Tuesday, March 3, 2015

If You Could Only Do One Thing Really Well

Today I'm going to talk about what I think is the most important part of the game. If you could do one thing amazingly well, what would it be? What shot or quality would allow you to be the most successful and cause problems for your opponents? Of course this may change depending on who you're playing against.

We would all love to be stronger, faster, fitter or maybe more mentally tough and disciplined. Would any single one of those traits be enough to beat most players? Not without the racquet skill or proper shot selection. So let's move on.

You see some people that make very good decision, but can't quite execute the shot. Making good choices is a big part of the game, maybe the biggest. I'd rather someone make good choices with bad technique than poor choices with a perfectly grooved swing. I'd pick the thinker any day. But still, I don't think making good choices in itself is the single skill quality that would allow you to play the best.

Now it's time to move on to shots. I know most kids want to say nicks or drops. But we all know nobody wins just because they can hit nicks. Pretty tough to hit 33 of them in a match, especially if you can't hit the shots to set up the openings to go for them.

If we look to some of the basic shots I believe we will start to see what is really crucial in the game. The serve and return of serve are high on this list. A great serve in itself is not going to be enough to win beyond the novice level, but it was still give you some free points each game. If you can't return a good serve you can lose very quickly. But of course once you get the serve back this skill isn't going to assist you much. So although I believe the serve and return of serves to be critical skills, they are not enough on their own to be successful.

Of course I know what you're thinking, 'it must be length.' Don't get ahead of yourself yet. If you could only perfect one length shot which would be the most beneficial to your game? Would it be a forehand or backhand? Would it be a straight or crosscourt drive? I believe that the straight drive on the left hand wall is the most crucial shot in squash. This is where much of the game is played and most of the shots are hit into. If you are more accurate over here and can get good drives back as good drives, you will probably be very successful. I consider a good drive on the left wall to not come off the back wall much (or any depending on your positioning and your opponents). We all know tighter is better, but the depth is equally or even more essential at a high level.

If you get the depth right on a straight drive on the left wall your opponent shouldn't be able to crosscourt drive or attack short well. There is very low risk hitting a backhand drive if you know you can hit it tight and apply pressure with it. Even though there is a lot more to the game than this I feel that if you have fantastic control and consistency on this shot you can win point after point over there. You can set up easy shots to attack of just keep someone pinned in the back level corner. This is likely my best shot (probably because I've hit it so much), and is the shot I feel most comfortable with. If I'm playing a big point I know I can keep it on this wall and I have an excellent chance of winning the point. And that's what squash is, giving yourself the best odds to win each rally.

You might have noticed that I kept mentioning the left side wall as opposed to backhand side. I think that this is also the same for lefties. Most lefties have much stronger forehands than backhands. I don't think I've ever met a lefty that was better on their backhand. Most righties aren't comfortable playing on the right side of the court so they tend to play lefties similar to other right handed opponents. For this reason I think that it is more important that left handed players have a better forehand straight drive than backhand. This of course in itself isn't enough to be successful though. If you can't hit a good straight drive on the right side of the court your opponent will just wait for you to boast or crosscourt to your strong side.

I remember Roger Federer once saying that he didn't spend much time focusing on his backhand (which was his weaker side) because he got so much repetition on it in matches. His opponents would always pick on it, so he decided to kept working on his strengths (his forehead). Was this right or wrong? Who knows. Clearly he's had an unbelievable career. But if we spend most of our practice time on one side than the other we will normally get stronger and tighter on that one side. This is why I find most people need to spend time working n the right wall; even though this isn't the shot that I deem to be most crucial to success. This is because more right handed players don't need much space to get the ball back over to the left side of the court.  On our forehand we are also stronger when the ball is slightly behind us as well.

Do you agree? Disagree? What single skill would allow you to have the most success? If it's your drive on the left side of the court do you spend your time working on it over and over? Or do you think like Federer and practice the other side which doesn't get as much practice time? If you do focus on the left wall remember there is a lot more than just constantly hitting the ball tight? Set up targets to keep your focus and concentrate on the depth. Footwork and racquet preparation is also extremely important into this corner. Do you lift the ball under pressure? Do you hit it flatter when you have some time and a bit of an opening? There are lots of subtle ways to put the ball into the same area of the court. This is what separates the elite players from the really good ones.


  1. 'I believe that the straight drive on the left hand wall is the most crucial shot in squash.'

    With two right-handed players on court, yes I agree - it typically ends up being a sparring match on the left wall, so whoever ends up being the guy who hovers between the cut line & service box comfortably playing short and deep usually ends up winning - Power dominated this area. Shorbagy and Greg are good in this area as well. Note that all 3 have really compact backhands, giving them the optionality to play short or deep and from a very similar swing, so opponents really have to wait until the last minute before they react.

    It's a different story if you're playing a lefty. Righties are used to the probing up and down the left wall, so it's a big adjustment when playing a lefty who can rip a crosscourt forehand from behind them - you can't lean over as much. That said, you are correct - their backhands are much weaker. Even when playing lefties with good backhands, I've had the most success playing relentlessly to their backhands. My forehand quality isn't as good as my backhand, but playing average drops, kills and drives on the right wall is still much more effective than trying to find opportunities on the left wall.

    Any player obviously needs strong movement and length to compete at a high level, but in my mind the most important quality is the ability to play short from 'unconventional' positions, namely the service box area and behind. Some people think it's cardinal sin to attack anywhere from the T and above, but I find it's just as easy to attack from the back as long as 1. you have your weight behind the ball and 2. there's space around the ball.

    Your attacking game is as good as the threat of the shot you don't play but COULD play.

    If out of 50 shots from the back left corner, let's say you play 2 good dropshots from that position, the opponent will always have to consider the possibility of you playing a quality drop over the next 50 shots, even if you only end up playing it once or twice.

  2. this ^ person knows what they are talking about

  3. Good points. I agree about the threat of the attack. But I wouldn't say this is most important to success than just being able to hit a good tight, penetrating backhand drive. Because obviously if your opponent can do this on a consistent basis you won't have anytime or space around the ball to attack from the back of the court. Plus if you don't hit a good backhand straight drive your opponent can play a higher T and cover your drops from the back as your length isn't putting any pressure on them. So I stand by my statement that the straight drive on the left wall is the most crucial skill in the game. But I love the debate so feel free to counter any of my counters!

  4. I don't disagree, but was more adding that the optionality to attack is what separates players with already strong basic games, not so much the most important shot to master. We are effectively saying the same thing, and depends if you're talking about pros v amateurs...

    JP/Shorbagy/Greg have the best backhand drive but a big part of its effectiveness is because the opponent knows they can go short, forcing the opponent to move up on the T to cover and thus making the length much more devastating.

    Scores of pros can hit good tight drives, but only a fraction of them have optionality in typical 'drive' situations, creating much more to think about for the opponent. This separates the big dogs from the pack.

    However, even at the high amateur level, you are definitely right - best guy into the back left wins.

  5. Ability to drop from back is not the most important shot. Are you kidding me? 2/50 times - you call this the most important shot?


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