For tips on playing at a higher tempo, check out our post on it here.
Changing the pace of the game is among the trickier squash tactics to execute. It’s not easy to achieve the composure and ball control required to suddenly go from playing shots at one pace to playing a completely different type of shot. It is however really effective in disrupting your opponents momentum or when you need to change the game up to keep your opponent subdued and yourself in pole position. It can completely ruin your opponents rhythm and cause them to make mistakes, play weak shots and become frustrated. All of which will increase the number of opportunities you get to attack the ball and increase your points tally.
Playing your opponent’s game
The pace of the game is something that a lot of people find very difficult to be consciously aware of while playing. Players can go through a whole game or even match without realising they were smashing the ball needlessly and overhitting their shots.
Worse still, many go through matches not realising that they have just played at their opponent’s pace the entire time, which is rarely successful. This is particularly common when first learning the ropes of matchplay at a decent level and finding yourself on the receiving end of inexplicable defeats from men old enough to be your granddad. You tell yourself you’re definitely the better player. You’re quicker, faster and have better technique and yet somehow they spring a lucky victory on you. Most of the time it is because they will play at a slower pace, knowing full well they could never hope to take a younger player on in a contest of pace and power. Without realising, you have slipped into their universe and responded in kind, returning their tricky boasts and drops with boasts and drops of your own and then you’re trapped in their game. You have become part of they reality.
In this situation, the best thing to do is to obviously increase the tempo and the intensity to make it harder uncomfortable for the slower paced player. This can at times be easier said than done, admittedly, as the ball gets colder and you struggle to get warmed up.
Changing the tempo
There are many ways in which to increase the tempo. It doesn’t necessarily mean hitting the ball harder, although this is of course one way of doing it. Hitting the ball harder can sometimes even make matters worse if the shots are hit loose, as often happens when trying to speed up play. The best way to up the intensity is to simply take the ball earlier. Push up the court and take the ball on the volley or half-volley, move onto the ball like a rash as soon as it has bounced and don’t let it near the back wall. When you’re seeking to change the pace, the shots you play are not as important as when you play them (although they are of course important in that they need to be of reasonable quality and not hit straight back to your opponent…). All this is reducing the time your opponent has on the ball and if they like to play at a slower pace, they will usually also like a good portion of time. Take this away from them and you can turn the match.
Conversely, if you find yourself up against a player who plays like the cartoon character Taz from Tazmania, and the ball is flying round the court, you could look to slow the pace rather than jumping feet first onboard the runaway train that is their game. This can be incredibly effective at earning a succession of quick points, as players who play at a very high pace often find it difficult to handle shots which don’t have a lot of pace on them. They struggle to deal with shots which fade in the back corners, such as lobs, and that fade in the front corners, such as drops. It is perhaps bordering on unsportsmanlike but you could also take just a little longer between points and when you get the serve, just to really draw the sting from your opponents momentum.
Make sure that you change the pace to peg back your opponent. It could be when they’re on the ascendancy or to snatch back a point if your opponent has the momentum and it could be when you need to change your tactics to make sure you stay on top. Whenever it is, there are few better ways to turn games on their head.
For more tips on playing at a higher tempo, check out our post on it here.