Hard hitting squash players can be very intimidating when you are a beginner. They rush you for time, occasionally hit devastating winners, and are generally quite a menacing physical presence on the court. However, there are many ways of countering a hard hitter.
So, how do you play hard hitters in squash? Take the pace off the ball, playing lots of lobs and giving the ball extra height. Try to play straight down the wall, as playing cross courts gives them extra space to use their power. Hitting every shot hard is very energy sapping, so the hard-hitter will often tire quickly.
I have done some research and found numerous strategies recommended for playing hard-hitters. Read on to find out more…
You want to start by thinking why a hard hitter is hitting it so hard. There may be many factors for this, including:
- They always hit hard – Some players have just developed this technique and always play the same way. They like to blast their opponent off the court.
- They are nervous – Nerves can work havoc on your squash technique, and hard-hitting is often a symptom of this. It is a great way of releasing nervous energy, even if it is not really a very effective channelling of it.
- They are trying to intimidate you – If you look a little flustered, or rushed when playing the hard shots, this will spur them on.
- They have seen something in your play that suggests that this is a good strategy – Sometimes a player may see something in the early stages of a game, or even the warm up, that suggests that you may not like powerfully hit shots. You may do an air shot at a hard drive serve, or waft a couple of times during the warm up at powerful cross-courts. Maybe you are not picking your racket up in time, or look generally a bit flustered.
- They are adapting to conditions, e.g. a cold court – Sometimes a player will make a specific strategy based on conditions. Sometimes, if the court is really cold a player will think hard and low shots are harder to return, and they won’t be bouncing back off the back wall.
The first step is to work out then why the hard-hitting is happening. A lot of the time it will just be option one – they always hit hard! You just need to accept this and adapt your play accordingly, using the many strategies we will look at in a moment.
However, if it is any one of the other reasons, then they are either using hard-hitting as a strategy, or they can’t help it for other reasons.
If you think it is because they are nervous, use this to your advantage. Keep them nervous! Put them off their game with plenty of variety.
If they are trying to intimidate you, take your time. You will always have more time than you think. Wait for the ball to bounce off the back wall and move around with composure.
If they are hitting hard as a specific strategy against just you, then use the strategies below, and hopefully show them the error of their ways in selecting such a strategy against you.
Here then are some golden nuggets to remember when playing hard-hitters:
Hard Hitters Tend To Love Other Hard Hitters
It is generally unwise to play them at their own game, unless this is the way you always play anyway. Even then, it may be wise to adapt.
A powerfully hit ball is generally quite an easy one to whack back at your opponent as hard as you can. Power in shots leads to several things:
- A lack of accuracy
- Plenty of cross courts
- The ball generally being quite low most of the time
- The ball generally being closer to the middle of the court
All four of these things plays into the hard hitter’s hands. They love the ball being low because it is much easier to strike powerfully. They also like the ball being in the middle of the court because they have more time and space to use their power.
You must find other more subtle responses to the powerful hitter.
Avoid Cross Courts
In squash a cross-court is not usually the best way to go anyway. Cross courts are good as a variation. The straight shots should be your staple.
This is especially true against the hard-hitter.
Cross courts will always bounce closer to the centre of the court than a good-quality line shot. This is playing into the hard-hitter’s hands.
They don’t like the ball near the walls – they want space and time to give a full swing.
Again, it is much easier to hit a ball hard that is low to the ground. A hard-hitter will often have grooved this low shot on both sides. Volleys and high shots are usually more difficult to hit powerfully, with the exception of a tennis-style smash.
Try hitting high up on the front wall, taking a bit of power out of the ball. Lobbing it into the corners, and playing deft volleys down the lines keeps the hard-hitter in the back of the court. The tighter it is to the walls as well, the more difficult it is for him to take a full swing.
If you can force the hard-hitter to boast then you will definitely have the upper hand, as most do not like playing the more deft shots.
Play Lob Serves
A similar strategy is to lob the serve. Again this keeps the hard-hitter’s racket high, and they do not get a full swing at a ball that is close to the floor.
This usually works better on the backhand. A high lob serve to the hard hitter’s forehand may well encounter some kind of brutal tennis smash.
It may be worth experimenting though, and see what happens.
Keep The Ball Tight
This is paramount. It is crucial in most squash matches, but especially true against the hard hitter. Your opponent will not be able to use their full swing if the ball is close to either the side or the back wall. They will have to attempt different shots that are not their usual fare.
Also keeping the ball tight to the walls keeps the hard hitter out of your way. They will be in the corners playing their shots, whilst you are at the T. It is often good to stay out of the way of their ferociously swinging racket.
Use The Pace They Provide
There is no need to be using a powerful swing to create pace. Your opponent will be generating a lot of the pace for you.
You simply need to deflect lots of the shots and angle them into the corners.
This is especially true for volleys. Volleying a thumped ball is simply a case of pushing it towards a target point on the front wall.
This is a big one. Volleying well against the hard hitter could be your biggest weapon.
Because they are hitting the ball so hard, by the time it gets to you they will not have had enough time to get back to the T. Well executed volleys will find the hard hitter out of position.
They will also be wrong-footed often, or they will be starting off their run to get the next ball before they are balanced and near the T.
The more unbalanced they are, and the more of a struggle it is for them to get their next shot, the more wayward they will become, and they will make more errors, and give you more chances of kills.
Simple volleys work well. Play safe. Simply deflecting the ball into the back corners is all that is required to keep that hard hitter running.
Keep Your Racket Up
Because of the speed of the hard hitter’s shots, you will not have much time to react.
The key, then, is to be ready. One of the most important parts of this is racket preparation. There will not be enough time to react to a shot, move to the right position, then get your racket back. It needs to be all one part of a seamless movement. Move to the ball as your racket is being simultaneously prepared.
This is really important for volleys. If you are ready with your racket back, then when your opponent smashes a ball down the middle you are ready to deflect it into the back corners.
Take Your Time Off The Back Wall
Towards the back of the court you will have the advantage of time against the hard hitter.
The majority of their shots will balloon off the back wall, giving you plenty of time to wait and play the next shot. If they bounce a long way off the back wall, this also gives you plenty of alternative shots. You can try drops and boasts as well as straight drives.
Don’t be flustered and keep your composure. You will always have more time than you think.
Dont’ Let Your Shots Bounce Off The Back Wall
On the other side of the equation, you want to avoid doing what the hard hitter is doing. If your shots are also bouncing back a long way off the back wall, then they are perfect for the hard hitter to punish. They will be low to the floor, which they like, and also they will have plenty of time and space for a full swing.
The ideal is for the second bounce to be close to the nick of the back wall. It’s of course impossible to be hitting this all the time, but that should be the rough target.
Stay Well Out Of The Way Of Their Swing!
Hard hitters can be slightly more dangerous than the average player. Their swings are more animated and ferocious, and not as controlled in their follow-through than most. This is partly what makes them seem a bit intimidating.
The golden rule is stay out of the way. The best way to achieve this is to hit the ball into the corners, but especially straight into the back corner, or into the two front corners.
As I said before, try to avoid cross courts, as this is where they could well be hitting the ball in closer proximity to you.
Playing straight is the best way of achieving this.
They will then be in the back corners whilst you are on the T.
The biggest positive about playing the hard hitter is that they are usually predictable. Their main strategy is to crash the ball around and smash their opponent off the court. If this is not working, they often do not have a Plan B.
You will normally get to read the hard-hitter fairly quickly. Most shots will be going to the back of the court. Keep your racket up, be ready to volley, or wait for the ball to bounce off the back wall.
It takes a huge amount of energy hitting every shot hard. This will often have started in the warm up, so the hard hitter will have hit several hundred hard shots before the match even starts. They will then be playing many more hundred, even thousand shots during the match.
This takes its toll! Usually as the match continues the hard-hitter will begin to tire quicker than the average player of similar stamina levels.
Turn It Into A Long Game
Keep the rallies going as long as possible. This works well for several reasons, as hard hitters will normally:
- Tire later in a match
- Sometimes be unfit anyway, and that is why they hit so hard. If you keep rallies going they will usually make some kind of mistake, blasting the ball into the tin, or smashing out of the court.
Vary Your Shots
Vary playing your shots to the front and the back. The last thing you want is for them to be stood somewhere near the middle pummelling the ball into all parts shot after shot. That kind of game is exactly what they want.
Keep them moving, keep them guessing, keep them thinking.
Don’t Despair If They Win Points Quickly
Hard hitting opponents can regularly win strings of points rapidly during a game. They will play some incredible drives and kills that no-one in the world could get to.
This is just the way it is when playing them. They will have games where they hit the tin multiple times, and others where it all goes well. Don’t be discouraged!
Stick to your game plan, and play each ball at a time.
Don’t Be Intimidated
Power is not really the most important thing in squash. An accurate player will almost always beat a powerful but inaccurate player. A lot of it is mental.
Stay calm and focus on what you are trying to do. Play each shot one at a time, and take your time.
To see me show you the best strategies for playing a hard hitter, why not check out my youtube video:
What is a good squash strategy against a better player? You don’t necessarily need to have winning as your goal. Your target might be to play tight and use good length. Try to play each ball at a time and forget about what has just happened.
How to play on cold courts? The most important shots will be drops, boasts and lobs. Keep rallies going as much as possible, but look for opportunities to play the deft shots when you are in front of you opponent.
How to play on hot courts? Rallies will usually be longer, so if you are fitter than your opponent just play sensible squash and try to cut out mistakes. If they look fitter than you, then vary your game, and use drops and boasts only when you are well in front of them.