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Alex Robertson
By Alex Robertson on February 08, 2024

When To Go For A Winner

While I'm writing this, I'm actually at the squash club as I'm playing in our local county closed tournament, so, squash is all around me and very fresh in my mind too.

I used my most recent match to think of possible topics, and, since a big part of my strategy for this particular match was to catch my opponent off-guard, use difficult angles, and go for winners at unexpected times.

I lost that match 3-1 against a much better player and I wasn't expecting to get a game, so I'm very happy with that result and I think the strategy worked well because my opponent (who I know very well), is very steady, very accurate, and very fit.

So, this unpredictable style of play stops him from being able to get into a rhythm.

This then made me think back to my first-round match which was a very different type of game. My strategy for that one was to keep my lengths tight, deep, and consistent, volley when possible, and then only go for winners after I had forced my opponent to return a weak shot.

I was expecting to win this match anyway, but, I know that this particular player is very fast and can be very dangerous at the front, so, if I was taking in any attempted winners, they needed to be very good and at the right time.

This led me to think about the different times you can go for winners and how that often changes depending on who you're playing, what type of player you are, and the stage of that match that you're in (as well as many other factors).

So, in this article, I'll be diving into when to go for a winner, including the different times, situations, and ways you can go for winners in matches and what types of players these approaches work best against...

When I talk about 'going for a winner', generally I'm referring to playing an attacking shot with the aim of your opponent not being able to reach it.

This could be a straight or cross court drop or volley drop, a crash nick, but, it could also be a trickle boast, a hold followed by a hard low cross court or straight shot, or, a low hard kill that dies mid-court.

Whatever the winner is that you go for, the topic of this blog post is about the different times you can go for them and the different approaches you can take...

After Waiting And Creating The Right Opportunity

Starting with the most traditional and perhaps the most obvious, generally, it's assumed that you should battle against your opponent with straight and crosscourt lengths until the right opportunity arises.

Often, this involves hitting repeatedly tight and accurate lengths so your opponent isn't able to return it with a tight shot, or, so they have to scramble to get to it and hit a weaker shot from being out of position.

Then, they may hit a shot that's loose from the side wall that you can pounce on and take in short with a drop or kill, or, they may just have to hit a boast from the back of the court because your length was so good.

You'll most likely be in full control of the T when you go for your winner in this case.

Generally, waiting and creating the right opportunity to go for a winner is the go-to strategy for squash players. Especially if you're playing someone new and don't have a more specific game plan in mind.

It's a more passive approach and it definitely works better for some types of players compared to others.

Speaking personally, I like mixing things up and going for winners, so, when I try to deploy this style, I'm often not as good at it as my opponent is, so, they may get more chances than me to go for winners.

With that said, if I'm feeling off my game or a little nervous, it's often a good approach to revert back to this more traditional approach as it allows you to get back into a rhythm.

This approach definitely takes a bit more fitness, consistency, and patience to execute well.

You need to be able to hit tight and accurate shots on a consistent basis, then establish control of the T, and then start hunting for the volley.

Even when a potential opportunity for a winner comes up, if it's still very early in the rally, your opponent isn't likely to be very tired just yet, so, they've got more chance of being able to move into the front and retrieve it.

This steady approach often works best when you wait a while before going for that winner.

If you get one, two, or even three clear chances to take it in short, but, you just play it to the back again, it can make your opponent start to hang back and wait for you to play more lengths.

Then, it's the perfect time to go for your winner as it has a good chance of catching your opponent off-guard, and, if they're just expecting another length and are hanging back, they have further to move to get to the front, and, they'll have to shift their momentum quite heavily too.

So, overall I'd say that the 'waiting for the right opportunity' approach best suits those steady players who like to bide their time and make sure they feel as though they're in full control of the rally before going for the riskiest shot (the winner).

It works best against players who may be a little more erratic in their style. This style probably works well against me, for example, because I like mixing it up, changing the pace, and going for more unorthodox shots.

If someone is just consistently pinning me in the back of the court, there's already a good chance I'll go for something or make a mistake, but, when they choose to go for a winner, I'll usually not be expecting it since I've fallen into the rhythm of retrieving all of their straight and cross court lengths.

From Somewhere Unorthodox Or Unexpected

This one is all about your positioning on the court when you play your winner.

The main shot that comes into my mind when I think of going for a winner from somewhere unorthodox would be the drop shot or cross court drop shot from the back of the court.

Of course, this sort of shot is a high-risk, high-reward one to go for and one that takes a little more skill and accuracy to pull off.

However, it can be an excellent way to catch your opponent off-guard, especially if the game or rally has been very steady so far.

If your opponent plays in the style I mentioned above of hitting length after length until an opportunity comes up, then, playing an unexpected drop off of one of their lengths can definitely catch them by surprise.

Even if they get to your drop shot and manage to return it, if it's good enough, it should tire them out a little, break up the steady pace of play, and also disrupt their movement pattern a little too.

But, going back to that risk, not only is there the danger of it hitting the tin, but, if you're going for a drop from the back of the court, that would mean that it's likely that your opponent is on the T.

They don't have too far to move to get to your shot, so, if it comes out loose or wide, your opponent now has a very big opportunity to counter with an attack of their own whilst you're still moving out of the back corner.

The drop shot from the back of the court isn't one I personally play very often, however, I would love to try and incorporate it a little more into my game.

There is a great drill for practicing it and I actually play this particular drill pretty often. It's called drop drive and it's basically just one player at the back hitting straight drop shots to the front of the court, then, their partner moves in, and players a straight drive to the back. Pretty straight forward!

Anyway, there are also some other unorthodox places to go for a winner, for example, if your opponent has hit a very powerful drive, they won't be expecting you to go for a winner off of it, mainly because it's a high-risk shot to go for since it's much harder to control the ball when it's hit hard.

The same goes for going for a winner from a tight shot. If your opponent plays a tight length, they won't be expecting you to go for a winner, so, if you do, yes, it's high risk, but, it could pay off if you hit your target.

Another example is a shot that I play quite often, and that's the cross court drop off of the cross court drive.

It's quite hard to explain the specific situation I'm talking about, but basically, let's say I've played a boast and my opponent plays a hard cross court shot that is volleying height, as they move back to the T, I can move laterally behind them and cut that shot off as early as possible with a cross court drop into the front corner.

Often, they're not expecting you to take the ball from just behind them, and, their momentum will generally be going back toward T and toward the cross court drive that they've just hit, so, when I take it early back into the corner they've just moved out of, they have to make a big change of direction to scramble and get to that shot.

I mean, going for a winner at any time carries it's risks, but, doing so when you're under pressure, out of position, or in an awkward area of the court is even higher risk, so, if you're going to utilise this approach, do so sparingly.

Going for a winner from somewhere unexpected once or twice in a game will force your opponent to start to have to cover that shot which can take it's toll physically too.

I would say these kinds of winners work best in the latter stages of matches when your opponent may be a bit fatigued. I think they also work best against very steady players, because, as I mentioned before, it really does a great job of breaking up their rhythm and movement patterns.


Photo credit: Steve Cubbins

Countering Off Of Your Opponent's Attempted Winner

The counter is a great attacking shot to go for, especially if you're trying to break your opponent's rhythm and use their momentum against them.

Let's take the most obvious example, the counter drop.

If your opponent plays a drop shot, they will most likely be moving back out to the T, so, if you come in and get on it as fast as you can to play another drop shot, your opponent is going to have to completely change direction and move back into the front again, which can really take it's toll physically.

This is the case for most counter attacks.

Other examples of this can include a cross court drop off of your opponent's straight drop, low hard cross court or straight kill off of your opponent's drop shot, or, pretty much any attacking shot after your opponent has just played an attacking shot.

A personal favourite of mine is playing a trickle boast off of your opponent's drop shot or boast. This can really mess with their movement and positioning as the ball often bounces with a funny angle or spin, limiting your opponent's opportunity to get to it and play an effective shot off of it.

Of course, your ability to go for this type of winner is based solely on the quality of your opponent's attempted winner, and, your positioning when they play it.

If you're scrambling to get it or it's very tight to the side wall, for example, then perhaps this isn't the best time to go for a winner of your own, instead, it's probably the best approach to lift the ball with some height to buy yourself some time.

The counter attack is actually one of the safer winners to go for in comparison to the others. If you're already at the front of the court, you're a lot closer to your target which limits your risk of hitting an unforced error.

The biggest risks involve hitting a poor shot of your own that your opponent can then smack to the back of the court and most likely win that point, or, giving away a stroke, or, going for too tight a margin and still making that unforced error.

Also, counter attacks can work very well against all types of player if I'm being honest. It breaks up the rhythm of steadier players, and, even more unorthodox, attacking players often won't be expecting the counter attack.

My main piece of advice for this shot, as is the same for most other types of winners, is to use it sparingly.

If your opponent starts to catch on that you play a counter drop off of their drop shot every single time, they'll start waiting for it and will be able to win some easy points if they get to your counter early enough.

In fact, as I'm writing this, I'm beginning to consider incorporating more counter drops into my own game too, and, that's why I love writing these articles!

Early In The Rally

This kind of shot has been on my mind recently.

Last week I focused the article on Egyptian squash and one section discussed the Egyptian style of play.

I mentioned that a friend of mine who is a coach had been at the British Junior Open where every single title was won by an Egyptian. He was talking about how they were playing and he said they didn't always wait around to go for a winner.

If an opportunity came up in the rally, they would capitalise on it and attack, whether that was within the first few shots, or, a minute in.

The more I think about it, the more sense this makes.

I was talking to a gentleman at this tournament about my previous match, and, he said something along the lines of 'you don't want to take it in too early against Liam' (my opponent), and then I said 'why not'?

And I'm still thinking about that now. Liam is definitely fitter than me and I think he is more consistent with his lengths as well, so, what do I have to gain from extending the rallies? Nothing really.

Instead, I should be taking my chances whenever they come about.

Of course, there are a lot more contextual elements that come into play here such as the score, the stage of the match, and Liam's more specific strengths and weaknesses, but, I'm starting to think that this 'go for it whenever you get the chance' approach should be talked about and practiced.

I mean, this won't always be the best approach, for example, if you're strategy and gameplan against an opponent who you're perhaps fitter than is to wear them out and grind them down physically, then this approach may not be the best one, but, there's no denying that it's very effective if you can do it well like the Egyptians can.

Again, I guess this is a high-risk approach, but, is going for a winner in the first three shots any more dangerous than going for one twenty shots in? I don't know...

I think the biggest risk for this is getting ahead of yourself and making a mistake. If you've got it in your head that you want to go for a winner early in the rally, you may be tempted to go for that winner at the wrong time just for the sake of it.

I know that when I get tired in the later stages of a match, it becomes more and more tempting to just go for a nick off of the serve. But, that's just out of desperation rather than tactical prowess.

It's also important to be fully certain of what is a good opportunity, versus just a bad shot from your opponent.

What I mean by this is, if you're on the T and your opponent hits a very hard shot that comes right out into the middle towards you, this is a bad shot from them, but maybe not an opportunity to go for a winner since you're going to have to jump back and control that hard shot.

Whereas, if you're on the T and your opponent hits a medium-paced cross court that doesn't have enough width on it, this could be the perfect time to step across and go for a hard low straight kill, or, a soft volley drop shot.

So, the key message for this type of winner is to choose your moment and shot wisely, but, don't worry about when in the rally you're doing it!

I think this is one of the key differences between Egyptian squash players and the rest of the world, so it's definitely an interesting one to think about.

Final Thoughts

I think the key takeaway from this blog post is that there isn't one answer for 'when is the best time to go for a winner'.

There's not a formula for success, but rather just good opportunities based on who you're playing, the stage of the match, and your own strengths and weaknesses.

Hopefully this has encouraged you to think a little more about how you incorporate winners into your own strategy on court, I know it's done that for me!

I have one more match to play in this tournament, so, I will definitely be practicing some of what I have written in this article!

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 February 8, 2024
Alex Robertson