For those of you who are newer to the sport (or those of you who play with a different scoring system), most matches in modern squash are scored as; the first player to get 11 points wins the game, and the best out of five games wins (the first player to win three games).
When a match goes to the fifth, that means the games are tied at 2-2 and whoever wins the next game will win the match.
If you've ever had a 'five-setter' before, you'll know just how brutal that last game can be, so I decided to go through a few tips and approaches for the fifth game in a blog post...
I've been playing quite a lot of squash recently, mostly team matches with a bit of training in between.
The last three competitive matches I've played over the past 10 days or so have all gone to the fifth. Needless to say, my body is certainly feeling the effect of those matches.
I've been stretching, however, I'm pretty sore and my muscles are very tight. I've got two blood blisters on my foot, and my back also hurts.
It goes without saying that five-set squash matches are a pretty tough physical test, and, after some analysis of my recent five-setters, I noticed that the fifth game in a match is very different from the previous four.
Chances are when you reach the fifth game, you'll be tired, sweaty, maybe out of breath, maybe sore, and you might also be struggling mentally. This physical and mental fatigue often has a direct impact on decision-making and shot accuracy when you get back on the court for the final game.
My first tip when it comes to tackling the fifth game would be to use all the time you have between the fourth and fifth game. When you come off the court after either winning or losing the fourth, take as long as you can (or as long as the referee allows) to compose yourself.
If you won the fourth game, try to keep yourself mentally pumped up so you don't lose that momentum when you get back on the court. Don't get too comfortable even if you're won the fourth comfortably!
If you lost the fourth game, you may be a bit frustrated so it's important to calm your mind if possible. Take sips of water (not big gulps), take deep breaths, and begin to think about your game plan for the fifth.
On a side note, the image below is of Malaysian pro, Eain Yow Ng, after beating Miguel Rodgriguez in the fifth. I thought it was a very good depiction of a player who's put absolutely everything into a match, and it's paid off!
Image from Inside The Games website
Anyway, a game plan is pretty essential for the fifth game. Your approach depends on how tired you are and how tired your opponent appears (be careful they're not bluffing). Chances are, if you've both made it to the fifth game, you'll both be of a similar standard and you'll both be pretty tired at least to some degree.
Whatever you do, try not to focus on the previous game, focus on your plan and that'll help keep you engaged in the game.
If you can, I'd say the best approach for the fifth game is to just take things back to the basics. It's going to be very tempting to go for winners to try to get easy points, however, as I mentioned above your shots will deteriorate with fatigue, so chances of hitting super accurate winners are lower than normal.
If you think your opponent is more tired than you, try to keep it as simple as possible, volley when possible, and just keep those rallies going. If you believe you can grind it out, that's the best way to play the fifth. Let your opponent make those mistakes, you want to be taking as few risks as possible.
Every single point counts.
If you're more tired than your opponent, unfortunately, there's no easy solution. Try not to make it too obvious that you're struggling, and try to keep those rallies as slow as you can to conserve energy.
Also, take your time in between points (within reason of course). What I mean by this is don't rush to serve if you've just won the point, and don't rush back to your corner if you've just lost it. I often see frustrated players rushing things in the fifth game and it often proves to be their downfall.
A basic, calm and collected approach is your best friend.
My last tip: don't give up.
Anything can happen in that last game, the fifth is always unpredictable and comebacks happen very often.
Regardless of whether you win or lose the fifth game, I would imagine that most players wouldn't be pleased with themselves unless they gave it everything that they could.
Fight for every single point and you can be proud of the performance you put in.
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