Shot Selection

Shot selection is critical to good squash. Shot selection is not hitting winners; it's making your opponent cover the farthest distances around the court. If we divide the squash court into zones, we can better understand shot selection.

Let's divide the court into front court and back court. Keep in mind that the player who stays in front during most of a match is likely to win; and the T is the best place to be between shots. This is a cardinal rule. The next cardinal rule is to keep your opponent in the corners.

The four corners are where a rally will most likely come to its end. The front court comprises two corners, as does the back court. You should always aim for the corners when going for a winner. Keeping your opponent in the corners while you're hovering on the T is the best squash scenario. Once you get your opponent into a corner and gain control of the rally, the next best shot is the corner farthest from your opponent. For example, if your opponent were near the front left corner, the best place to send the ball would be the back right corner.

Once you develop the art of manoeuvring your opponent, you'll discover that your opponent may retrieve a certain shot in game one but will not be able to get to the same shot in game three. Keeping your opponent on the run will weaken his or her ability to maintain the fight. Your perimeter of possible winners will widen due to this constant attack and weakening of your opponent. Patience is the key.

If you find that you're controlling a rally, realise that there are three ways of keeping your opponent on the run. You can send him or her horizontally across the court from one service box to the next using crosscourt drives; you can send him or her vertically forward and back with straight drops and hard rails or lobs; and you can send him or her diagonally using boasts, drops and crosscourts. In each case your opponent is doing all the running and you have a clear advantage. This doesn't comprise all shot selections, but it does suggest what to keep in mind as a starting reference point for manoeuvring an opponent. Look for all possibilities, but try to master these.

In the third instance I describe trapping your opponent in the diagonal corner manoeuvre, you'll notice that in this situation your opponent will have covered the most distance possible and you will have relative ease hitting to each diagonal corner. Relative ease suggests confidence in executing the correct shot with the highest probability of hitting the kill zone. Therefore set your goal to make your opponent run diagonally as much as possible. Furthermore, diagonal pressure keeps your opponent stretched and off balance while opening the court for you.

Some pros can trap a competitor in this sequence and instead of putting the ball away will hit slightly higher so that the retrieving player will further exhaust more reserves. Younger players with less experience and high energy get trapped in this diagonal sequence becoming frustrated that a less fit player has overcome them. Whenever you find that you're running from shot to shot without gaining control, break off the pursuit immediately.

Between corners and the T is the inevitable rail that needs to be mastered to perfection. The great Geoff Hunt states in his book that when he started playing squash, his father wouldn't allow any shot making other than hitting rails for a period of a year. Geoff Hunt later became eight-time British Open Champion. Take his advice!

Let's examine the role of the tight rail. Good length is the best neutral shot in the game. Players exchange rails until one gets an opportunity to gain control. Good length can help you gain the upper hand, but keeping the ball as close to the wall as possible is by far much more effective. Get your ball tight to the wall rather than deep into the court. Of course, the best rail sticks to the wall as it dies in the back corner. But, this can take too much effort when off balance. A shot hit short but glued to the wall is just as good without the physical exertion of the deep rail. Thus, hitting shorter rails closer to the wall with consistency will develop the openings you need without depleting your stamina in the process.

One final note regarding shot selection is exploiting a poorly executed shot by your opponent. For example, if your opponent hits a bad shot in the middle of the court, is it wise to select a shot that will give your opponent a clear path for retrieval? The answer is no! You should hit the shot that put you directly in your opponent's way. The reasoning is that if your opponent sets you up for a winner, you are entitled to go for the best possible winner and your opponent must be penalized by retrieving the next shot even if it means running around you. If you find yourself in this situation and your opponent runs directly at you and asks for a let, state that he or she set you up for a winner. Add that it's their responsibility to make every effort to get the next shot even if this means running around you. In short, whenever you have the advantage, hit shots that make your opponent run around you as a penalty.

Use shot selection to weaken your opponent. Weaken your opponent by making him or her do all the running while you control the T. Make your opponent run diagonally as much as possible. Use the hidden rule of squash to penalize your opponent by making him or her run around you when you have the advantage. Remember to try to hit shorter rails that stick to the wall rather than deep length to help save your stamina. Both shot-makers and retrievers can gain a valuable insight if they focus on proper shot selection as part of their game.