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Alex Robertson
By Alex Robertson on May 13, 2023

How To Break Down 'The Grinder'

Have you ever played against one of those players who seems to get everything back and never misses a shot?

This type of player is often referred to as "The Grinder" in squash, and, they can be very very hard to beat.

There are a number of strategies and tactics you can deploy to improve your chances of overcoming the grinder, and, in this article, I'll go through them.

Now, I'm aware that people might have slightly different definitions of what a grinder is, and, since I'm from the UK and most of you are not, there might be even more of a difference in our definitions!

So, it's probably a good idea for me to start by listing what I believe the characteristics are of the grinder, and we can take it from there...

When I picture a grinder in my head, there's a specific player I have in mind who is a friend of mine, and he ticks all the boxes in my opinion.

He's very fit and could seemingly play non-stop forever, he's very fast (especially pushing off the T and going into the front corners), he doesn't have many shots in his arsenal, especially in the front of the court, but, he seems to get every single shot back.

He's also pretty good at hitting the ball hard to the back of the court and defending with a bit of height too.

Ultimately, I'd say the grinder's biggest strength is that they can neutralise pressure.

You might think you've played a great winner, but the grinder has this frustrating ability to not only reach your shot but then return it with another quality shot to the back of the court, keeping them in the rally.

This takes away from any advantages gained when taking the ball in and going for winners yourself.

The grinder is probably one of the most frustrating styles of player to come up against, but there are some great ways to break them down, disrupt their style of play, and use it against them to win points...

Vary The Pace

Grinders tend to like to play at a set pace that’s comfortable to them so vary the pace mixing between lifting the ball out of their volley zone and making them go to the back and then injecting pace with hard low shots can knock them out of their comfort zone.

Although grinders are quite good at hitting it medium-hard pace, they tend to stick to doing that and only that during length rallies.

Grinders love to play within their comfort zone of one pace to the back of the court, if you can disrupt that and begin to control the pace on your own terms by mixing it up, your opponent won't be able to get into a rhythm of play or anticipate your shots and volley them.

For example, playing a light drop shot or a soft lob can force the grinder to stretch and change their defensive posture.

This strategy isn't so much about tiring them out, but, if you can force them to play weaker shots, that gives you more opportunities to capitalise on and stay on top during the rally.

This is particularly effective if you can combine changes in pace with changes in direction, such as hitting a hard cross-court followed by a soft drop shot to the opposite corner.

Overall, varying the pace against a grinder is a good strategy because it disrupts their defensive patterns.

Although grinders are usually pretty fit, they will eventual begin to tire too, and this strategy puts pressure on their fitness and movement and can lead to more opportunities to hit winners.


Photo credit: Steve Cubbins

Stay Patient

Unfortunately, you're not going to get any easy points off of the grinder, that's just the way it is. Chances are, it's going to be a long, tough match (assuming you're evenly matched with the grinder.

With that in mind, it's vital that you preserve your energy and take your time during rallies.

The grinder is typically very good at defending and can play long rallies without making many errors. If you try to force the issue and hit winners too early in the rally, you are likely to make mistakes or give the grinder an opportunity to counter attack.

Staying patient allows you to find the right opportunities to attack. Grinders are often content to play defensively and wait for their opponents to make mistakes, so by staying patient and hitting high-quality shots, you can force them to take more risks or hit weaker shots, which can create opportunities for you to attack.

You can also maintain your focus and avoid becoming frustrated or impatient with the grinder's defensive style. This is particularly important in squash, where mental toughness and concentration are essential for success.

Capitalise On Their Weak Short Game

Grinders typically rely on their ability to retrieve and defend against shots to the back of the court. They often prefer to play deep, and, if they're good at doing that, it can make it difficult for their opponents to hit winners and force mistakes.

With that said, they will indeed take it in short sometimes, and generally, the grinder isn't particularly accurate at hitting drops and winners.

This gives you the perfect opportunity to use their looser balls at the front of the court to punish them and counter attack with much more accurate shots of your own.

Of course, the grinder is usually pretty fast and good at retrieving shots, but they can't get everything back, especially not a perfect drop shot!

So, just wait for the grinder to play that weak loose short shot to the front, and when they do, try to move onto it fast and take it in even shorter and tighter if possible.

Of course, you don't have to just counter drop, you can also capitalise on the grinder's weaker short shots with hard low kills that die before reaching the back corner.

In fact, pretty much any attack off of a weak shot to the front has a good chance of winning you a point.

By focusing on the grinder's weak short game, you can also force them to move around the court more and tire them out, which can make it harder for them to play their defensive style of game in the later stages of the match.

It's worth noting that, if this strategy is working, it can have the effect of making your opponent lose confidence in their short game and they may stop going short (or do it far more rarely) if they realise it's losing them points.

Make sure to carry on focusing on tips one and two for the duration of the match if this happens!

Bonus Tip: Take A Leaf Out Of Their Book

Although this isn't something you can do during a match, if you often find yourself struggling physically against grinders, perhaps you need to improve that side of your own game.

To beat the grinder, you need to be fit enough to last the duration of a long squash match and you need to be able to be consistent with your shots during those challenging rallies.

Incorporating a bit of cardio and strength work into your training can go a very long way in helping you stand the test of time during those long matches.

Having a high level of fitness can also help you to maintain your technique and shot-making abilities throughout the match, even when you are tired. This can make it easier to hit high-quality shots, maintain your focus and mental toughness, and execute the tactics listed in this newsletter.

This can help you to stay mentally focused and avoid getting frustrated or discouraged during long rallies or games.

This is particularly important when playing against a grinder, who can often frustrate their opponents with their defensive style of play.

Anyway, I hope this week's newsletter was somewhat helpful, especially if you're the sort of player who struggles when they come up against a grinder (like I am).

This article was taken from our On The 'T' Newsletter, if you're interested in receiving more content like this, please feel free to sign up using the subscribe section located at the bottom left of this page (or underneath the article if you're on mobile), thanks!

Published by Alex Robertson May 13, 2023
Alex Robertson