Anyone that has played squash for any length of time knows how different a game is in a cold court. The ball bounces half the height, everything is slower, rallies are shorter, players with lethal drop shots suddenly become world beaters.
But how should you play on cold squash courts? When playing on a cold squash court, the more delicate shots become the most important way to win points. Look for every opportunity to capitalize when given the chance to boast, drop or lob. Try aiming your shots higher up the front wall, or using a lob serve as your primary service weapon.
In this article I will look at what problems you may encounter in cold conditions, but also how you can capitalize on these features of cold-court play and make it one of your strengths!
First, why might a court be cold?
There are several common reasons.
The first is the murkiest – tactics! For example, if a squash team of sprightly teenagers where coming up against a team of seventy year-olds, then who would benefit more from a colder court? It is perhaps debatable, because older players often have devastating drop shots. However, on balance I would favour the young sprightly players to be better at lunging forward for drops, and sprinting after lobs.
Traditionally, though this is perhaps generalising slightly, older players tend to prefer the court to be warmer.
Of course, older players often know every trick in the book to turn things to their advantage, and their are many tactics they can employ to get the best out of their game.
Another reason may well be economy. Many clubs have a serious eye on their finances all of the time, and keeping the court temperatures down by a few degrees will save hundreds of pounds over a year.
You will also sometimes play on courts that are having temporary heating issues – a boiler is faulty, or a heater has broken. The show must go on on these occasions! It is just up to you to adapt.
What problems can you have on a cold squash court?
There are a few risks and issues that will be noticeable.
First, and possibly most importantly, there is a higher risk of injury. An important point is to remember how crucial warming up is. I’d say, on a cold court you should warm up more slowly, but over a longer period. Don’t start thumping the ball too soon during the warm-up – it will put strain on your shoulder, wrist and elbow. Relax into the warm-up and caress the ball until it is starting to bounce at a reasonable height. There is a lot to be said in warming up the ball properly.
You can also encounter some technical issues on a colder court. The ball will be bouncing lower all the time. This is better for players that get low in their positions when striking the ball. Traditionally, it may favour younger or more flexible players. You may find that you do not hit the ball as cleanly on a colder court because of its lower position.
More immobile players will also have their lack of movement significantly exacerbated on a chillier court. There are a few tricks you can try to reduce this weakness that we’ll talk about in a bit, but in general the more agile you are, the bigger the edge you have in a colder environment.
How can you turn it to your advantage?
So then – let’s look at this in a positive light. You’re playing on a cold court, and there’s nothing you can do to change that. So what are you going to channel this coldness to take you to victory?
Here are a few key ideas:
Use subtle drops – This is the real biggie. If drop shots are one of your chief weapons anyway then you are in luck. Cold courts are probably for you, and it’s time to sabotage the heating yourself, or at least negotiate with the club or leisure centre to keep it that way all the time. Drop shots can generally be used more frequently, and also don’t need to be as accurate as when the ball is bouncing high. Play it safe! There’s no need to aim just a couple of inches above the tin. Learning how to play the backhand drop shots and the forehand drop is a great way to develop key weapons in your game.
Try dropping from further back than usual – The normal rule is to only ever drop if you are in front of your opponent. However, on a colder court this can sometimes be bypassed, and drops from deeper and even from behind your opponent can be successful. You have to weigh it up on the day – can you do a reasonable shot consistently? Does he look likely to getting anywhere near them? If he does, and he’s going to kill it stone dead every time, then don’t bother. Squash is usually a game of caution. A golden rule is don’t throw away points.
If drop shots are not your thing, then don’t worry, because there are many more ideas:
Stand in front of the T – This is a great way to counteract those killer drops. If the ball is being sent long by your opponent it will mean you have a bit further to go. However, you will always have a bit more time getting to the back rather than the front of the court. So just stand maybe a yard in front of the T, and give yourself that extra chance of making the short stuff.
Use more boasts – On a hot, bouncy court the boast is usually only a defensive shot, played as a last resort. However, on a colder court the boast really comes into its own as a truly attacking part of your armoury. Boasts can be played from the more traditional back of the court, or as attacking volleys near the front. Mix and match, and don’t become too obvious, but if you like boasting then colder courts are normally for you.
Volley as much as possible – This is important for several reasons. You definitely want to be trying to volley your opponents serves as much as possible, particularly if they are using a lob serve. The last thing you want is to be digging serves out of the back corner, when the ball is hardly bouncing and seemingly stuck to the back wall.
Volleying as much as possible, reduces the need to be making hurried shots against balls dying in the corners. Players with good length can really clean up with simple straight drives on a cold court, so the more you can intercept these the better. Very few will be bouncing off the back wall very far, so hit them before they get there.
Do not allow your opponent’s serves to hit the back wall – Whether it is a lob or a drive, intercept it as early as possible. Serves become a real weapon on a colder court in a way that they rarely are on a warmer court.
Lob serves – If you are able to do this then go for it! Good quality lob serves on a cold court are a true nightmare to return. Even if your opponent is able to volley them back, it is normally quite a predictable return of service down the line with little power. So lob as much as you can without becoming predictable.
How can you warm the ball up during the game?
It may quickly become obvious during a game on a colder court, that these conditions give your opponent a definite advantage. They are wallowing in the deft drop shots, and devastating lob serves that are crushing your game. What do you do in these circumstances?
Try to warm the ball up as much as possible! There are several ways to attempt this:
- Bang it into the floor repeatedly between each serve – This will really get the temperature increasing. It is important to win a few points in a row, to increase heat point by point.
- Wallop it down the line for length. Give it a good old whack to raise the ball’s temperature.
- Keep rallies as long as possible. Balls really cool down if rallies are short. The more you can keep the ball moving and striking different surfaces the better.
- Take as short a break as possible between points – This is clearly partly dependent on your partner. However, particularly when you are serving then you should be in control of the tempo of the game. When a point ends, get hold of the ball as soon as possible and walk quickly to your service box. Make it known through body language that you are ready for the next point, and try to give the evil eye to your opponent if they are not ready.
- Move straight between games – Once again you can’t really control your opponent. If they want to take a leisurely two minutes in between games, then that is their right. However, if you stay on the court and do a quick knock-up it sends a clear message to your opponent to hurry up. Whether they do or not is of course far from guaranteed.
- Have a mini ‘warm-up’ before each game begins – These warm-ups often make me laugh. There is usually one player blasting drives with all their might at the front wall, praying that the ball will warm up slightly. The other is playing deft drops and slicing it on purpose so they have to slowly walk to the other side of the court to pick it up. But still it is a good strategy. A good intent warm-up for thirty seconds before each game just picks the temperature of the ball up a tad, and every detail makes a difference.
Consider using a different ball
Especially if the heating is broken, using a different ball to a double yellow dot is a definite winner. There is a lot of snobbery surrounding double yellow dots. Just because pros use them, the majority of club players now think they are the staple diet. However, as long as both players are in agreement, you could have a much higher quality game using a different type of ball, and one more suited to the conditions.
So all in all colder courts will always favour a slight of hand approach. The perfect player in these conditions would be as nimble as mountain goat, but also having killer drops, boasts and lobs.
If this is not you, there are other things you can do. Try to warm the ball up as much as possible by smacking it on the floor in between serves, warming up in between games, getting round in between points as quickly as possible, and keeping rallies long.
For some people, playing on a colder court may be a one off; for others, just the way there local court and something they have to get used to. Either way, it’s good to just think about any changes you might need to make to your game, before stepping onto the court. Do you prefer playing on cold or hot courts?