I'm in a squash group chat with a bunch of my friends and I often run potential article topics off the rest of the group to get their ideas and feedback.
Well, the other day we were discussing the topic of playing against left-handed players and how they can be dangerous in comparison to right-handed players (a topic that I will definitely be covering in a future article).
One point that my friend brought up was that lefties are most dangerous on their forehand, which, if you're right-handed, is your backhand side. He went on to say that, since most squash rallies are played down the backhand side, then left-handers have more opportunities to attack.
I responded with 'yes, that's very true, but, why are most squash rallies played down the backhand?'
Nobody had a particularly solid answer and we began discussing it a little more.
After also doing some research of my own, it seemed that there hasn't been a lot of discussion online into why squash rallies are played mostly on the backhand side either.
It's a well-known aspect of the sport, so, it's definitely worth thinking about. After watching some professional squash and doing some deep thinking, I believe that I've come up with a few potential reasons why this might be.
Let's dive in...
Now, this isn't the case for every single squash rally and match ever, but, it's the norm on average during squash matches. Especially as the standard of player increases.
Generally, with beginners, shots are kind of all over the court and you never really know where it's going to go, but, as players develop and learn how to build and construct rallies using lengths to put pressure on their opponent, more and more of their rallies will involve the backhand length.
If you look right to the top level, it's much more obvious that rallies involving professional squash players are more weighted toward the backhand.
Now, as I mentioned, I did do some research into this online because it's quite a widely acknowledged part of squash.
However, I really didn't find many articles on the topic in particular, but, I did want to just include one piece of evidence to prove that the backhand straight length is probably the most common shot in squash.
Below is a graph from Cross Court Analytics that looked at a game between Mostafa Asal and Mohamed El Shorbagy, two of the best players in the world right now...
Image from Cross Court Analytics
As you can see, the bottom left number circled for each player represents the percentage of shots hit into that region from that region (the deep left), which is the backhand side.
So essentially that is the percentage of backhand lengths that either player played from the backhand back corner. It's far more than on the forehand side. Now, they didn't have the same graph of shots being played from the back forehand side, but, I think that the point still stands!
In fact, the number slightly above that also shows that both players were using harder, lower, more aggressive kill lengths much more on the backhand side from the back than the forehand side.
Anyway, I don't think that there is one specific, overarching reason why more backhands are played than forehands in squash, I think it's actually a combination of reasons.
The points I'm going to make below are just based on my own research, knowledge, and opinions, so if you disagree with any or have any other ideas, please feel free to send them my way!
The Backhand Swing Is More Natural
Generally, I would say that the backhand swing is more fluid and more natural feeling than the forehand swing.
Of course, for beginner players, this may not be the case, but, once you're comfortable with both your forehand and backhand swings, I would say that the followthrough and release feel much smoother on the backhand side.
If you think about playing a forehand, the followthrough ends with your arm crossed over the front of your body, which isn't a particularly natural, controlled position for it to be in.
However, if you think about playing a backhand, your followthrough ends up with your arm straight and away from your body, which is a much more natural position.
Fluidity is a huge part of squash.
All of your movements, footwork, swing, and shots involve a set of fluid motions that you repeat again and again during rallies.
The smoother the better.
So, if it's true that the backhand swing is more natural and fluid than the forehand swing, then it makes sense for players to gravitate to that backhand side to stay in a nice rhythm.
Alternatively, if you're having to play lots of forehands, it might not feel as comfortable to do again and again since a little more coordination is involved with the followthrough.
The Backhand Side Is Generally More Defensive
I guess this could be classed as quite a vague statement, but, as a whole, I'd say that the backhand side could be considered to be more defensive than the forehand side.
The main reason I say this is because I believe that backhands are perhaps easier to control when you're slowing the game down, but, it's much harder to play harder attacking shots on the backhand side.
In fact, I'd also say that it's harder to take the ball in front of yourself with a backhand too (which is often the best way to speed up the pace of the rally or begin an attack).
This is because, when you take the ball in front of yourself, you tend to use more wrist to control the ball rather than your whole arm. It's a lot harder to hit using your wrist and flick shots accurately on the backhand side compared to the forehand side.
I think it's also a lot harder to play aggressive volleys on the backhand side. It can be pretty risky going for a hard, attacking volley straight down the line on the backhand because, if it clips the side wall or pops out, you're at a high risk of giving away a stroke.
Because of the way the movement and swing works on the backhand, I find that it takes just that little bit longer to push out and get out of the way of your opponent's shot if you take it early and straight with a backhand.
However, with a forehand, I find it much easier to volley with controlled pace and aggression, and I believe that there's less risk of a stroke on this side of the court.
Of course, different players have different strengths and some players may be far more threatening on the backhand side, but, I'm just speaking in generalities here.
At the core of squash, players generally play a more defensive game until the rally speeds up or someone creates an opportunity, and, I think that hitting slow or medium-paced lengths and lifts is much easier on the backhand side in comparison to the forehand side.
However, I would also add that, another reason why players mostly keep it straight on the backhand side is because, if you play a cross court, I believe that it's much easier for your opponent to volley and attack on the forehand side compared to the backhand side, which leads me on to my next point...
Photo credit: Steve Cubbins
Forehands Are More Threatening & Harder To Predict
Most players, especially those of beginner to intermediate standard, are able to hit the ball harder on the forehand than on the backhand and do so with a bit of control as well as deception.
I think this is because you can access a bit more whip through the ball and really put your body into the forehand swing. This is definitely the case for newer players to any racquet sport in my opinion.
However, over time this may change, I'm now not sure whether I can hit it harder on the forehand or the backhand side, but, I think most players would say that they can hit a forehand the hardest out of the two.
Anyway, as I touched on above, since the backhand side is often a little more defensive, most players probably have a more aggressive set of shots on the forehand side.
The threat of a forehand volley is high, and, it's often easier to go for low, hard crash nicks and kills from the forehand too.
Plus, deception is also another big factor here. One key difference between the forehand and backhand sides is that it's easier to hit a cross court from the forehand side, even if the ball is behind you.
This is because you can get your racquet behind the ball more easily and flick your wrist inwards and around yourself, opening up a wider angle.
On the backhand side, it's much harder to get behind the ball and flick your wrist outward, as you need to get your full body behind the ball to play a backhand, especially out of the back corner.
This makes it easier for players to add some extra deception on the forehand too, because they don't have to whip their full body round to play a cross court like they do on the backhand.
Instead, with a forehand, you can keep your body still and positioned over the ball and then flick a cross court at the last second without your opponent predicting it.
It's much harder to read if a player is going to hit a cross court from the forehand side, whether it's a cross court drop or a cross court drive. This can cause some real problems, so players often tend to be a little more cautious when hitting the ball over to the forehand.
For that reason, it's usually the safer bet to try to control the rally from the backhand side instead.
The Backhand Assists Movement Back To The T More
Although it is certainly true that, to execute a full fluid movement back to the T from your shot, players use their followthrough to give their body the momentum to move back toward the T, I believe that this is more the case on the backhand side in comparison to the forehand side.
This relates to the point I made earlier regarding the backhand swing feeling more natural. I think that the mechanics of the backhand swing naturally position your body to regain a central position on the court.
The followthrough of a backhand swing propels your body back toward the center of the court, setting you up for your next shot. The efficiency of the backhand swing basically becomes a seamless transition from shot execution to strategic court positioning
Playing this fluid style of squash is much more comfortable for most players, which is another reason why they may choose to play most of their shots predominantly on the backhand side.
I do think the forehand swing does propel you back to the T as well, but, I don't think it's as natural or seamless as it is on the backhand.
It must instead be practiced a little more because it's not as comfortable based on the position your body and arm are in as you finish a forehand swing.
It's Easier To Keep It Straight On The Backhand
Last, but not least, I think that it's easier to play an accurate straight drive on the backhand side.
With regard to body positioning, I find it easier to engage my core and stay balanced over the ball as I swing through a backhand length. This is partly because, since your swing ends with your arm out to one side, you can use your other arm to spread your weight and stay balanced.
In contrast, on the forehand side, I find that it can be a little harder to keep my shoulders squared and my head straight forward while I execute my shot because I'm swinging across my body.
At the end of a forehand swing, both of your arms are technically on the same side of your body, which makes it a lot more difficult to stay balanced and in control of the execution of your shot.
This makes it a little harder to keep it straight on the forehand in comparison.
When it comes to your wrist, it's also much easier to let your wrist go loose on the forehand which is perhaps better for power but worse for accuracy (a factor that is involved in most of my other points this week too).
Whereas on the backhand, your wrist is generally locked for the followthrough which helps you guide the ball straight in a controlled way. This minimises the tendency for unwanted slices or curves too.
Whether you're sending the ball strategically down the wall or crafting a soft straight drop shot, the backhand's alignment helps players to keep their shots straight with greater consistency.
After writing this blog post, I'm not certain that I've uncovered the key reason why most squash rallies are played down the backhand.
One of the main reasons I still feel a little unsure is because all players play in different styles.
Some players are incredibly attacking, others are much more defensive, however, they do all seem to focus their game on that backhand straight length.
However, I do believe that I've learned quite a lot about the differences between the forehand and the backhand when it comes to movement, positioning, swing technique, and shot selection.
I think the most convincing points I made are the ones that focus on the more defensive elements of squash rallies. These are essential for tactically building a foundation at the start of rallies, before changing the tempo or going for more attacking shots and winners.
Anyway, this was still a very interesting topic to write about and I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject too, so please feel free to get in touch if you think I've missed something or if you'd like to elaborate on a point!
Thanks for reading.
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