6 tips on playing a speed merchant

16th January 2020

Speed is an asset that is a massive benefit and a luxury to some who play squash. Being fast around the court gives you a huge advantage over your opponent as the nature of squash is quick, reactive and condensed in a relatively small area.

This, however, can be very hard to play against if you are on the receiving end of a speed merchant and a lot of us are not blessed with natural speed and quickness around the court. This blog will look to give you some ideas on how to try and nullify the speed merchant:


Hold the ball

This is a hard skill to develop but is the biggest weapon to use when trying to take away the speed of a player. No matter how fast and rapid someone is, when you are able to hold the ball effectively then you will force your opponent to stop and wait until you want to hit. Generally, the speed merchant is able to be fast when they are continually moving with momentum. When you are able to break this movement and stop and start them continually then you are asking them questions that they are not really used to. I found as soon as I was playing someone fast, I was trying to hold every shot I could. There are no immediate benefits doing this but if you are able to sustain this skill over a certain period, the stop-start nature of the game really negatively affects fast players. Taking away their momentum is key to slowing them down.


Vary the pace

There is nothing worse for a speed merchant to have to deal with balls at a varying pace. They love the game fast and quick and if you are able to mix up your paces of shot this can nullify their weapon. For the speed merchant having to generate their own pace on a shot can be super frustrating. Also, it messes up their movement and timing onto the ball and they can often then get there too early and rush their shots leaving themselves now exposed with a lack of quality. The speed merchant tends to like to play fast the majority of the time so let them try and play fast when there is nothing to play fast there with. Linked to this, be sure to step in and inject pace also at the right time as this can catch them off guard thinking you are continually playing at a slower pace 


Favour the lob and counter drop

As with varying the pace, the lob and the counter drop are going to be 2 really important shots to be using against this type of player. You need to be sure of the quality and accuracy of these shots as if leaving balls loose when coming to execute them, the speed merchant will be flying onto them taking the ball early and leaving you very exposed. A quality counter drop and lob is like throwing a bucket of water onto a wood wire. It can really douse all the heat and energy that the speed merchant is generating and can deflate them if you are using these shots with high accuracy levels at the right time.


Let them run themselves ragged

Playing fast and hard and frantic and taking the ball early is a very tiring thing to do. Know this and know that if you are able to ask them enough questions for a sustained period of time, they will begin to slow down a little and have their main asset taken away from them. Once this happens a lot of change can occur. I DON’T often see a speed merchant be an amazing shot player and tactician at the same time. What can tend to happen once you have let themselves run ragged is they start to feel in foreign waters and are forced to play a game that is not their own. This can tend to them making bad shot choices and this is where you can now step in and control the game due to them having to adapt due to tiredness and lack of speed.


Give them time 

This does sound quite an absurd tactic to use and one that you want to use sparingly and at the right time. The reason I suggest giving the speed merchant time is so that they end up rushing onto balls that are slower, and they can get too close and get themselves in all sorts of problems. Using a lob that tactically does not go all the way to the back is a really great shot. You want them to try and volley and take this ball early but from a slightly deeper position. The natural instinct for the speed merchant is to inject pace into everything by trying to move onto balls quickly. A high lob but slightly shorter is such a tempting shot for the speed merchant to pounce onto. Do be aware and ready for the follow up yourself as their return from this can be quite erratic at times. I suggest this tactic from firsthand experience. I was on the receiving end of this in a big final one year and from 2-0 up I tried to be faster and quicker onto everything and my opponent looped the ball up for me and I tied myself in knots forcing the issue trying to keep the game fast when he was giving me time.


Tight, tight and tight again

This is definitely a tactic to use against any player really but should become even more pronounced when playing a speed merchant. If you are able to get that ball tight and glued to the wall, then this does not allow them to get onto the ball early and expose you. They have to stop and take a measured approach to their shot. I often see the fast player becoming really frustrated and down on themselves when someone is playing tight. They are wanting to accelerate the game and keep it fast and frantic. Getting that ball tight and glued to the wall stops them doing this. You will notice that then the speed merchant starts to force the situation and try and attack these tight balls and ultimately falling into your trap. There is nothing more satisfying watching a fast player try and take the ball early when it’s tight to the wall and completely hack the ball into the middle of the court for you to capitalize on.


In summary, playing against a speed merchant is one of the harder opponents you will come across. You have to accept their strengths and weapons and be ready to know what’s coming. Trying to take a few of the above tips can start to even the playing field a little. Don’t try and implement all the above tips at once but you can now become more mindful and aware of some strategies to use.

Good luck and douse those fires! 💦🔥


Jesse Engelbrecht


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