Monday, February 22, 2016

Getting The Ball By Your Opponent From The Back Corners

Today is geared more towards advanced players, but a lot of it is still applicable to any skill level. Is your opponent dominating the T? All of us that have played  at a decent level of squash understand that one of the most important skills is being able to get your opponent off of the T and into the back of the court; if we can accomplish this they are furthest from the front wall and we have time to regain the T. For beginners being stuck in the back of the court is almost always the end of the rally, their only goal is to get the ball back to the front wall. When we get a bit stronger we have options from the back and unless you're under a lot of pressure you often more options than it may appear.

We know who controls the T generally wins the match. Today I'm going to talk specifically about how to get your opponent off the T and into the back of the court from the back corners. The simple theory is to hit the ball tighter or wider which of course will help, but there are others tactics we can try which can allow us to achieve the same outcome.

Hit It Tighter: we all know hitting it tighter is a goal of playing winning squash. Being able to do this under pressure with little space in the back corners is quite difficult. To hit good length when pinned in the back corners you have to know how to shorten your swing and flick the ball high and deep, and oh yes tight! It takes a lot of practice to get good at this, but it can be done. It has to be high because we don't have enough force otherwise to get the ball deep, but we also have to hit it tight because we have no other options and are opponent will be waiting to volley our shot if we don't execute it properly.

Change the height of your drives: I was guilty of this for a long time too! Many of us focus so much on hitting the ball tight that we don't think about the height of our drives. The height that most drives are hit to get to the back wall go through mid court around shoulder height. Shoulder height is comfortable for people to volley and attack especially if they are off the wall. If we hit the ball lower or higher it will be much more difficult for your opponent to handle.

Pick up the pace: the harder you hit the ball the less time your opponent has to react. The danger here is that this also gives you less time to get out of the corner and back up to the T. If you want to pick up the pace you will generally get away with being a bit less accurate.

Lift the ball: I already mentioned changing the height of your drives above, but this is more focused on lobs and specifically crosscourts. This is how I coach kids that are smaller than their peers, but anyone with the right skill set can apply this tactic. To me it doesn't make sense to play to your opponent's strength, even if that is how you like to play. I believe this is one of the rarest ways I see people try and get their opponent off the T which I find strange because it can also be one of the most effective. Especially in the junior squash and the men's game, we often resort to pace so I find that lifting the ball can be extremely effective to get your opponent off the T and into the back. If you can hit the ball consistently high and tight or wide your opponent will have no choice but to try scarping a ball up high off the wall or will have to move back and will relinquish the T. I also like playing crosscourt lobs from the back of the court and if you hit them correctly even if volleyed they will be behind you with a difficult shot to hit accurately. Strong squash players practice hitting drives their entire careers and spend much less time trying to hit a volley drive off a lob moving backwards off the T, so I encourage you to try this for yourself. This is also an effective way to vary the pace a bit and catch a quick breath during a long point. This is something Shabana did exceptionally well. Here is a link of Shabana doing this brilliantly against Shorbagy. Skip to the 1 minute and 20 second mark to see what I mean:

Hit Your Crosses Wider And Deeper: many of us have heard that we should hit the ball straighter. I can't argue with this previous statement, but I do say what gets people in trouble is not always the fact that they are hitting crosscourt, but that it is that their width is not wide enough. If you don't hit the ball wide enough the ball will be able to cut it off. Most of us spend a lot of time working on our straight drives and not as much on our crosscourt length; it's no wonder most people can't hit a good width. For me a good width means that it is out of reach of your opponent so they have to move back to play it, normally this means hitting the sidewall across from where your opponent is standing, but this can change if they aren't looking to volley. Furthermore a more successful width limits what options your opponent has left.

A good rule on crosses is if you've hit a good width your opponent should not be able to hit the ball back crosscourt. Knowing you've hit a good width and your opponent is unable to hit it back crosscourt means you are now in a good position to cut down the court and look for either a straight drive or a boast. Remember that this goes both ways. So if your opponent hits a good width and you are limited with your shot selection there isn't much you can do besides try and execute the given shot to the best of your ability. The real problem was your prior shot that gave your opponent enough time and space that allowed them to hit this excellent width.

Pay Attention To Your Opponent's T Position (and yours):
Lateral T Position: many players will cheat to cut off straight or crosscourt drives. Especially when you are in the back backhand corner where we can't generate as much pace, strong players will be expecting a certain shot (straight or cross) and will be looking to cut it off. If you notice your opponent is poaching to cut off all of your straight drives hit it crosscourt; if they are always waiting for a crosscourt, keep it as straight as possible. If you do this long enough you will find a few times where you can sneak in the alternative shot to keep your opponent honest. Just make sure that you hit your crosscourt extra wide, with pace or high and soft if you are playing someone that hunts crosscourts. If you're playing someone that is overly aggressively looking to cut off your straight drives then try your best to hit at a height or pace that makes it difficult for them to volley. This of course means you need to be set with time in the back to do so. It's very difficult to hit accurately when under pressure and this is when we are slowest to clear.

Depth of T: some people hang far back and a few too high on the T. When you're too high on the T you don't have enough time to get to the back corner and hit an effective shot. When you're too far back you may block your opponent's clearing path and you are susceptible to a short shot. Finding the right depth on the T so you can cover both the front and back, clear around your opponent properly and most importantly give yourself enough time to get back to the corner and hit a decent shot is key. This is why most people drift further and further back as the match wears on; they get tired and drawn back from all the length being hit. If you are aware of this maybe you shouldn't be hitting a length from the back, but attacking short. If you find yourself too far back on the T practice your length with a small target for returning to afterwards on the T. To improve T awareness and movement, I'll often have people touch a target up on the proper T depth between shots with their foot, racquet or even racquet handle.

Become Less Predictable: I'm going to discuss predictability here in shot selection, bot disguise or deception (which is next). Amateurs normally hit crosscourt when they have to, not when they want to. This is one example of someone becoming predictable. If you watch and play enough squash you will pick up some players tendencies. Another popular one is most people hit their forehand lengths all crosscourt and their backhand ones straight. If you find this situation developing over and over you better be careful. If your opponent is guilty of this come up with a strategy to take advantage of their pattern. Learning how to exploit a predictable pattern and force someone to adjust can instantly change who has the upper hand.

Disguise Your Shot: if you arrive at the ball with enough time and space you will have option See below for a great picture of Joe Lee, who although is in the back backhand corner and the ball is only a few inches off the wall, he is prepared early and can hit the next shot anywhere. This is why his opponent's T position is neutral. I find that most people don't concentrate on disguising their length from the back of the court. If you are under pressure you don't have this luxury, but if you have some time and space you should think about your posture and prepare the same way for your straight and crosscourt drives; in fact Lee could hit to any corner from the below setup. A good condition game for working on this is 1 player can only hit to 1 of the back corners and the other can hit anything deep. The player who has to hit everything to the 1 corner will have difficulty returning a good crosscourt with a crosscourt. Learn how to watch on the T and read your opponent's body position. Most people open up their shoulders and hips earlier when they are gong to crosscourt. If you do this condition game your goal should be to get all of your crosscourt by your opponent.

Don't Give Up The T so Easily: until you get to a high level most people always prefer to let the ball bounce so they have more time prepare and decide what to do with the ball. Taking your time can have its benefits on your shot accuracy, but it also gives your opponent extra time to get to the T. Just because the rules state that the ball can bounce once, it doesn't mean it should! Learn how to dominate the mid-section of the court and you will have to worry less about how to get your opponent off the T.

Under Pressure/Knowing When We Don't Have Options: okay, so you're under a lot of pressure and you either don't have a lot of time or space in the back corner. Here a more skilled player can play open stance or adjust their swing to produce the desired result (get it deep). But this post isn't about how to get back a shot under pressure in the back corner. Just know that if you are under a lot of pressure play the simple shot. Sometimes people try to do too much under pressure because they know their opponent has them trapped. If you're under this much pressure just try your best to hit the ball straight, high, tight and ideally deep. This is a skill set that can be achieved to a high level of accuracy if practiced.

I've discussed a lot of different ways to get the ball back deep and even 1 tactic for avoiding this situation in the first place. It's incredibly challenging learning how to move backwards to play the ball out of the back corner and to be able to hit it deep again. We need to have quick racquet preparation, proper footwork, quick feet, good balance and be able to adjust our swing and possibly our grip depending on the amount of space and time we have. If you have the technical and physical skills to hit length from the back then you may be ready to attempt some of the more advanced ways like disguising your shot.

As you can see there are a number of ways that you can improve your ability to get your opponent off of the T. The stronger the opponent the tougher this will be to accomplish, but this should still be your goal. Learn how to get your opponent off the T and your opponents will begin looking for tips like these so make sure not to share them! Enjoy your battle for the T and one you get it don't give it up so easily. Remember there are plenty of ways to improve your ability to get your opponent off the T; not simply hitting it tighter (although that does work too!).


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