Friday, July 30, 2010

Wake Up, Man! was an early presence of squash news and commentary on the web, and for that it should be praised. It is also a one-man show, so generous leeway should be extended when evaluating its convoluted layout and sluggish frequency of updates. But when the last update to be found on SquashTalk is nearly 20 days old, the response is just to shake your head and walk away. 

The U.S. is the country where much of the forward progress of squash is happening right now, so for SquashTalk to be the principal source of web-based news from the US is, at this point, embarrassing. Those interested in what's happening in squash have two main choices:, the leader in information about squash, and, the top aggregator of squash commentary. In the U.S., one should also check out the US Squash site, both for its association news but also its links to World Squash News and player blogs. 

But someone out there, some U.S.-based, aggressive, web-savvy, squashist techie, should put some energy into creating a web presence for US squash players we can be proud of. C'mon, man!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

'A Primer on the Game of Doubles Squash' — Peter Briggs

Some new edits in red...

Overall Strategy

1. The most important and critical decision in playing winning doubles is to pick a good partner and to practice with him or her regularly so you know what they do under pressure and what shots they like to hit, so you can position yourself accordingly for the opponents' counter-shot.

2. There are four corners in the court and only two people on a team. The simple goal is to split the team on the diagonal and hit to one of the open quadrants.

3. Always hit deep before you shoot short. 

4a. Attack cross court to open up the court.
4b. Move laterally on the red line, not in a box step, when rotating with your opponent so you don't get blocked out.

5. Center your attack on the weaker player on the team and be relentless.

6. There are three attack and strike zones that correlate with the three red lines on the front wall.
Front-court attack zone, focusing on the lower red line just above the tin. All of these shots should be executed with an elliptical spin to lay the ball down (i.e., hit the inside or outside of the ball to make it spin elliptically).
a) Straight drops
b) Reverses
c) Roll corners
d) Three-wall nick
Mid-court neutral zone, aimed at the middle red line on the front wall and hit from the middle red line on the floor.
a) Hard rail
b) Hard cross-court
c) Three-wall nick
Back-court defensive zone, aimed at the upper red line on the front wall.
a) High rail
b) Cross-court lob
c) Skid boast

7. The number-one attacking shot is the reverse corner because the opposition usually has to play the ball back cross-court to your partner and they should be ready to attack on the volley. They can't go down the line because they risk a stroke call.

8. Volley every ball you can touch!! This is the Golden Rule of Winning Doubles. If the opposition's strategy is to push you to the back wall, don't go willingly. Volley! Visualize the ball walking at you and cut the legs off the ball with an open racket face, thereby assuring a margin for error on the tin.

9. When you pass the opposition on a cross-court don't try to hit the ball through the opposition. Instead, hit the ball high, hard and wide on the side wall and make one of the opponents go to the door; then either play a backhand or forehand from the back-court. Look at your cross-court opponent as having four targets. Vary your shot selection and don't hit the same shot or angle all the time. Remember that the attacking angle on an opponent will change according to how deep or shallow in the court your opponent stands. Aim your cross-court drives at your opponent's right or left shoulder or break the ball off the side wall at their right or left knee.

10. When defending, cover the shot that beats you, not just the shot that continues play.

11. Attack down the middle sometimes!!

12. Vary height and direction.

13. When defending a ball hit hard at you just block the ball with a fore-swing, do not take a back swing or full swing. If you do you will hit the ball out of the court or miss altogether.

14. Drop your back foot when digging balls out of the back corner.

Serve and Return

1. There are four different attacking serves. Practice all four serves before the match to get a feel for the temperature of the court and how high on the front wall you must hit the ball:

a) Lob to corner
b) Crisscross serve for a sharp angle
c) Chip serve to the side wall looking for a nick
d) Hard serve straight to the back-wall nick.

2. To return serve, stand one step's reach to the side wall.

3. Volley all service returns.

4. Rotate the back shoulder to opposite diagonal on cross-court returns of serve to assure good width.

5. Any returns of serve hit down the wall should be hit really low or really high so the opponent cannot block you out and attack the front corners.

6. Always have the racket up and stand with your weight on your toes and with knees flexed. That way, gravity helps you go to the front wall with a quick first step.

Preparation, Warm-up and Communication

1. Beforehand, do active stretching, speed volleys, and practice serves.

2. Talk with your partner. Decide what each of you will hit when covering for each other—usually a high lob down the rail.

3. Always have a plan.

4. Move on the court in sympathy with your partner. Always follow your opponent to the front wall and stay positioned on their outside hip because there you can cover more of their shot choices.

5. Always roll corner when the opposition hits a three-wall.

6. When deciding to hit a short shot to the front or a reverse take the pressure off your stroke production and just aim for the corner or intersection; then, either shot will be effective if the opponent is vulnerable -- front-side or side-front.

7. Motivate yourself by the thrill of winning rather than the fear of losing. Create your fate by your own hand. Take risk when there is a reward!

8. Visualize yourself volleying and attacking. 

9. Play at least five length balls before going short.

10. Breathe on all your short finesse shots and exhale as you stroke; it will relax your forearms.

11. Good squash shot-making is enabled by the threat of the shot you didn't hit.

Have fun! Doubles squash is a life-long endeavor! --  Peter S. Briggs (October 20, 2007)

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Secret Handshake of Doubles Squash

I've had the good fortune to be in regular contact with Guy Cipriano, a well-known hardball and doubles squash player and aficionado. He and I don't always agree on all matters related to squash, but I have definitely come to respect and look forward to receiving his musings on the sport. We both hold to the same core belief: namely, that squash is a fantastic, wondrous, multi-layered game, and that we are privileged to play it.

Guy is the capo di tutti capi of EI Associates—an architecture/engineering/planning/construction firm that has done large and small projects all over the place—and is one of those smart guys who effortlessly graduated from Princeton. (I interviewed to get into Princeton, but my rejection slip was waiting in my mailbox by the time I got back from the interview!) Since Guy is a big mucky-muck in both the world of business and the world of squash, he knows people, and one of the people he knows is this fellow named Peter Briggs.

Briggs is a well-known savant in the world of squash. I've never heard anyone say a disparaging thing about either the man or his squash knowledge, and I never will.  Briggs runs the squash program at the Apawamis Club in Rye, New York, widely regarded as one of the very best, and has coached an astonishing number of kids who have gone on to captain their college squash teams—over 70!

But Briggs also knows and loves the game of hardball doubles squash, and I have the document to prove it. Back in 2007, Guy Cipriano, master builder and master squashist, built a doubles squash court in one of the buildings he owns in New Jersey. On the occasion of the court's opening day, Peter Briggs gave his friend Guy a printed primer on the most important points to consider when playing doubles squash. For anyone interested in this great version of squash, this is must reading. 
According to Guy, Briggs "has so much doubles knowledge it defies description—he's like Yoda, or maybe Moses. This document emanated directly from the Burning Bush on top of Mt. Sinai!" I read his email to me and thought, Nah, no way, it can't be THAT good! But then I read the primer and agreed, this IS great stuff. As Guy put it in his note to me, "Congratulations, you now know the Secret Handshake of Doubles Squash."

And you, dear reader, will too. But you have to wait until my next blog ....

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Aging and Squash

One of the arguments lobbed against softball squash has been that it is physically more demanding than hardball, and so older players, often starting in the 50s, gradually get shunted aside as their body's aches and pains can no longer deal with the sport.

Since hardball singles is now largely dead, most of the old codgers out for a squash game have gravitated towards hardball doubles, a great game in which an older player can still hold his own, particularly if teamed up with a younger player who can go fetch the drops up front.

But what about those older athletes among us who don't want to play doubles, or, more likely, don't have access to a doubles court?

For them I propose racketball and squashitball. 
  • Racketball, a game played in England, involves using racquetball rackets and balls on an international squash court. The tin stays where it is, and the ceiling is off limits. Everything else is pretty much like the American game of racquetball. Because the ball bounces more there is less running, and since the tin stays where it is, there is no front-wall nick as you would find in racquetball. Players have good long rallies, get to exercise their love of court sports, and get a good, but not paralyzing, workout. For some reason this option has not been popularized in the US, but I think it should be, as it is a nice game for players who want to get out there but want to spare their knees for another day.
  • Another option is squashitball. I'm not sure if anyone ever plays this or not -- I just made it up -- but it might also be a good option. Instead of using a shorter racquetball racket, the player uses the longer squash racket, thereby avoiding bending down if at all possible. The players play with a racquetball ball, so the bounciness allows them to avoid too much running and lunging. 
I see the progression as singles squash, racketball, and then squashitball. And then table tennis....  And then arthroplasty....

Sunday, July 4, 2010

"And I'd Like To Thank 'Nike Squash' for All Their Support!"

The finals of Wimbledon have just been played and Spain's incomparable Rafael Nadal has, somewhat predictably, beaten Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic. But I thought Berdych played damn well, and the difference between winner and loser came down to Nadal converting his chances at break points, while Berdych, though having those chances, never was able to do so. Thus game, set, match to Mr. Nadal.

One thing I noticed in the final was the Nike swoosh that appeared on both players. Berdych was wearing a cap with a black swoosh, Nadal a form-fitting bandana with a blood-red swoosh. Every time the TV camera focused on either player, there was the firm's well-known logo. They had a guaranteed 3 hours at least of uninterrupted TV airtime. Nike, the sports giant, was going to be a winner no matter what happened on the court today.... 

Nike is an international phenomenon, with its tentacles in all kinds of sports in all kinds of places. All over the world. So it continues to baffle me why a company like Nike would overlook the demonstrably international sport of squash. 

Squash has wide appeal -- as demonstrated by the fact that the sport is played in about 190 countries -- but does not have the penetration in individual countries to attract their attention. Apparently.

But times are tough, and Nike managers must sit around their conference room table thinking of ways to increase sales worldwide. They must! If there ever were a fat target for them to go for, it would be for a relatively under-served sport like squash that needs a corporate champion to take it to the next level. Nike could sell hundreds of thousands of Nike-emblazoned apparel, shoes, and those hats that Nadal and Berdych wore during today's final, and the sport of squash would finally have its first big-time corporate sponsor. Everybody wins. 

Thank you, Nike Squash, thank you so much!