Squash Coaching Blog: Adjusting to the 4 different lengths

posted in: Coaching, Performance | 0

If we look at the picture we can see there are 4 different areas where the ball is going to land after a straight shot has been played. 3 of them are straight-forward, but one of them is a bit trickier to react and move to.

A, B and D are all pretty normal places to play a squash shot. A is returning a drop shot; B shows us volleying the ball, 1 stride away from The T; and D is playing a drive out of the back corner – the movement patterns to these 3 areas are well documented and fairly standard so I don’t need to go into more detail in this particular blog.

It is Area C I want to look at.

I was coaching a decent club player this week. We were simply hitting backhand drives to each other (an ‘Alley Rally’) which we do every single week. We noticed that whenever I hit a drive which landed into Area C, I would win the point. He wouldn’t even react. He had become so geared up to expect either a drive which would reach all the way to the back wall, or a loose drive which he could volley, that he wouldn’t ever expect a shorter drive which was too low to volley but not deep enough to reach the back wall. This got me thinking!

When we watch World Class squash on TV we regularly see this type of drive and the other player simply steps back and hits a return drive from the back of the service box. Top players make it look so easy it’s a complete non-event, but for amateurs this is not the case.

The first step is to be aware this type of shorter drive might happen. This will enable you to react to it instead of watching the ball bounce away from you, hoping it will come off the back wall which it never will.

The next step is to know how to move to it. Often there is not enough time to take a traditional ‘arch’ movement like we would when we move all the way to the back corner. The ‘arch’ movement is great for getting behind and to the side of the ball, placing ourselves into a perfect ‘old-school’ drive position.

Taking a direct line to the ball is not always ideal either because that will place us in a position where we are hitting the ball behind our body, which is a position professionals make look easy to hit a straight drive from, but most amateurs would have to boast from – so which movement do we go for?

Pro’s will often play this drive off the ‘wrong’ leg – which for a right-hander is the left leg on the backhand and the right leg on the forehand. This is a difficult skill on the backhand as balance is tough on the left leg and the ball will be slightly behind your central mass, so not an ideal position to hit straight from.

Initially my advice would be (as a right-hander) to take one big, diagonal step off the right leg (whichever side you are on) toward the back of the service box. This needs to be done slightly before the ball arrives there. From here you are balanced on your stronger leg. You will however be hitting the ball slightly behind your ‘centre mass’, ie. more similar to a boast position. If you have a solid wrist you will be able to hit this drive straight, without flicking but maintaining a firm wrist. If you cannot hit straight then simply play a boast – it’s the easiest option, and a very effective one too.

The boast from this position is a good shot to play. Your opponent will still be behind you, as they will not have had time to fully retreat from the back corner yet, so sending the ball off the side wall into the opposite front corner is a great shot to play.

FYI. The movement to cut out the slightly shorter drive is easier on the forehand side, so you will likely have more options on this side.

As you become better from this position you may figure out how to get behind the ball using your left leg in order to hit straight, or you may just learn how to pounce on the ball quicker and quicker which will make the boast even more lethal.

Remember – step 1 is being aware of this type of drive so you do not get caught out by it. Once you are aware of it then you can figure out how best to deal with it – and with practice you will learn to apply pressure from this position, taking advantage of your opponents slightly short drive and exposing their movement as they will be stuck behind you. Good luck.

Here’s some examples with explanations of it in action from last night’s Semi-Finals in El Gouna:

Perfect example: Laura Massaro has stepped directly across on her right leg, hitting the ball after the bounce and exactly level with the back of the service box. Nour El Sherbini is ‘stuck’ behind her. From here Laura could hit the ball hard and cross-court, a straight drop, or play a boast , all of which would likely win the point.
Now on to the trickier backhand: Raneem has stepped across on her right leg keeping Nour El Tayeb behind her. We can see the ball is tight to the side wall, so Raneem’s likely shot it to play straight down the line, and she is in a ‘textbook’ position to do so. If the ball was less tight to the side wall she would be able to consider playing the boast.
The top male players often opt for the left leg on this particular shot as they, possibly because they have a stronger ‘weaker’ leg. Greg has taken one big lunge to cut the ball off early but after the bounce, and by doing so keeping Ali Farg behind him. From this position Greg has many options because he has kept Ali so far back in the court. What Greg has done well here, is to turn his shoulders. Playing off the ‘wrong’ leg will result in a forward facing chest position, limiting your options to a cross-court drive only. By using his hips, Greg as turned his chest to face the side wall which will enable him to hit straight or boast if he wanted to.