If there's one thing that pleases the crowd in professional squash, it's a crosscourt nick. It's a high-risk, high-reward shot, and it really gets people fired up.
From club-level players, the use of the crosscourt varies a lot. Some players play it regularly and confidently, some players never even try it, some players go for it every now and again but struggle to pull it off...
This blog post will hopefully help all of you gain access to this legendary shot. I'm going to be diving into the use of the crosscourt nick amongst the pros and then I'll discuss how to practice it, perfect it, and incorporate it into your game...
The crosscourt nick could be one of the most infamous and popular shots in squash, if you hit it right you essentially win the rally, but, if you hit it wrong, your opponent gets a major advantage.
To hit it right you need some serious confidence in your shot, you've got to believe that it's going to go into the nick, or you'll pay the price.
Before I dive in, I'll quickly explain what this shot is (in case any readers don't know). The crosscourt nick is basically when a player takes the ball on the volley attempting to hit the ball into the front corner nick on the opposite side of the court.
The nick is the juncture where the side wall meets the floor. If it rolls out of this juncture and your opponent has absolutely no chance of getting it back.
It takes some skill to play this shot consistently and effectively so you can bet that most top-level professionals utilise the crosscourt nick when they get the chance...
Crosscourt Nicks From The Pros
There's a good reason that the PSA post regular compilations of the best crosscourt nicks from players. These videos get a ton of views, so clearly, the squash audience loves crosscourt nicks.
However, from a professional player's perspective, it's also not often they get the opportunity to play a crosscourt nick. Professionals are obviously very accurate with their shots, all lengths and crosscourts are tight to the wall, which means that opportunities to go for winners are few and far between.
Ramy Ashour is likely one of the first people to come to mind when you think about professionals hitting winners. Ramy's ability to hit crosscourt nicks was absolutely next level.
He had such a smooth movement and swing, everything he did would flow like water and he just gave off this confident, smooth vibe whenever he played. If you type his name into YouTube and watch any match play videos, you're bound to see a few crosscourt nicks.
One great example of a trademark Ramy nick is in this video of Ramy Ashour vs Mohamed ElShorbagy.
If you've ever hit a crosscourt nick yourself, you'll know the feeling it gives you afterward. It gives you this huge confidence boost and gets you really hyped up for the next rally (or rallies).
So, when a professional player hits one in a high-pressure match situation with a huge audience, it gets everybody fired up and creates an awesome atmosphere.
I will often watch compilations like the Men's Shot of the Year - 2020 Contenders video to get myself motivated for a tough match. I highly advise you watch the PSA's shot of the month and shot of the year videos!
Image from PSA website
Practicing The Crosscourt Nick
First things first, the crosscourt nick is not a shot that should be played too often. But, if you play one every now and again, it'll put some serious pressure on your opponent as they'll have to make extra sure not to hit anything loose at volleying height if they know there's a chance you'll jump on the opportunity to hit a winner.
This is a shot that's usually either played from the middle/front of the court (on or just in front of the 'T' line) or, the back of the court (usually just behind the service box). The perfect height to hit a crosscourt nick from is just above head height, any higher or any lower and it becomes very tough to hit accurately.
Drill 1 - Crosscourt game with a feed
To practice the crosscourt nick from the middle/front of the court, a great drill is the front crosscourt game in which you can feed yourself. This drill is actually my favourite drill of all time as it allows you to get creative and practice your nicks!
Basically, to practice the middle/front court nick, you and your opponent will stand on, or just in front of, the 'T' line on either side, around halfway between the wall and the 'T'. The game is a crosscourt game in the front half of the court. Every shot you play has to go into your opponent's quarter and vice versa.
The twist is that you're allowed to feed yourself once before hitting the ball into your opponent's quarter, so basically, the ball will land in your quarter, you'll feed yourself one mid/high volley height feed and then go for a nick on your opponent's side, and they'll do the same back to you.
It's a pretty fast-paced drill and you can add in a ton of other conditions and bring points into it if you want.
Drill 2 - Crosscourt feed with a volley nick
To practice the crosscourt nick from the back/middle of the court, the most simple method is to get your training partner to stand on the 'T' line and feed you a high, soft crosscourt that's just above head hight, and you'll go for the crosscourt nick off of this feed.
To make it a little more competitive, you could always put a target down on the ground where the nick is that you're aiming for (I usually use a piece of paper), and count how many times you can hit the target.
When my coach taught me to play this shot, he said that the most important thing to do was to open up my body. It's crucial to use an open stance and spread your weight, raise your arm, keep your wrist high, and hit hard down on the ball towards that front crosscourt bottom corner.
You can play it with a bit of cut, or just hit it as flat as a pancake, just do whatever feels right for you. Have a bit of fun, try out different techniques, change up your wrist, it's a very personal shot in my opinion and a lot of pros play crosscourt nicks differently from other pros.
Just make absolutely sure to hit every crosscourt nick attempt with purpose.
Incorporating it into your game
A huge factor when it comes to playing this shot is confidence. Hitting a crosscourt nick regularly during practice in training is completely different to hitting one during a match.
Without sounding too cocky, in training, I can hit nicks pretty often with confidence. I don't believe that this is down to racquet work or skill, I believe it's down to confidence and being relaxed. I practice this shot all the time, just because I love playing it really.
In training, there's no pressure to hit that nick and there's no consequence if you miss it, you're fully relaxed and you know you won't lose a point, game, or even match if you mess it up.
In a game situation, on the other hand, the crosscourt nick is like a completely different shot. If you go for it and don't put maximum confidence and effort into it, chances are you'll mess it up.
It's difficult to describe, you'll have to actually try it out for yourself, but I firmly believe that hitting a crosscourt nick during a match situation is 5 times harder than it is in training.
Unfortunately, the only way to get used to playing this shot during a game is to go for it and just try it out. This means you might have to sacrifice a few points in games, but, it's a worthy investment if it means you can play the crosscourt nick in confidence in future matches.
Another thing you can do is videotape your match and watch it back. Look for the times when you go for a crosscourt nick, then make note of where you're playing the ball from, where your opponent is, and just analyse whether or not that was actually the right time to go for the shot.
It can feel right at the time, but that doesn't mean you're actually going for it at the right time, so it's important to watch yourself back via video!
Probably the most important piece of advice I have about going for a crosscourt nick is that you should never ever go for one out of anger. I see this so often, especially in junior players.
The player will lose a rally, get angry and frustrated and then they'll go for a powerful crosscourt nick off of their opponent's serve. This almost never works, this isn't a shot that should be played with any aggression or emotion behind it. You want to be completely relaxed mentally and confident.
You can feel when it's the right time to go for the nick, it's like a sixth sense. When the situation arises, you'll know exactly what to do.
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