By Anthony Ricketts, PSA No. 6
In squash, like most sports, it is always preferable to have a pre-match hit on competition mornings. This is for the obvious reason that it will get your eye in and loosen up the body.
Professional squash players, in all ranking levels, seem to have a similar pre-match routine which I will now explain, discussing the benefits and reasons for each exercise.
On first arrival at a tournament there are sometimes other issues aside from things like your forehand drive which may need to be attended to. Firstly, after flying say, 10 hours, and arriving in 45 degrees Celsius heat, your first hit on the court should not be considering anything other than relaxing with your stroke, feeling the environment and atmosphere around you and generally trying to adjust yourself to a new event.
However, on game day there are certain things that need to be fine-tuned to ensure you give yourself every chance at playing at your best. Although it is true that all the hard work will be done by this stage, it is still important to tidy up things that will be a critical part of the upcoming match. As I mentioned, it seems that most players have a similar pre-match warm up which generally consists of:
(a) Boast and Drive. This routine is ideal for practicing the straight drive from the front of the court. It is good to feel mentally confident playing this shot, so as to ensure you are not aimlessly hitting the ball hard cross-court from the front. It is important to feel the length and find out what pace and height on the front wall will make a perfect length. When practicing the boast, it’s nice to get used to how the wall works (i.e., Does the ball slide off the wall? Does the ball bounce up or down?). This will help you play the boast correctly when you are under pressure in the game.
(b) Straight drives. Before you play a competitive match you want to feel like you are hitting a nice straight drive down both sides of the court. If you are striking this ball well, everything else will inevitably fall into place. Again it is important to play a mixture of power and height on the front wall to make sure you know how the court will respond to these different shots. You will also discover what the ball will do if it clips the side wall. This will ensure that you know the consequences when this happens—sometimes it responds well and other times it shoots out into the middle of the court.
(c) Volley drops. Throughout a match, many points are won while playing a volley drop. If you can get the feel for this the morning of your match, it is obviously a bonus. A great way to do this with a partner is to have both players standing on separate sides of the court on the service line. You will hit the ball in a feeding fashion across for your partner to hit a straight volley drop. He/she will then hit the volley drop straight back to the partner who will play a volley drop then hit back to his partner…and the routine continues. While doing this exercise, take note of how the ball reacts when it is hit firmly and softly, and build confidence from this.
(d) Five rallies. It is important to play a few rallies, but not too much as to tire yourself out at the end of these exercises. This will loosen the body up and get the feet moving. Get used to how the court is going to play and try your strengths in these rallies so as to know how they are going to work in the game.
These simple routines seem to be a regular session for many touring pros for the reason that you are simulating most of the shots that you will play in your match, acclimating yourself to the court and loosening the body up for your match.