The Nick Shot

There is a single shot in squash that stops your opponent in his tracks. It creates astonishment even from otherwise unbiased referees. It can make a silent gallery of spectators leap with applause. It can boost your energy and dissipate your opponent's. It is the shot to strive for as far as winners are concerned. I'm talking about the spectacular nick.

A nick can be described as a shot that deflects off the front wall where the ball's trajectory is so severely angled that the ball strikes close to where the sidewall and floor meet. Keep in mind that if the objective is to get the ball as close as possible to where the sidewall and floor meet that the angle must be calculated not only how far horizontally the ball must travel but also vertically. The combination of the two should create a downward angle. There is a hint of a slice in the shot to help steer the ball into this downward angle.

The nick by definition is the meeting point of the standing walls and the floor throughout the perimeter of the court. This fact attests to the wide variation in the types of nicks a player can attempt. This is also the reason why the nick is one of the most creative shots in squash. It can appear as a delicate drop nick or as a crushing slice volley into the nick. If executed correctly, a nick is the finest way to end a long rally. Hitting the nick on command borders a higher plateau in the touch game. A player capable of regularly hitting the nick denotes the precision of a craftsman.

Like all craftsmen the tools, the materials and the environment are in direct relation to the end product. This is no less the case for nicks. With ample practice, a good racket, and a nice court with uniform walls much like the new ASB courts, the potential for the nick is greater. Yet, the most crucial factor is the set-up. A squash player capable of hitting nicks must have that certain set-up for successful completion of the shot. Spotting a potential nick is half the battle. Once that's done, actually hitting the nick is next.

In some nicks the ball has a trickling bounce with some sort of hope for the other guy. Other nicks are hit so well that there's not even a hint of a bounce and the ball literally rolls off the sidewall. These are rare.

Again, hitting a nick is all about the angle or trajectory of the ball off the front wall - not your racket. The easiest nicks are located in the two front corners. Designate these areas as your initial target zones. Unlike all other shots, the nick comes from the heart. You must feel the nick a split second before hitting it. Visualising perfect nicks can help a great deal. Let's take it a step further. Create a vivid scenario in your mind.

Envision yourself as a hunter stalking the court for the chance to kill a nick. You must look for it at all times. It must become an obsession.

You must experiment by hitting nicks from all angles of the court and find your personal target zones. Start with the two front corners but then expand to the rest of the court. Remember the nick first begins by spotting an opportunity. The best opportunities are when you force your opponent to hit the ball in the middle of the court. Keep in mind that the angle into the nick is the key. Internal alarms should alert you when nick opportunities reveal themselves. Be on the lookout and be ready to fire! In short, you must chisel the nick concept into your mind and keep it with you during every rally of a match.

Executing a nick is regarded as either courageous or foolish. This depends on whether the nick attempt is hit well or not. If hit well, you feel like a champion. When it misses, your opponent is usually set-up for a winner. This is the foremost reason why players avoid trying the nick shot. The fear of setting up your adversary and looking like the fool who took the gamble can eliminate any kind of nick attempt from your mind.

My advice is to get rid the fear and keep trying! But, it's a fact that when you miss a nick attempt, you'll pay. This fact should not instill fear, but should make your attempt that much better. However, one thing does happen after your first nick attempt - your opponent realises he or she is playing a unique kind of shooter. With this realization he or she will make every effort to prevent your next attempt.

Every pro knows that a successful nick can be a displacing moment for your opponent. It is characterized as a temporary elevation for the player who hits the nick. This elevation, although temporary, can breakdown the mentally toughest competitors.

The pros hold the nick shot in esteem. Although, all pros practice the nick shot, some hit it well while others seem to struggle. In the Khyber Pass area, which is my family's place of origin, the high attitude keeps the ball in play forever. The squash players there discovered early that the nick was the fastest way to kill the ball, especially against some of the fittest players in the world. Although it's the best shot in the sport, no one has found an effective way of teaching it. This is primarily due to the lack of importance given to the shot, and the desire lacked by most squash players to add it into his or her repertoire. It can be one of the hardest shots to learn, but it's not out of reach. The secret is to make it one of your personal missions in squash.

Once the nick becomes part of your game, it will make all your other shots seem ordinary. You will have scratched the realm of the squash wizards like Qamar Zaman, one of the finest nick masters ever. Yet, Zaman and other nick masters will admit that the nick, while being the deadliest weapon in their arsenal, can betray you. Nevertheless, the nick became one of their legendary strokes. Make it one of yours.

As we speak, the squash courts in the Khyber Pass are being riddled with nicks by some of the best up-and-coming professionals in the sport. What's good for them is good for you! Make it a habit of going for the nick! Or else all your shots will just be ordinary!