As we know, it can be one of the most frustrating things to play against a player who is overly physical on the court.
This player completely tries to disrupt your rhythm, get in your way, take their space, get close to your swing, block you when they hit and all in all is a real nuisance to play and not a very nice experience to have. You may even fear injury in these type of encounters as this style of player seems to have no awareness of the space they take or where they stand. One level deeper (and scarier) is when this type of player actually knows what they are doing and does it on purpose to win at all costs no matter how they do it.
Below are some tips and tactics to try and employ against this style of player and to try and get through the match unscathed.
A big part of dealing effectively with the over the physical player is by mentally preparing yourself. You need to get yourself ready for a bit of an ugly match, it may be a bit of a scrap fest. Trying to play beautiful, pretty and well-constructed squash is unlikely going to happen against this type of player and you need to get your mind in a place ready for this. Yes, ideally play good tidy neat squash but be aware that your opponent is likely to disrupt your rhythm and get under your skin. Do what you need to do with what you have got where you are at. Sometimes it will be a needs must situation to get the win and you need to accept there will be some argy-bargy going on and you will not be able to play how you want. This does not mean you back down but rather be malleable and adaptable to what is coming. I often see players getting so cross at their opponent that they forget to try and do what they have control over. As best you can, know that you have some but actually little influence on your opponent and what you do have is have full control over yourself and your decisions and actions.
Hit the space
This tactic may seem obvious with all styles of players but is especially important when playing someone who is very physical. In simple terms try and place the ball at the furthest point away from where you are standing. If you can do this well, it will mean that the physical player should and cannot run into you or take a line that gets them embroiled in where you are standing. Keeping the ball away from where you currently are in the court will really help keep the physical type of player away from your personal space. Try and create the biggest distance between yourself and the ball as often as you can.
To employ this tactic effectively you also need to take into consideration where your opponent is when you are hitting your shot. For example, if you hit the ball into space but you are in their direct path or direct line to the ball this can cause issues within itself as they are likely to move directly towards you and try and knock you out the way and/or ask for a let as they will claim ‘you are in the way’. You want to ensure you try and avoid this so being fully aware of their starting position in relation to yours will be key.
Control the game
Your ball control and the ability to control the game is going to be paramount if you’re going to be successful. You don’t want to become embroiled in a slugfest with this type of player as well as the mental battle this will bring. If you can control the game such as the height, pace and angle of your shots this can really take the physical players strength out of the equation. They are looking for the game to be ugly, scrappy, and often in the middle of the court. This is where they come into their own, they get close to you, they take their space when hitting, they block you and ultimately, they take you away from the type and style of game you want to play.
It goes without saying that a very solid length-based game is going to set you up nicely to control the overall game. Nothing can really be done, or any control exerted upon your opponent if the quality of your length-based game is not there. Be sure to pay attention and prioritize a quality and accurate length game to give yourself the best chance of success
When opportunities do arise to apply pressure or win the points, you must try and be as clinical as possible. If you get these opportunities but your shots hit the sidewall, come to the middle, overhit your length, or sit up high on the front wall, your opponent will feed off this and dispatch you. But if you can be more clinical when you have openings this can again take away their super strengths. It is a harder one to do this against a physical type of player as you may feel a level of being scared or knocked off as you play your shots. You need to try and be strong and balanced and take your appropriate space. Try best you can to play the ball and not the opponent. The ball is there to be hit and attacked, this is what you need to try and focus on. If you are able to stay in the moment and be present at the time of execution and attack the all on it’s merit, you will massively heighten the chances for you to be clinical and hit good targets. When you can do this time and again it really starts to nullify and diminish the style of play the overly physical player wants to employ.
Know the rules
It will be wise to be brushed up on the rules. If it gets ugly on the court, you can try and negotiate with your overly physical opponent. This will not always work of course and could cause more issues or anger on there, but, if you are able to explain in a clear and precise way what the rules are regarding being overly physical, this may just help the situation and make your opponent aware that they are contravening some of the rules. In simple terms, when it is your turn to hit you have the right to take your space and play the shot unimpeded. On the other hand, when your opponent is playing their shot this rule also applies but they are not allowed to take excessive and exaggerated space. If you feel that your opponent is taking excessive and exaggerated space, you can try and point this out to them and calmly explain that this is against the rules. Remember, squash is a non-contact sport. Playing a match where there is continual physicality is not what the game is based on.
In summary, this is one of the most difficult players to play against. You will have players that can play tricky shots and disrupt your rhythm in other ways but playing this overly physical opponent is one of the worst you can come across. As mentioned, you may fear some physical harm, and at this point, it is understandable to stop the match if you feel that you’re going to become injured by this type of player. It is not worth it in the big picture. See if you can employ some of the above ideas and tactics next time you step on court against someone of this nature and be really satisfied if you’re able to figure out a way to win and see this opponent off.
Sign up to the SquashSkills newsletter
Get world class coaching tips, straight to your inbox!