Own the T and learn how to attack
By MICHAEL NASH – Squash Mad Coaching Columnist
More than 40 years ago, while at the Campbeltown Squash Centre in Adelaide, Australia, I remember sitting in a pool of sweat totally saturated after winning three love but still feeling dissatisfied.
People often say that they have had an epiphany, and I did while sitting on the T. I realised that “this is where I want to be”. So I began a journey to discover a strategy which would assist me to be on the T by the time my opponent was about to hit the ball.
Being on the T is an obvious strategy which all players should aim to achieve. Generally, the player’s distance travelled to the ball is minimised from this position. This increases the player’s prospect of not only getting to the ball but also feeling balanced on arrival. This should result in a better quality shot.
In simple terms, command of the T position gives you more attacking options. Just look at the way Nick Matthew attacked from the T. His whole game was built upon taking the ball early to put pressure on his opponents.
If you can cut the ball off early and make your opponent chase it to the back corners, then you are the guy in the dominant position on the T. You are the player in front. You have set up the perfect attacking option.
Whatever shot comes up from behind, unless it’s an absolute clinger, you should be able to attack and send the ball into the front corners, forcing your opponent to put in the extra yards to stay in the rally.
However, I could not always achieve this strategy. And, from my observations, neither could the elite player. Not every time. That is, on occasions, even the very best would find themselves sprinting from the front of the court to the back, or vice versa.
If not even the elite player can hit the ball with superior quality which would guarantee the T, what hope did I have?
How to attain the T?
Well, I knew that creating time was the answer, but how would I achieve that with shots requiring only reasonable quality? Reasonable quality is defined when the player hits the ball with quality that the opponent can return, without the likelihood of putting pressure back on the player.
Creating time can occur naturally if the player hits the ball with superior quality, or if the opponent’s poor quality allows the player to secure the T.
Superior quality is defined when the player hits the ball with quality that the opponent may not return, that is the ball is often unplayable. Poor quality is defined when the player hits the ball so that the opponent can return it easily and put pressure back on the other player.
Creating time can also occur by implementing natural tactics. For example, if the opponent is off the T when you are about to hit the ball, and you hit the ball with reasonable quality to the furthest point, forcing your opponent into covering a lot of ground to stay in the rally, then you should comfortably attain the T.
When the player hits a short shot like a boast or drop, the quality can be even less than reasonable and the player will attain the T providing the opponent is not already at the front.
However, after playing short the player, despite attaining the T, has less time to react. And although the quality may be reasonable, pressure may result. When the player hits a lob with reasonable quality, he or she should have ample time to attain the T.
Risk pressure or not?
It soon became apparent to me that I had a choice of adopting one of either two strategies. Either risk attaining the T or not risking attaining the T. For me the latter choice was simple.
This choice was simple when defending but what about when I was attacking?
To discover a process to attain the T by the time my opponent is about to hit the ball which requires only reasonable quality.
The revelation continued as I sat with legs crossed like a yoga teacher and, in my mind, I began to zone the court into defensive and attacking zones as if looking at a football field.
I found myself superimposing the service box in a clockwise direction into the four corners starting with the back right. These were the defensive zones and I later named them D1, D2, D3 and D4, respectively.
Furthermore, I soon realised I was sitting in the middle of the attacking zone as I visualised a rectangle; the back length side running from the back of the service boxes from the side walls and the front length side equidistant from the short line with the side walls (width) as the finished product. I later named this the A1 zone.
Diagram: The Defensive Zones
The zones are defensive because of the player’s proximity in relation to the T and because the player may be blind to the opponent. Furthermore, the zones are only defensive providing the opponent is on the T. When the player cannot see (blind) the opponent the player assumes the opponent is on the T.
The player, when positioned in the back defensive zones, should adopt the natural tactic of hitting the ball high and slow, either straight or cross court.
Similarly, the player when positioned in the front defensive zones should adopt the natural tactic of hitting the ball high and slow, either straight or cross court.
The Pros and Cons
Well, this seems all so simple but unfortunately, as in life, there are pros and cons.
Let’s look on the bright side.
When lobbing the opponent is forced to the back which may result in an unforced error.
Furthermore, the height of the lob may cause the opponent to be off balance which may result in poor quality.
Even a poor quality lob may allow the player to recover to the T or close to the T.
The quality of the lob may force the opponent to boast which assists the player to anticipate.
The not so bright
When lobbing, the opponent has time to retrieve the ball. When the player cannot see the opponent shadowing and lobs, the player loses an opportunity to attack with a boast or a low and hard crosscourt drive.
When always adopting the tactic of lobbing from either the D3 or D4 zones (front), although returning to the T, the opponent can wait at the back and respond with a boast or a drop shot.
If the opponent always responds with a short shot, eventually, the player will be fatigued because the constant change of direction is extremely tiring.
Thus, after examining all other scenarios I decided the player, as a substitute for the lob, should intermittently, for defensive reasons, play a straight drop.
I have never been totally satisfied with this option, as the drop shot requires more than reasonable quality to attain the T.
To be continued…
Pictures by PATRICK LAUSON www.patricklausonphotography.co.uk