Thursday, November 30, 2023

Why Amr Shabana is king of the swingers


Rhythm and timing: Amr Shabana watches the bounce and sets up his shot
Rhythm and timing: Amr Shabana watches the bounce and sets up his shot

Getting the racket back as well as up is key to a clean, effective swing
By TONY GRIFFIN – Author of G-Spot Squash


I have always been fascinated by what makes a good swing. Watch the truly great players, like Amr Shabana, and everything seems to flow so smoothly as he strikes the ball. Wherever he is on the court, his swing looks clean, masterful and mesmerising. 

No wonder other professionals use his racket ability as a yardstick to measure their own improvements and personal targets.

thIt’s fun getting on court and saying to yourself, ‘Today, I’m going to smack the ball around like Mohamed Elshorbagy, or hit nicks like Ramy Ashour, hunt it down and volley like Nick Matthew, or play soft backhand drops like James Willstrop’. I bet when those guys go on court, they say to themselves, ‘I want to hit the ball like Shabs’. 

So, let’s look at the swing, and see what needs to be done. Ideally your racket should be stationary and in the starting point before you commence your swing to hit the ball.

Given the speed of our sport this is easier said than done. Most players start their racket movement when they get to the ball or when it bounces in front of them.

Nicol David gets her racket ready as she moves towards her next shot
Nicol David gets her racket ready as she moves towards her next shot

The ball bouncing seems to be the subconscious signal to our body that we need to start thinking about our racket and hitting the ball. Before this moment we are normally thinking (or worrying), principally, about getting to the ball.

For this reason the process of preparing the racket often becomes part of the racket swing and there appears to be no definition between the racket preparation and the action of hitting the ball. I think this is completely understandable given the speed of squash.

I was always told about the importance of having or getting your ’racket up’ before hitting the ball. I have seen that this often means that the racket is basically stationary (which in itself is good) and vertical in the air in front of the shoulder.

Watching the spot where the ball bounces on the floor, Simon Rosner sets up his big backhand
Watching the spot where the ball bounces on the floor, Simon Rosner sets up his big backhand

“Racket up” backhand and forehand

From this position the racket moves back until your upper arm is in line with the shoulder on the forehand, or on the backhand your upper arm and elbow are close to your body. Then the racket continues down behind the ball before hitting it.

The direction (in part) and speed of the ball are defined during the downward movement to the ball so the racket movement from the ‘up’ position to the ‘back’ position means that your swing is a little longer and needs a little more time for the racket to get to the ball. For this reason I prefer to say ‘racket back’ rather than ‘racket up’.

“Racket back” forehand and backhand

Saurav Ghosal moves forward with his racket back
Saurav Ghosal moves forward with his racket back

Therefore if you eliminate the ‘up’ position racket movement and use the ‘back’ position instead, you start the swing to the ball from the ‘back’ position and reduce or simplify the movement which will help to improve your accuracy.

You also reduce the time you need to hit the ball, so when it comes back to you at high speed, or is in a difficult position, you will have more chance of returning the ball well.

If we look at a couple of other impact or precision sports you see that they use simple and precise preparation which helps them to develop a high level of accuracy.

In archery they do not pull the arrow and string back and let it go as soon as it is in the prepared position. They have it prepared, they aim and then they let the arrow go.

In boxing or the martial arts, they do not have their fists in front of their bodies while they are looking for the moment to throw a punch. They have their fists back and prepared.

When they see the opportunity or moment to strike their opponents they punch forward to their target with one simple, but powerful movement. 

Understanding and training yourself to have good, clear racket preparation will
help you to hit the ball more consistently from the G Spot.

*Ian Mckenzie, who I met when I arrived in London a million and two years ago, helped me to start seeing and defining the importance of racket preparation

Tony Griffin hand-feeding to a pupil
Tony Griffin hand-feeding to a pupil

The G-Spot book is available on Amazon
This week it has been translated into Catalan.

Pictures from Tony Griffin and Squash Mad archive 


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