I like to think that my style of play is quite deceptive. I like to experiment with tricky shots with the aim of sending my opponent the wrong way or forcing a weak shot out of them.
However, last week I came up against who was far more deceptive than myself in what turned out to be a very challenging match. I ended up losing 3-1 and every game was pretty close.
Despite the loss, I was actually pretty happy with this result, I wasn't expecting to get that close to this particular player as he had recently beaten the best three players in my league (all 3-0) over the past few months, all of whom I'd also class as better than me.
After the match, I thought a bit about why I did so well. I came to believe that it might be down to the fact that I'm so used to the deceptive style of play myself and I was able to read a lot of his shots and execute a slightly different game plan that restricted his ability to play them. I actually really enjoyed the match for this reason, but everyone I've spoken to says that they really didn't enjoy playing this guy.
It's quite a common theme that most players really don't enjoy playing deceptive players, so I thought it might be helpful to some of you readers if I were to use my experience in deception and give you some tips on tactics that work well against those tricky, deceptive players...
I've spoken to a few friends of mine about why they hate playing deceptive players so much and the common theme is that these tricky players don't allow their opponents to get comfortable in any sort of rhythm.
Tricky players disrupt the general flow of the match with their strange timings and flicky wrists. The player I mentioned in the introduction is known for being very tricky to play against. His holds and last-minute flicks are incredibly hard to predict.
This kept me constantly on edge as I never knew when he was going to attack and take it in to the front corners. So, as I also mentioned in the introduction, I had to slightly change my game plan to reduce his ability to use that deception, this leads me to my first tip for playing against deceptive players...
Stay Focused, Patient, and Consistent
Mentally, it can be very draining and frustrating to play tricky players. This makes it pretty hard to focus on your own game because you're always thinking about what they're going to do instead.
Focus and patience are two of the most important things to remember. It can be easy to become flustered by their deceptive shots, but losing your focus will only make things worse.
Instead, take your time and focus on each shot, it's vital to look for every opportunity you can to gain the advantage yourself. If they're going for winners all the time, you might be tempted to do this yourself, but this is just playing right into the deceptive player's strengths.
Instead, try to stay consistent with your own shots and game plan. Focus on tightness and accuracy and make sure not to give them any easy opportunities to volley or take the ball early.
Only take it in to the front corners when you're confident that your shot will be accurate. Also, make sure to do it at the right time and not too often, patience and timing are absolutely key.
It takes a strong mindset to stick with this playing style for a whole match, but I can assure you, you don't want the alternative of getting sucked into their style of play.
Watch the Ball
This one is a little more straightforward...
Tricky players often use their body language and movement to disguise their shots, but the ball itself will always tell you where it is going. Focus on the ball and follow its trajectory, rather than getting distracted by your opponent's movements or feints.
Often, if they exaggerate a certain motion, position, movement, or swing, chances are, the ball is going to go in a direction you're not expecting at all.
Make sure not to make any assumptions and move before they've played the ball, just stay on your toes on the T and be ready to split step and move as fast as possible to retrieve their shot.
I appreciate that this can be pretty tiring, but it beats losing the point right?
This ties in nicely to the next tip...
Move Quickly and Efficiently
Deceptive players often try to disrupt their opponent's movement and positioning by playing the ball into all corners of the court. It's pretty rare for a deceptive player to play a lot of deep shots in a row, they'll often go from front to back to front to back instead.
This can be a real killer physically. It'll begin to affect your muscles, your lungs, and then your mind, which can lead to poor shot decision-making further down the line.
To counteract this, focus on your own movement and positioning, using efficient footwork and anticipation to stay one step ahead of your opponent.
I would advise standing a little further up the court when you're on the T as, generally, deceptive players are at their most dangerous when they take the ball into those front corners, and they can also be very attacking in the mid-court area with low kills.
Generally, they won't be able to do much damage when playing to the back of the court so it should be safe to use that positive T positioning.
Make sure to stay on your toes as much as possible to optimise the speed at which you can split step and push off the T.
You're going to need to react fast as, when deceptive players hold the ball, there's no telling the moment at which they'll choose to actually play the shot, so you'll have to be in a state of constant readiness.
With that said, efficiency is key, any time the ball goes to the back of the court, take your time and don't move too fast, you need to save that energy for when you have to change directions fast.
It's easy to get sucked into a frantic, inefficient movement style so it's vital that you try to stay calm and composed during rallies.
Vary Your Shots and Look for Patterns
Tricky players often use their deception to lure their opponents into making mistakes, so it's important to vary your shots and avoid falling into predictable patterns.
I know I mentioned keeping it steady and deep with tightness and accuracy, but the last thing you want is your deceptive opponent spotting a pattern in your game and then being able to predict your shot and move on it fast to attack.
Mix up your shots, using a combination of length, width, and angle to keep your opponent guessing and off balance is a great option.
Equally (and surprisingly), many deceptive players have patterns in their own games and don't realise it. Speaking as a tricky player myself, I have a few favourite shots that I play from certain positions, and, if my opponent catches onto this, they'll be able to predict that shot and then take it early.
The opponent I mentioned in the introduction had a very noticeable deceptive shot that he played many times. In the mid-court area on the backhand side, he would often hold it for a very long time showing a drop shot but then play a drive. I must admit, the length of time he could hold before playing the ball was very impressive.
It caught me out very badly the first few times he did it, however, I noticed that he was never ever playing the drop shot. So, once I'd acknowledged that, I was mentally ready to move towards the drive.
It's important to know that I wasn't guessing here, I was just anticipating the shot before committing to move to intercept it. As there was still always a chance of him playing that drop.
Anyway, I ended up getting a good few points from this and he actually didn't use that hold at all in the third so he also must have realised it was no longer working.
Awareness is absolutely key against deceptive players. Be aware of their patterns of play and the shots they generally prefer to go for, you'll be surprised how obvious this can be! But, also be aware of your own patterns and try not to become too predictable on the court.
Keep the Pressure on
By keeping the pressure on, I don't mean just whacking every single shot as hard as you can, I mean playing a controlled, accurate game from start to finish and trying to maintain the T as much as possible.
I touched on this in the first tip, but, most of the time, going back to the basics is the best approach against tricksters. If you're hitting your drives deep and tight, your opponent will struggle to play their own game plan and will (hopefully) get sucked into the steady-length battles and longer rallies.
Volleying whenever you get the opportunity is a great way to apply pressure to your deceptive opponent. By keeping them on the back foot, you'll be minimising the opportunities that they have to go for winners.
Volley drives will keep them pinned to the back, and then a good volley drop will make them have to scramble into the front corner and, as long as your drops are good and accurate, they won't be able to do anything tricky in response.
Essentially, to apply pressure, you need to be confidently playing the right shot at the right time every time, which is of course far easier said than done.
Hitting hard shots can also be helpful, but it can also be very risky. Deceptive opponents will struggle to accurately play tricky shots if the ball is coming towards them fast as they're at their strongest when they have time on the ball to play their best shots.
However, if you're not particularly accurate with your power, the ball can still bounce out in the middle areas of the court very easily, and then you'll find yourself on the back foot very quickly.
If you're a more advanced player who can consistently and accurately hit with pace, then this approach could work well.
Stay Calm and Confident
Playing against a tricky player can be a mentally challenging experience, but it's important to stay calm and confident throughout the game. Remember that your opponent's deception is just one aspect of their game, and focus on your own strengths and abilities to gain the upper hand.
It can be so easy to get sucked into that frantic, out-of-sync type of match when playing a tricky player so it can be very hard to stay calm. It's all about taking every possible opportunity to take your time, take a deep breath, and playing an accurate shot.
In between points and in between games are the perfect time to gather yourself back together and prepare yourself for the next rally or game. Keep your head clear and your mind focused.
Confidence is also a must, if you're taking the ball into the front with some hesitation, a deceptive player is going to pounce on that and play a shot that's most likely going to be very hard to get back.
Play with conviction and play like you mean it, and you'll be fine!
Playing against a tricky and deceptive player in squash requires a combination of focus, patience, efficient movement, shot variation, pressure, and mental resilience.
By following these strategies, you can counteract your opponent's tactics and gain an advantage in the game.
Remember to stay focused on the ball, stay one step ahead of your opponent, and maintain a confident and positive mindset throughout the game.
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!