6 Tips On Playing Against Unorthodox Players

9th December 2019

You will see at most courts up and down the country that very unorthodox player that seems to somehow get these amazing wins over their more adept counterparts. I often hear the complaints from players that ‘this is not proper squash’ and ‘I can’t get into any rhythm’.

This blog article will look at some ways to try and deal with these type of players by having some more awareness of what is going on as well as putting some simple yet effective strategies in place in order to deal with what squash wizardry may be coming your way!


Prepare yourself for not the most flowing of matches

I believe you need to get into the mindset that this match will not be the most free-flowing affair. The goal of the unorthodox player is to disrupt their opponent best they can. They are not really interested in playing these lovely straight lines, moving fluidly and playing a controlled and structured game. Often the rallies will be short and choppy with the main goal to get you out of your comfort zone and rack up points on the board as quickly as possible. I often see amateur players getting so frustrated with this disruptive style of play and hear them mutter ‘this is not proper squash’. Be accepting that the goal of the unorthodox player is to win and do so by making your life a misery. When you start to accept this you can begin to plan your strategy to deal with this. These are not the players where you will necessarily get a long hard physical match out of it so do not try and use this style of player for that outcome. There will be more traditional type players in future where you can put your fitness levels against theirs but for now, accept it will be short and choppy and lacking in rhythm.


Try and pick their one super strength

I see often that these unorthodox players tend to have one or two super strength shots. If you are able to spot these shots quite early on you can be prepared and ready yourself for them playing it. This type of player has likely honed this one shot over time and knows it works and what happens is they become over-reliant on it. This can both be their strength and their weakness as it will win them some quick and easy points and cause disruption but if you are able to spot it and anticipate it then soon enough it becomes their weakness. They will start going for finer margins and use it more desperately and ultimately making them hit more errors and mentally scarring them as you are seeing it and reacting to it constantly. There is nothing better than working this out and seeing the unorthodox playing crumbling before your eyes as you have nullified their one weapon they win a lot of points with.


unorthodoxAttention to detail on your serve and return 

There is nothing worse than starting the rally on the back foot against an unorthodox player. If you are too casual and with not enough attention to detail on your serve and return, you will be fighting battles right from the start. This is such a common fault of players when they are playing someone unorthodox, a weak start to the rally. Once this happens the rally will rarely progress over 1 or 2 shots. The idea is to try and get off to a decent start and control the game from the T with the unorthodox player ideally being buried in the back corners. Getting the ball deep and tight to the wall is a strategy that is good for any player but is even more necessary against the unorthodox player. These type of players relish a loose ball in the front or middle of the court as there is where their awkward style and shots will be most effective. You should consider playing more of a length game so then they attempt their unorthodox shots from deeper in the court and further away from the front wall. It is really tough to execute some form of skilful trickery when the ball is low and dying into the back corners so plug your opponent into these areas often.


Keep things simple

You will encounter a lot of awkwardness in your game with the unorthodox player and you may often be off-balance, seeing the ball late and also with ball travelling with different spins and angles. At this stage, you need to try and keep things super simple. If you can tidy up the game and mop up any loose stuff this will pay off for you massively. I often see the unorthodox player getting huge rewards as their first shot puts the opponent out of position and off-balance and the opponent then panics and tries to thrash themselves out of this situation. It is key to be able to get the ball tight and neat when you find yourself in these awkward positions which you often will. The simple straight drop in the front is one shot that can really nullify the unorthodox player building up pressure on you but it needs to be played well and with confidence.


unorthodoxWhen in doubt use the lob

As the title says, when in doubt use the lob. This is one great shot that when done well the unorthodox player can have no real answer to. The lob, in my opinion, is rarely ever a bad shot. If you want to buy yourself time and put the player in the deep parts of the court this shot is essential. I often see the unorthodox player attack the front of the court early on with an unconventional shot then push up really high on the T looking to pick off the drive or cross-court or to run quickly onto a counter drop. This pattern on play is really common with the unorthodox player so be aware of it. I would suggest a lot of the early exchanges in the front should be dealt with by using a lob. This can quickly nullify the unorthodox players’ strengths and pattern of play and can flip the frustration back onto them. Now they are the ones that come a little more desperate and start making rash decisions.


Fight fire with fire

Often with these unorthodox players, using one or two of their own shots against them can really throw them off. The little trickle boast, the reverse angle, the cross-court drop from deep are all interesting shots to employ against the unorthodox player. This is slightly contradictory to my earlier advice about keeping thighs simple but is all about getting a good balance of this in your games. If sometimes you stay too traditional and too tidy your opponent can start to get used to this. Keeping them honest with the odd bit of counter-attacking can be a useful weapon to have against them. Be aware to not overuse this as it can be fun and you can see some quick rewards but the key is to keep it hidden for long periods and then pull in out when it’s not massively expected.


In summary, all the above tactics can start to be useful against the unorthodox player. I would say the biggest bit of advice I tell players when dealing with someone who is unorthodox is to get the mindset right for this type of game. It all starts there in my opinion, mentally. Once you accept the short and choppy exchanges you are likely to have the better place you will be to them employs some technical and tactical strategies as listed above.  Keep the game neat and tidy and on your terms is ideal, using a solid counter drop and lob will work well as well as the slight variation using some of their strengths back against them will all assist in you being more competent in dealing with these disruptive type of players.


Jesse Engelbrecht


Check out this series where DP shows what to expect when playing different styles fo player and how to negate their play.

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