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Alex Robertson
By Alex Robertson on September 06, 2023

Reading Your Opponent's Game: Strategies for Anticipating Shots

Being able to accurately anticipate your opponent's shots is a very powerful weapon to have under your belt in squash.

There are a bunch of factors that can influence what shot your opponent is going to play (and when they will play it).

If you can acknowledge these factors and use them to make accurate predictions of what your opponent is going to do, you can then take balls earlier, move your opponent around the court, and set yourself up for winners.

In this blog post, I'll be going through some different tips and tricks for anticipating your opponent's next shot. This will hopefully help you to formulate your own strategy before and during close matches, which could give you that crucial edge that leads to victory...

Before I dive in, I want to note that I will be talking about around 7 or 8 different things that can indicate what shot your opponent is going to play next and what sort of strategy they will deploy against you.

During a fast-paced game of squash, you won't be able to think about all of these points at once in the split second between your shots, but, the more you consider each one, the more they'll become an innate part of your game.

Just make sure not to rely 100% on your predictions as squash players can be tricky and deceptive, and, once they send you in the wrong direction, that's more or less it.

It's also pretty likely that you will already do a few of these already, but, it doesn't hurt to learn a few more!

Body Language & Positioning Clues

This is probably the main thing that players look at when trying to predict what shot their opponent is going to play next.

Watch a player's body language before they strike the ball, including the positioning of their shoulders, hips, and racquet, can provide hints about their shot direction.

For example, if they're pinned in the back corner and their shoulders and body are also facing the back corner (or even the back wall), you can usually assume that they're going to play a boast, or a straight drive if they're a little better at digging it out.

Positioning is probably the biggest factor here. If they're on the T and your shot is a little weaker, it can be pretty much impossible to predict what they're going to do.

However, if you have control of the T, then you may be moving your opponent from corner to corner, and you can try to predict when they're going to play a weak shot for you to capitalise on by taking early and going for a winner.

If you notice their hips rotate slightly, they could be attempting a deceptive boast, if they are getting low, they may be playing a drop shot, if they're shaping up with a high backswing (and your shot is quite high), they may be going for a low, hard kill shot.

Some players give more away than others, so it's important to analyze your opponent's patterns too...

Study Their Patterns

Most players have certain habits and patterns, and, more often than not, they are unaware of them.

Try to take into account what shot your opponent plays from certain positions or after certain shots, do they tend to drive the ball cross-court every time after a boast? Do they never play a volley drop? Do they always play a cross-court drive from the forehand at the back of the court?

Recognizing these tendencies can give you a jump-start on your own positioning and shot selection.

If you know what's coming, you can jump on it early and take a lot of time away from your opponent.

Predicting Offense and Defense

Knowing whether you're on the offence or the defence is a very important thing to be aware of during a rally.

The tables can shift very quickly in squash, and, if you feel as though you're on the attack (for example, if your opponent is scrambling and struggling to retrieve shots), then you can anticipate that they may play a defensive shot such as a lob or a boast.

If you're dictating the rally by attacking shot after shot, then you shouldn't be in a defensive position or being tempted to play any defensive shots because that's just a wasted opportunity.

On the other hand, if you feel as though you're on the defensive, you can anticipate that your opponent may try to go for a winner or two, so, as tiring as it may be, you need to keep those front corners covered after every shot.

Once you turn the tables back in your favour and begin to be on the offensive again, try to maintain this momentum and keep your opponent on the back foot. 

What Type Of Court Are You Playing On?

The temperature of the court and the way that it is playing has a pretty big impact on what shots your opponent is likely to play. However, this also applies to you too, your opponent can easily use this to predict your shot selection, so you need to do the same to even the odds and put you both on more of a level playing field..

A good example of this is, there's a court at a club near me that has very skiddy walls. If you hit a very hard low cross-court that hits the side wall first, it flies off at a very weird angle.

The players who know the court well play that shot very often in order to get easy points, however, if you're aware of this already, you can capitalize on it by predicting that cross-court and pouncing on it early.

Now this is quite a specific example, and things like this are actually quite hard to notice unless you've played on the specific court numerous times.

But, there are some obvious factors that you can acknowledge right from the start of the game.

Note the temperature of the court, if it's cold, it's likely that your match will consist of a lot of high, floaty shots, and soft drop shots (as the ball will die quickly). If it's a hot court, then the game is likely to be faster with a lot of harder, lower shots, and, rallies are likely to be longer with a lot of straight and cross-court drives.

Once you're aware of this, you can incorporate it into your game plan and predict your opponent's shot choices.

Also, during the warm-up, experiment with different paces and spins to see how the ball hits off of the front wall and how it bounces out of the back corners.

Different courts play differently depending on the material (e.g. plaster, wood, concrete, or glass), so, it's important to be aware of this!


Photo credit: Steve Cubbins

I've included an image of Mohamed ElShorbagy above, one of my favourite players of all time.

Aged 32, he's achieved an incredible amount throughout his squash career and, while currently sitting at World No.3, is still playing very strong squash.

He's more of a veteran of professional squash in comparison to a lot of other top players and, I think that one of his best weapons is his ability to adapt and change his tactics based on what his opponent is doing.

He often changes his strategy in the middle of matches and games by taking into account the style of his opponent, which is a very clever way of playing that not many others can pull off during a fast-paced match situation.

Anyway, onto the next tip...

Know Thyself: The Power of Self Awareness

Something I cover a lot in the On The 'T' Newsletter is the importance of knowing your own game and what player type you are.

Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses is an important part of creating a game plan and also figuring out what to work on in training to get improve your game.

However, self-awareness also plays a big role in predicting your opponent's shot choices. Remember, their game plan will be orientated around targetting your weaknesses.

If you're aware of your vulnerable spots, you can preemptively guard against them.

For example, if backhand volleys are not your strong suit, be ready to defend against high or hard straight and cross-court drives targeting that side.

Even if you struggle with that shot, if you can take it as early as possible based on an accurate prediction of your opponent's shot, you can still take time away from them and minimise the impact of your weaker shot at the same time.

There are a few things you can do to figure out your weaknesses. Often, it's as easy as asking a friend or person you play with regularly, or, you could begin recording your matches on camera and watching them back too.

Knowledge is power!

Know Your Enemy

Knowing your opponent's style and pattern of play is arguably more important than being aware of your own weaknesses.

If you've faced your opponent before, it's like having a sneak peek into their playbook. Recall their patterns, favored shots, and areas of strength. Did they repeatedly use a drop shot off the boast, or, did they always play a counter drop after you play a drop?

Use this knowledge in your game plan and try to remember what their patterns of play were like. However, if you beat them the last time you played them, remember that they may have practiced new techniques and strategies, so be on your toes!

If you haven't played them before, then use every opportunity to your advantage. Ask other players who have played them for information, and, study their habits in the warm-up and the early stages of the game.

Make sure not to waste any time!

Another very important thing to be aware of is whether or not your opponent is a deceptive player, then you should keep in mind that they may be showing one shot, but may play a different one.

In this case, your predictions of what shot they might play are much less likely to be accurate, so don't rely on them too much

This leads onto the next point!

Don't Gamble

Depending on their positioning, their abilities, and their style, your opponent has a certain number of options depending on where they are on the court and what shot you played too.

If your opponent has a lot of options, then it is not wise to try to predict what shot they're going to play next. It's all about hedging your bets and giving yourself the best chance of being accurate.

It's always a gamble when it comes to predicting your opponent's next shot.

If you've hit a weaker shot to the front (such as a boast), your opponent may shape up with a large backswing as if they're going to crack it to the back again, but, they may play a drop instead.

In fact, from this position they can play almost any shot, so, from a gambling point of view, it's certainly best not to put all your eggs in one basket and start moving to one corner before they have hit the ball.

If you guess wrong, it's very unlikely that you'll reach their shot.

It's all about risk and reward. If you guess wrong in many situations, you're very likely to lose the point, however, even if you guess right, will it guarantee you a point? Probably not, but it may put you in a good position.

At the end of the day, it's always going to be a guess, so, make it as informed as possible and ask yourself, is the reward worth the risk?

Practice Your Peripheral Vision

I have actually written a full article about peripheral vision in the past (which you can read by clicking here).

In the article, I define peripheral vision as:

'the ability to perceive objects and movements outside the direct line of sight. It encompasses the field of view that extends beyond the central focus of our eyes.

In squash, peripheral vision plays a crucial role in deciding which shot you play, anticipating your opponent's shots, and maintaining situational awareness on the court.'

Peripheral vision is great for analysing your opponent's movements even when they're not directly in your line of sight.

It's a tricky skill to master, but, it can be incredibly helpful for shot prediction too.

For example, let's say your opponent has played a boast and you're moving into the front to retrieve it, while focusing on the ball, your peripheral vision might catch your opponent behind you shifting to the side to pick off your cross court drive with a straight hard volley drive.

If you catch this, you can play a straight drive or drop instead to catch them off-guard. This definitely takes a lot of skill, but, the rewards can be great!

Final Thoughts

I don't have a lot more to say about this topic, but, I think the most important thing to remember is that anticipating your opponent's shot is always going to be a guess.

Your guessing accuracy won't always be 100% accurate, and, if you find yourself repeatedly losing points from guessing, perhaps it's not the right strategy for that particular match.

Like everything in squash, the ability to do this will improve more and more over time with practice, so be patient!

If you can get better and better at predicting your opponent's patterns of play and shot selection, you'll develop an excellent squash IQ which could mean the different between winning and losing.

Good luck!

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 September 6, 2023
Alex Robertson