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Squash Shots
How and when to play them

In order to be able to talk about squash, we need to be able to describe every possible shot. Here we look at some of the standard shots, how and when to play them, with tips for getting the most out of your play.

The high lob-volley The high lob-volley is one of the most efficient shots in the game. All you need is timing. Your opponent has played a fairly strong high serve, only to find you hitting a gentle clean shot that takes him off the T he has just claimed and sends him right back to the corner to retrieve a ball that is better that the serve he sent to you in the first place. You should aim for a clean hit, nothing too strong, just high enough to stop your opponent from reaching for a smash. Give the ball time to come off the wall, hold the racquet high, and gently stroke the ball back on its way. Bring the racket off the backswing nice and early. It needs some practice, but it is a good weapon to have in your armoury. It uses little energy, and can send your opponent scurrying. It's also a good attacking return to a weak serve that fails to reach the wall, if you play it a little more strongly.

Remember, don't try to volley hard. If you're learning the stroke, let the ball do the work. Just try to connect cleanly with a gentle stroke and you may be surprised with the result. Just beware of courts with low lights or ceilings if you come to rely on any kind of lob strokes.
The cross-court boast The cross-court boast is when you hit a shot right across to the hit the wall on the other side of the court before it hits the front wall. You need time to take the ball early, and it is often a good use of time earned. It is a very good way of despatching a poor serve. You are in the backhand court and a loose serve comes that you can take well before it is anywhere near the side wall. High or low, play early at medium strength across court, guiding the ball off the righthand wall and onto the centre of the front wall. You want the ball to die as it reaches your side of the court again. Your opponent will often be wrong footed, and left standing on his way to the T. If he is not, he must lunge and stretch, which is not a good way for him to begin a rally.

But the cross-court can be played at any time when you have your opponent behind you and the ball is far enough from the side wall. A variation is when you take the ball high, you take the pace off the ball, and it drifts through the boast to die in the corner.
The lob Your opponent has played a drop shot to the front left corner and you can reach it. But as you approach it you realise that you can't play the obvious shot, the cross court drive, because you will be playing a backhand shot and either the ball will rebound into your body, or your opponent has staked his claim to the T, and will pounce on your return. Your choices are the snatched drive down the lefthand wall, another drop shot or a lob, either down the wall or cross court.

Your choice should depend on how closely your opponent is shadowing you. If he is hanging back by the T and you think you can put up a gentle drop shot and then get out of the way, give it a go. But if your opponent is close behind and expecting the drop, try a lob.

Holding the racquet with a higher backswing than you would expect, play a quick, but not strong, clean rising shot directly in front of you - a shot with a little bit of a flick action. You should feel that you are merely guiding the ball into the air on its upward trajectory. Any shot that must go near the red line must be played with just the right strength, but as the ball is in the air, and your opponent is struggling back to reach the dying ball, you have plenty time to get back to the T, ready for his smash if your lob wasn't so accurate, or his boast if it was. Playing the lob back down the wall is more tricky, as the angle is finer.
The service Do not try to win the point with a good serve. Treat points you win this way as a bonus. It is quite good enough if you serve to make an attacking return difficult.

While the standard serve, a ball that hits the side wall just below the red line and just behind with the back of the service box, should be your stock in trade, it is good practice to vary your serve. Practise delivering both forehand and backhand serves from both sides of the court, and hit the side wall at different points. Stand in different parts of the service box to vary the angle of your serves. Some players stretch as far forward as possible in front of the service line and pop up a high lob serve. If a serve like this is well directed it can come down deep in the corner almost vertically. As often as not though, it will not be as accurate as this, and sometimes it will sit up for punishment. Don't rely on shots that require accuracy.

The occasional body serve can also bring good results. They do against me ! The receiver must be ready to jump backwards quickly to give himself room to hit a good reply. The danger of a body serve is when your opponent is quick enough to turn and ask for a let and you stand powerless in front of his shot. And the occasional hard and low serve can surprise your opponent into a weaker return than usual, although this shot is best executed from a high backhand, and requires an accurate and powerful swing.
The return of serve Be sure that you are ready to receive serve. I have a couple of opponents who serve hard almost before I am ready. I try to be ready to receive before I have walked to my receiving position, for against them I know that the ball will be on its way before I have had time to settle down in my receiving stance.

The classic receiving position is one third of the way down an imaginary line drawn from the central back corner of the service box to the middle of the back of the court, though a little forward of this, level with the back of the service box, is good for an attacking position. I like to stand facing the front corner of the court on the side I am standing. For a hard server, I will stand further forward and nearer the centre of the court.

For a very hard server, I will encroach on his side of the court, especially when I am receiving on the backhand. If your opponent varies his service strength, be prepared to change your receiving position on the fly and step back from the side wall. You can always move forward to take a softer serve, but moving backwards to make room for a hard fast serve is a recipe for a weak return. You should also take full advantage of the harder serve by moving nearer to the T before you hit your return. This gives you less to do after you have made your return, and a hard serve will often come back off the back wall and sit up nicely.

The drop return is another effective way of wrong-footing your opponent. I have said that the long drop is a risky shot, but when you play a long drop from a serve you are steadier on your feet, and you know more accurately where your opponent is. The gentle drop down your wall leaves your opponent with a good stretch, but the cross court drop volley can often surprise your opponent, and is a shot that can be played with a variety of strengths, from a floating dying shot to a medium strength shot destined for the nick.

But none of this is meant to deter you from playing the best service return of all, the medium high volley down the wall, intended to bounce off the side wall a little behind the service box. This shot keeps your opponent away from the T, allowing you to take control of the centre and watch him play his shot.
The forehand rail The rail is a drive down the wall. And a good rail is a firm shot that stays close to the wall, and that bounces near or closely behind the back of the service box. This bounce should mean that it is dying as it rebounds off the back wall, which gives opponent the job of digging a defensive shot out of the corner.

If you are faced with a rail, during opponent's preparation you should have been able to anticipate the shot. You should already be setting off for the back corner as opponent finishes the shot. You correctly judge the speed of the ball, so you are poised with your racket high ready to clip off a sharp forehand rail as the ball rises from its bounce near the back of the service box. Now for the clean rail that you practice so often during your warmups. Back down the wall, hard and low, or high and slow, unless of course opponent has lingered behind you, when a drop or a boast might be in order. The aim is to lay close to the wall all the way, and dropping short of the back wall to give your opponent the hardest time in the corner.

Racket high, a stable stance, and either you take it early or you feint for a moment, before snapping off a sharp shot and moving quickly back in your circle to the T.
The backhand rail When you play a backhand the range of stance and style you can adopt for a successful shot is much more limited than when you play a forehand. A reasonable forehand can come from a body facing in a range of directions, but to play a backhand rail your body must be facing the back corner, or even the back wall if you are digging your ball out of the corner.

Trailing foot and forearm parallel to the side wall, racket high and wrist cocked away from you, you line up early, and sweep your racket down windmill fashion, your wrist moving forwards with the racket head, missing your front knee with the heel of the racket and following through high, not round and below shoulder height. Avoid the slice that comes from failing to drop your leading shoulder, and if you bring the wrist in at the right point you'll crack a good shot back down the wall.

If you have to dig a ball out of the back corner, face the back wall, with your forearm still parallel to the side wall, swing and put more wrist into the shot as the racket flicks round almost behind you now, sending the ball back for a repeat rail. A late arrival at the corner will see you automatically facing the back wall.

Follow through high, still in your windmill. None of this low sweeping ballerina in a spin stuff, with a twisting reaction turning your body further away from the front. Your follow through should come with the start of your movement back to the middle of the court, freeing the wall for your opponent to deal with your rail return.

Don't make the mistake of getting to the corner too early and having no room to turn further into the corner. And don't make the mistake of bringing your shoulders round before the shot, leaving you with a slice across your chest. And don't make the mistake of being too close to the side wall. You need room for a good swing to get a dying ball back to the front of the court.
The volley kill This shot, played from the middle of the wall, when you can intercept a medium or slow highish ball, can be played like a a short rail, or cross court to the middle of the front wall, aimed for the opposite side wall nick. It should not be played so hard that the ball heads back towards you. You can't often play this shot straight down the wall as you will be in the way of opponent. The ball should make opponent leave room behind him for you to take the T in case he manages a good return.

The cross court angle should come from bringing your racket round early, and timing of the racket swing is vital. A late and fast flick can deceive your opponent whether you are playing the down the line or cross court kill.

If you play the cross court kill with strength, you are aiming to pass your opponent, so you are aiming for the nick somewhere around the back of the service box. You have to step back to let your opponent try to follow a ball that might be coming back into the middle of the back of the court, if you missed the nick, so you are relying on opponent not having a clean shot back down the wall.
The drop shot Unless you mix some drops in with your hard shots to the back of the court, you won't get your opponent tiring properly.

If you feel you are faster than your opponent, you should feel safer playing a drop. If your opponent is faster that you, only play a drop when opponent is out of position, stranded near the back of the court, and your drop has a high chance of being a winner.

Stretch well forward for the shot, but not so much that opponent can see what shot you plan. Always play the drop in a way that suggests that a lob or a flick drive down the wall is still an option for you. A highish backswing, between waist and shoulder height, will help to create this uncertainty, and then the drop is either a positive chop, delivering the ball to just above the tin with speed, or a late delicate lifting drop that guides the ball gently to the wall.

The more often you flick a drive or a lob out of a dropping position, or a late drop when a drive was expected, the more likely your drops will win, as your variation will force your opponent to stand back in the T, not committing to your drop in case you change your shot.

If your opponent has mishit a boast so that it sits up in the middle near the front wall, make sure you approach the ball in a way that lets you flick a drop to either right or left. Often pushing a drop away from you on either hand can wrong foot an opponent who reads the wrong side drop. You need to bring your racket handle in close to you, letting the head of your racket drop, before you use your wrist to flick the racket head away from you to take the ball into the corner.
The reaction Opponent plays a cross court drive, but hits a little late, so the ball comes off the front wall straight towards you at the T. You get your racket into the path of the ball, but you don't have the time to get the angle right so the ball either drifts into the tin or lofts into the air for opponent to put away.

The reaction shot must be studied as a play in its own right. While it is not easy to practice for it, by remembering how you mess it up each time you'll increase your chances of a better shot.

While at the T, you must hold your racket no lower than waist level. From that position you have a good chance of getting it into position early enough to have a little thinking time left as you adjust the racket angle with your wrist. Get it right, angling the racket so the passive rebound sends the ball to the front wall just above the tin, and in the corner away from your opponent, and not only do you have a point with little effort, but you will sow seeds of worry in the mind of opponent.

Page updated on 15th July 2018

Copyright (C) Richard Hart 2015 - 2018