategic game. You should spend a lot of time not just refining your technique and shots, but learning to make decisions, play combinations of shots, while also learning to anticipate and deceive your opponents. And everyone is different, so to be best prepare you need to play a wide variety of players. This is also why I think condition games and drills with options are so important to do. We learn when to keep the pressure on, reset, how to get out of pressure and it keeps us thinking. When we do a repetitive drill our brain can be pretty inactive as we don't have many decisions to make. We may be thinking just if you can volley or not or if you need to hit the ball before or after the back wall, but if you'r not thinking about which shot is the best option. Make condition games a more integral part of your training.
There are countless ways to win a point meaning there are endless combinations. Can you find one that works well for you? Which is you best shot? It may be any chance you get to play it. What is your most effective shot combination?