Playing against a shot-maker can be an absolute nightmare in squash. They can seemingly play a winner from anywhere on the court and they are known for taking balls in short at random times during rallies, punishing any slightly loose shot you play, and forcing you to feel constantly on edge.
I think, to an extent, a number of elements of my own game align with the shot maker, as I love going for winners and trying to make things tricky for my opponent.
Although I wouldn't fully categorise myself as one, I like to think that this has given me a good level of knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of shot makers, and, most importantly, the tactics that you need to deploy in order to beat them.
We recently looked at the best ways to overcome 'the grinder'. I thoroughly enjoyed writing that article and have wanted to cover another player profile ever since, so, in this article I'll be delving into the best tactics for neutralising the shot maker...
Just to make sure we're all on the same page about what type of player I'm referring to, it would probably help for me to define what I think the key characteristics of the shot maker are.
The shot maker is usually a very dynamic player, known for their ability and willingness to execute winners from various areas of the court. Generally, they will be far more willing to capitalize on any opportunity they get to take the ball in short.
They will most likely have some good deception under their belt and will be good at experimenting with angles and slightly unorthodox shots.
What's interesting about the shot maker is that they don't necessarily have to be fit or strong (although it does make them even more threatening if they are), and they can be almost any age (although probably not a junior).
Generally, they're usually very experienced players with years in the game, meaning that they have a pretty high squash IQ.
Like any type of player, the shot-maker has some key strengths and key weaknesses, all of which can be capitalized on tactically...
Shotmakers possess remarkable precision and control in their shots. They can consistently hit tight angles and exploit even the smallest openings to create winners.
Their repertoire of shots is diverse and imaginative. Shotmakers often surprise their opponents with unconventional shots like cross-court nicks, boasts, and deceptive drops that catch players off guard.
Proactive, Attacking Mindset
Shotmakers possess a natural inclination to go for winners and put their opponents under constant pressure. Their offensive mindset allows them to seize opportunities, although it's a risky strategy, it certainly takes its toll on opponents who have to cover every corner of the court.
Vulnerability to Pressure
While shot makers excel in attacking situations, they can become unsettled when subjected to consistent pressure, especially when their opponent is good at changing and dictating the pace. As a result, the shot maker is susceptible to having their rhythm disrupted which can lead to errors.
Susceptibility to Tight, Defensive Play
Shotmakers thrive on loose shots and open-court positions. By adopting a strategy of tight, defensive play and denying them the space to execute winners, opponents can frustrate shotmakers and force them into making unforced errors.
Increased Risk of Error
While they possess exceptional accuracy and the ability to execute winners, their aggressive style of play leaves them more susceptible to making mistakes. Even the best shot makers on the PSA World Tour can't hit a crash nick every time, and the more winners you go for the higher the risk of a mistake.
The shot maker's tendency to go for difficult shots and take calculated risks can result in unforced errors, especially when under pressure in the latter stages of a match when fatigue may be starting to set in.
Photo credit: Steve Cubbins
I thought the photo above would be very fitting for this newsletter as it features two of the best shot makers in the world right now.
Karim Abdel Gawad, who can feather perfect straight drop shots in from anywhere on the court, and Mazen Hesham, who has an unbelievably deceptive swing and goes for endless unorthodox angles, are both masters of shot making.
As I write this, I'm actually watching Gawad playing against Victor Crouin in the Manchester Open quarter finals, Gawad is 2-0 up and 7-3 up in the third, and he must have won at least 5 of those points with perfect straight backhand drops.
It's quite clear what Crouin is doing wrong (as commentators Joey and PJ are repeatedly pointing out), he's allowing Gawad to play to his greatest strengths by playing balls around the middle of the court and taking weak balls into the front.
This relates strongly to the first tactic for overcoming the shotmaker...
Pin Them Deep
To disrupt a shot maker's rhythm, one effective tactic is to pin them deep in the back corners.
By hitting deep, accurate shots, you force them to play defensively, limiting their attacking opportunities. Focus on precision and consistency with your lengths to keep them under constant pressure and restrict their options.
There is always a risk of the shot maker going for a drop or attacking boast from the back of the court, but the further back they are, the harder it will be for them to hit that shot accurately.
It might be tempting to hit the ball hard in order to try to force them into the back corners, but, that can lead to you hitting a weak length that bounces out far and still gives the shot maker the chance to attack.
However, I would say that overhitting your lengths is better than underhitting them, as if you underhit you risk giving them the middle of the court, which is where they are most deadly.
To pin them deep with accuracy, take your time when you can and hit with medium pace or even low pace and add some height. As long as you're hitting your targets, and keeping them deep in the back, they will be less threatening.
Tighten Your Shots to Limit Their Options
Shot makers thrive on exploiting loose shots and they love going for angles using deception, however, if a ball is glued to the side wall, they are more or less stuck with scraping it off and going straight.
It's crucial to tighten up your game.
If you can minimise your own unforced errors and keep the ball tight to the walls, this denies them the space and angles they need to unleash their winners.
Again, a great approach for this is taking your time (when you can) with every single shot to ensure you hit it tight, especially if you're in the back corner and your opponent is on the T, as they'll be eager to look for a volley kill opportunity.
I'd also advise adding a bit of cut to the ball as this helps it stick to the side wall.
Vary the Pace and Disrupt Their Timing
A shot-maker often relies on getting comfortable in their own rhythm to execute their winners. By incorporating varied pace into your shots, you can disrupt their timing and throw them off balance.
Alternate between slow, floaty shots and more punchy, attacking shots to keep them guessing and make it harder for them to set up their winners effectively.
Mix up your own shots a bit as well, varying between straight and cross court lengths, taking volleys when you can, and just generally trying to mess with their timing.
This strategy is even more effective if you're on the T and taking the ball early, as they'll be scrambling for the shots you hit hard, but may then struggle to adapt and move smoothly to a softer hit shot just after a hard one.
Move Further Forward on the T When Possible
This tactic ties in to the previous one. If you have a more positive T position (even just half a step further forward than normal), it makes varying the pace far more effective, as you're taking the ball even earlier and making them scramble even more.
Again, when moving into the back from a more positive T position, it might feel like you're doing a bit more physical work, but, it also really helps you cover the shot maker's shots, which is absolutely essential, as they will be firing them in from everywhere.
Cut Out Your Own Mistakes
It can be very physically taxing to play the shot maker in the earlier stages of the game when they're still fresh. It can seem like you're doing a lot of work and still losing many points, but that's just how the game goes against these players.
If you're able to deploy tight lengths and vary the pace for long enough, the shot maker will be working hard themselves and they will begin to make more and more mistakes as they go for these risky shots.
It's absolutely vital you don't fall into the trap of doing the same thing and going for shots too. It's very easy to get sucked into going for shots yourself, however, this isn't a good strategy.
Instead, make sure to play a much safer game. Only take it in short when you're in a good position and their ball is loose, otherwise, just focus on hitting those targets and keeping the rallies going.
Your shots to the front may not be outright winners, but the work that the shot maker is putting in to retrieve them should eventually have an impact on their own shot accuracy as a result.
Stay Calm and Composed
This could be the hardest tactic to deploy as shot makers can be very frustrating to play.
Many times, you'll think you've done a good job of pinning them deep, maintaining the T, and keeping them under pressure, but then you'll hit one shot that's slightly week and they'll still manage to pounce on it and hit a winner.
This can make you feel like you don't have any other options, but, the tactics for beating the shot maker are longer term than just on a 'per point' basis.
But, as soon as you start to mentally decline, your shots will be impacted too, and then the shot maker will be in paradise.
You need to trust the process and rely on the compound effects on your opponent of repeated hard rallies and you not making mistakes.
As I've mentioned previously, the shot maker's winners will deteriorate as the match goes on, and that will begin to affect them mentally too, further affecting their ability to hit winners.
If you can stay composed until then, you're golden.
Defeating a shot-maker in squash requires a combination of strategic play, mental resilience, and adaptability.
By pinning them deep in the back corners, tightening up your game, varying the pace, and positioning yourself effectively on the T, you can neutralise their attacking prowess and take control of the match.
Remember, maintaining mental fortitude and staying disciplined in your game plan are key factors in overcoming shot-makers. As a 'kind of' shot maker myself, I know just how much of it is mental.
Once my confidence in my shots is gone, I pretty much stop going for them all together, or, when I do go for them, they're much weaker than they are when I'm in full confidence.
Just remember to trust the process!
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