Changing the rhythm on your opponent.
Quite often squash matches can become battles of charisma. Whose game style is stronger? Most players will have experienced playing someone who plays a really slow tempo and style with lots of high, slow serves, drops and boasts. Everyone will have also played someone who ran around and hit the ball so hard it’s a wonder the floor and the walls are still intact. These are extreme examples though as quite often playing styles aren’t as easy to pinpoint as this. This can be bad news for you as you may be unable to work out what your opponent is doing and how to change it and worse, you may find yourself ‘playing their game’.
Synchronising with your opponent’s game
When you play someone who plays slowly and slows the game down with lots of lobs or drops, it can be very easy to be sucked in to their game and way of playing. Typically players will also start playing more drops and boasts etc, as it can be easier to play at this pace than to change it. The real damage isn’t done though in the slowing of the shots played but in the effect it has on movement, positioning and urgency. It is very common for a player to move a bit slower, drop deeper on the court and lose attacking intent when playing someone who plays lots of slow shots. This does a lot more than any shots to create a very slow tempo, which usually worked out better for the player who wants to play slow shots. The slow tempo is their arena, their home ground and you’re the one out of place.
Equally, it’s very easy to get caught up in a ‘hitting contest’ with someone who likes to hit the ball hard. Before players have noticed what is happening, if they ever notice, they might find they have been caught up trying to hit the ball harder and faster than their opponent and ended up losing all accuracy and control of the ball and the game. This can create a tempo and situations where you are rushing into the shot in order to try and make it faster, which can be just as bad as losing urgency in a slow tempo game.
What to do?
The most important thing is awareness. It’s very easy to fall in sync with your opponent’s style without realising anything has happened. The first thing to do is to be aware of whether you are playing the game you want to play or whether you have started playing the game your opponent wants to play. At the end of a rally, think whether you were playing to your strengths and hitting the shots you want to play in the manner you want to play them, or whether your opponent had it their way or you had played shots or a style that played into their hands. At first, you are just trying to look retrospectively at what has just happened. If you keep practicing this, in time you will be able to start recognising the signs of getting pulled into your opponent’s game while it’s happening or without having to stop and think about it. Once you are able to do this, you can start to actively resist them with your play, stepping forwards and taking the ball earlier and giving a slower paced opponent less time or slowing down and focusing on accuracy – perhaps by using the height of the front wall – against a fast and furious opponent.
Ask yourself between rallies and games if you were playing how you wanted to play or if you were playing how your opponent wants you to play. If it’s the latter, see if you can make positive changes and counteract their style.