By Richard Millman, Owner – The Squash Doctor Corporation
The concept of attacking is one that can easily become suffused with emotion and, if this happens, frequently becomes a road to self destruction.
The problem is that we tend to forget to defend ourselves effectively when we go on the rampage to attack the opponent.
In every school of Self Defense (notice even the genre itself doesn’t talk about Attack) the priority that experts promote is that of ensuring one’s own survival.
This is the key to Attack—ensuring that at the moment of victory, your own ship isn’t sunk in the process.
To do this a Squash player must first understand that hitting the ball—or playing a shot—is never as important as proactively conceiving of /moving to a position you want to be in after you have executed your shot.
Hitting a cross-court nick might be sexy, but if your opponent picks it up and slams it down the wall and you haven’t yet recovered from the location in which you attempted the shot, it will be sexy for your opponent and not you! Better to hit the shot expecting it to be returned and to be in position to cover that return.
In the recent final of the British Open, that undisputed wizard of the world rankings,
Ramy Ashour, produced one of the great performances of recent and perhaps all times.
If you haven’t yet watched the match that he played against Gregory Gaultier, you should make it a point to do so.
Don’t just watch it and become mesmerized. Make some notes. Set yourself some specific tasks. For instance watch his movement for a whole game—just his.
Then watch his racquet work—from how early he prepares his racquet; to how he manages his swing volume (the size and speed of swing) according to how much time he wants/needs to spend on shot execution; to how he varies the timing from not holding at all to holding for what seems and eternity.
Then note his physical location when he begins a stroke and where he is standing when he finishes his stroke.
He is never in the same place. He is always on the move to the next position—as (and therefore momentarily before) he hits the ball.
He is constantly moving into position to be ready to deal with Gregory’s next shot before
Gregory can execute it.
So if you want to attack, you must ensure that you assume that your opponent will
return your attacking shot and thus be in position, ready to retrieve/execute the next shot,
before your opponent can execute it.
This requires a very fine sense of time and timing.
Above all it requires the realization that no matter how good you are (and there currently
is no one better than Ramy) that your opponent can retrieve every shot you ever play.
Ramy absolutely accepts this today. Only last year he played in the final of the
2012 North American open against James Willstrop and didn’t realize this. It is worth also
watching that match. If you watch it you will see Ramy leave himself exposed and therefore
vulnerable to James Willstrop’s counter attacks, because it is clear that in that match
Ramy was pinning his hopes on playing shots that his opponent couldn’t get back and so instead of moving into position as he played his shots, he moved after he played his shots— and James punished him mercilessly for this lack of planning and position.
That didn’t happen with the British Open. Ramy wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice.
If you watch you will see that Ramy is constantly on the move—always in position waiting for his opponent to hit the ball.
You can only be waiting if you have arrived ahead of time.
So, in a nutshell, Attacking without Self Destruction comes down to this:
If you stand still and attempt to play Attacking shots that are impossible for your opponent
to get back, you will leave your self vulnerable to counter attack because, if you truly
believe you can hit shots that your opponent can’t get back—you will stand still fully expecting
the point to end and not bother to position yourself to cover the opponent’s return.
If, on the other hand, you attempt to play Attacking shots that are difficult/hurtful for your
opponent but you accept that they can get them back and you, therefore, constantly organize
your dynamic movement to cover all of their possible returns, you will always be in position
ahead of time to cover the opponent’s possible return and will not leave yourself vulnerable.
This is a simple piece of logic that many fantastic athletes and skilled technicians fail to recognize. Indeed, in my opinion, the best player in the world missed it completely in a major tournament a year ago only to then realize and change his behavior, once he realized the flaw, thus turning his run of play to one of the most dominant unbeaten runs of recent years.
Ramy, Nick, James and Greg can make the same mistakes in philosophy as any player who doesn’t think through the consequences of their actions.
The perfect player doesn’t exist. Brilliant young athletes often don’t even know why they are so good; that’s why they often don’t make good coaches— it’s all too easy for them and they have never had to think it through.
But the more we think and the more we question and carefully analyze, the better we will become.
And I mean all of us—from novice to superstar!