One of the consistent squash tournaments that takes place in SoCal is the OC Squash Tournament held at the OC Equinox in Irvine. It occurs roughly every March and October and generally draws at least 30-50 players of various levels (from 3.5 to 5.5). As one of the only few local tournaments within driving distance, it’s a good opportunity to estimate your current squash skill/levels and gain insights on where to improve next. It’s a double elimination match and is fairly well organized for such a large player base.
During the pandemic, the tournament was put on hiatus. This was the first squash event of the year and drew approximately 30 or so players of various levels. The tournament coordinator was able to fill out three brackets of 8 (4.0, 4.5, 5.0) and a round robin bracket. Not too shabby for the first squash event.
I participated in the 4.0 bracket this time around. Having played before in the 3.5, I figured the 4.0 might give me some issues/challenges. Interestingly, many of the previous 3.5 players were also playing in this bracket leading me to conclude this was probably a combination of two brackets. Seeing the bracket, I thought I had a fairly good chance to place at best 2nd place. Why? Mainly because T was also playing and at my current fitness level, I know I cannot win against her athleticsm.
Day 1: Day 1 ends with me in the losers bracket with a 2-1 record. I won the first match relatively convincingly. Lost my match against T. And won the first losers bracket match convincingly too. My adjusted lob serves were still a little shaky but good enough to demoralize both opponent where I won. When they were unable to return the serve effectively, they don’t even have an opportunity to win the point. The match with T was excrutiating. I committed too many errors and generally wasn’t able to dictate the pace nor control the T.
Day 2 Being in the losers bracket, I need 2 wins to put me back into the winners bracket and an additional 2 wins (for a total of 4 wins) in order for me to win the division. Day 2 starts off with a no show so that’s an easy win. The 2nd win starts off a bit shaky as my serve wasn’t consistent enough in the 1st game of the 2nd match. It was actually being called out in the 1st game quite a few times. But with small adjustments, I managed to win both the 2nd and 3rd game on the backs of my serve and to fully frustrate the opponent in the 4th game to win the 2nd match. That’s win #2 and that puts me back head to head against T.
My 3rd match of the day was against T. She’s used to the timing of my lob serve and was able to return and stay competitive. Ultimately, I committed too many errors, was outplayed by T quite a few times, and general frustration/fatigue finally took over in the 3rd game.
I ended up placing 2nd place with an overall 4-2 record with both losses to T.
As a quick follow up to the squash stringing post, this particular post from the Ashaway has a fairly nice summary of the differences between string guage (thin/thick) and string tension (tight/loose). Each racket should be able to have a small range of tension where the string will operate best. At the moment, I plan to string the PowerNick 18 at 25 pounds (racket recommended) on the TT Sovereign.
For the past couple months, I have this squash problem…. I’m having a difficult time deciding on the type of squash string to use. Because of a broken string, I opted to try Ashaway’s Ultranick 18 guage and I loved playing with it over my normal Ultranick 17 guage. That ultimately led me to question what the other three Ashaway strings were like. So I bought the PowerNick 18, MultiNick 18 and SuperNick ZX Micro (also 18 guage). I installed all three strings on the remaining three rackets and started to play with them. And now… I’m having a hard time narrowing down the strings to install permanently. They each have their pros and cons with some strings having more cons than pros!!
But first…. what are the difference between the four strings?! The Ultra is a multifilament Zyex. Power is a monofilament Zyex. Multi is multifilament nylon with a polyurethane coating. and Super is also a multifilament nylon with embedded Zyex filament. What’s Zyex? Ashaway has an interesting article on the this topic. Zyex is basically a polymer made of polyether ether ketone (PEEK). In simple terms, this type of polymer results in tough, durable, and elastic threads that recover after deforming (from hitting a ball). Ashaway has a nice collection of links that talks about squash rackets and strings. It’s useful to browse and understand some of the differences in the materials and string guages.
For some background, I’ve been playing with Ultra 17s for the past 5 years on Prince TT Sovereign Black. After breaking the stock strings 5 years ago, I switched to the Ultra 17s after testing the Ultra 17s against a comparable Tecnifibre 305+ 17 gauge. They both have multifilament polymer cores and are both 17 guages. Although the coating are slightly different, I didn’t think the string coating would make too much of a difference especially for a beginner like me. With both strings installed, I began comparing the feel of the string while playing. One of the biggest differences and a key factor in my decision was that the 305+ had a significant vibration everytime I hit the ball. The Ultra 17s did not. As a baseline comparison, the stock Prince strings DID NOT vibrate. Another benefits was that I felt I had very good ball control with the Ultra 17s whereas I had a hard time trying to control the ball using the 305+. The better control allowed me to execute better drops. Looking back now, I realized that the smooth coating on the 305+ requires more skill to exectue. But as a beginner, I clearly didn’t have that skill to make use of the strings.
As I mentioned earlier, I bought and installed the four different strings. Here’s what they look like.
I’ve been playing with these four rackets over the past 2 months now. Switching from an Ultra 17 guage to an Ultra 18 guage string made a huge difference in the power game. Accoarding to the Ashaway site, the thinner strings (18 guage) generally provide greater “trampoline” effect than thicker strings (17 guage). The differences between the different guages using the same material was eye-opening. I realized that I didn’t need to “swing harder” in order to generate the same length I needed. I also realized that I was more able to maintain “hit off the back wall” routine more often because the ball would travel farther without relying on my power. It was this realization that sent me down the squash string rabbit hole.
Once I had all four strings installed on the rackets at the identical tension, I started playing them in rotation making note of what I liked and didn’t like for the string. Some of these are purely subjective and dependent on the playing style.
POWER: All four strings gave me extra power whenever I hit the ball. I had a difficult time trying to control the depth and placement of the ball. The aggressiveness is actually very refreshing being able to unleash a shot quickly. The 18 guage and string construction definitely helped with that trampoline effect. If I had to rank them, Power > Super > Ultra > Multi. CONTROL: One of the strings gave me almost zero control. To be honest, I had no drop game as I was getting used to not only the string but also the sweet spots. Ultra > Super > Power > Multi SWEET SPOT: The sweet spots for each racket were also different too. I could hear the racket sound whenever I hit the ball. A badly hit ball generally sounded “hollow” to me whereas a good solid sound indicated the ball was hit well. Generally, the type of material seemed to affect how often I would hear the “hollow” sound whenever I hit the ball. Apparently the difference between multifilament and monofilament were pretty clear. Ultra > Super > Power > Multi. VIBRATION: One of the strings gave a slight vibration. Ultra = Power = Super > Multi RESPONSE: The ball feels different when it comes off the strings. This seems to be dependent on the type of string construction too. Reading about the construction on the Ashaway site made it pretty clear why the monofilament generated the power but also the crips response over the multifilaments. Power > Multi > Super > Ultra.
FEELING: This is very subjective. Power > Super > Ultra > Multi – While I was playing with the rackets, I came to a realization that I didn’t like the Multi at all. – The Ultra was very comfortable and easy to hit with what seems to be a large sweet spot. It allowed me to continue to play the game. After rotating through the different rackets though, I came to a realization that the Ultra had a larger sweet spot and control that actually compensated for some of the other issues in my game. – The Super also had a large sweet spot and control but had a much more power than the Ultra. The Super feels like a cross between the Power and the Ultra. Playing with the Super made me realize that my choice of strings would have to result in a change to correct the movement issues and smaller swing issues such as slow return to the T, lazy back court dig mechanics and slow and imprecice movement to the ball and general forehand/backhand swing mechanics. – The Power has a smaller sweet spot compared to the Ultra and Super. The “hollow” sound when hitting the ball was much more pronounced using this string. At first I didn’t like it because it reflected that I hit a bad shot, but I came to realize that sweet spot is forcing me to approach the shot earlier and set up earlier. Between playing with the Super and the Power, both required me to approach the shot early for a better setup. The Power had a responsive feel whenever I hit the ball.
OVERALL: Rotating through all the different rackets, I realized that there were basically two choices. The first choice was to continue to play the same type of game/playstyle that I’m used to. The UltraNick and SuperNick would “hide” some of the smaller issues in my game by compensating it through better control and touch while maintaining the power. The second choice would be to elevate my game. Using the PowerNick, I recognized that I needed to play a better more technical game. It seemed clear to me that the PowerNick would elevate my game to the next level as I learned to play with the strings. I think the control and touch as well as power adjustment would come over time as I got more used to the feeling of the PowerNick.
CONCLUSION: I’m definitely leaning towards the PowerNick. I played with it this whole week. I noticed over the week that my shots were slowly getting back under control. Slight changes to the racket face allowed me to maintain not only the power but also the appropriate length for the ball to die in the back court. Previously, the ball would come off the back wall very high allowing an easy back court drop. My movement will still need to improve to allow me to setup for the shot. I slowly started to hit the sweet spot more over the course of the week. Overall, I feel that my playstyle is changing for the better.
I participated in a local squash tournament recently. While refereeing a 4.5 game, it occurred to me one of the biggest difference between the 4.5 players I was watching and a 3.5 player like me is the consistency of the shots. No matter what the opponent hit (fast, off speed, off the wall, tight to the wall, lobs, etc), these 4.5ers were able to almost always respond with a deep rail or a deep cross court lob consistently. When they were not able to, the opponent would take advantage and start to put pressure. From the pressure, mistakes would snowball into a point or somehow counter pressure would bring stability back to the game (i.e. back to shots/strokes).
In the past during this particular tournament, I wasn’t used to the speed of the game. The courts were “fast” meaning the ball warmed up quickly and became very bouncy. The bounce affected the timing of the my swing and subsequently my shots and my game. It also didn’t help that everyone smashed the ball as hard as possible so that added even more pace to the ball. Additionally, my fitness has always been lacking and my mechanics break down as I’m tired. I continue to work on all these different aspects of the game as much as possible in between the tournaments but I’m realizing that I may need to go to the “round robins” to play with a variety of different people.
With this recent tournament, looking back at the match I lost, I was unable to consistently return my opponent’s serves and shots with a deep rail or lob. From the serves, many of my shots were too short and too shallow allowing my opponent to put pressure. And even if I was able hit a semi-decent rail, they were too far from the sidewall or bounced too far off the back wall allowing my opponent time to setup his shot. When I was able to hit deep shots that put him under pressure, I was able to control the rally and ultimately be able to win the point. This tells me that I’m just not consistent enough to be able to execute these shots yet during a game. Ultimately, it comes down to who is able to make the least amount of errors.
Looking back at the matches I won, I was able to hit the deep rails that put my opponent under pressure from the start (especially when he served). When I wasn’t able to hit deep rails, I ended up being under pressure and generally lost or got lucky and the opponent lost the point. So again, it tells me that I’m not consistent enough to execute. One really positive outcome is that my recent change to my lob serve really helped with winning points against my opponent. I had at least 3-4 points per game that was a result of my lob serve being unreturnable. This also included in the match I lost. This is good validation that this new way of serving should be refined and perfected more.
Based on what I’ve learned and thought about, I think my next steps are to adjust my mechanics based on the speed variability of the ball and less about the overall speed of the game. The best way to to do that would be to play against higher level players during the round robin.
I’ve been playing squash for over 5 years now. I’ve definitely improved since I first picked up a racket. I think most of the improvement comes from adapting my previous experience with tennis, a general athletic ability to pick up sports and a dedication to breaking down all parts of my game from swing mechanics to strategic shot selection.
In the most recent local squash tournament this past weekend, I failed to win 2 matches on the first day which guarantees participating in the second day matches. Analyzing what I did right/wrong afterwards I came to a few conclusions.
Given enough time to set up, I usually will hit a good rail or cross court shot.
My strategic/tactical squash play is good enough to play at a higher skill level. My court awareness comes from being able to slow the game down with lobs and deep rails. However, once the game speeds up, I lose awareness of the court and prevents me from executing my shots. My shots tend to become just punching at the ball instead of swing/stroking.
My general form and movement is also good enough to play at a higher skill level. However, my overall fitness is an issue. As I grow tired, my form breaks down leading to loose play and multiple mistakes. This prevents me from executing my shots and general court strategy.
When I’m hitting rails, I tend to hit the ball straight back at me irrespective if it’s a forehand or backhand stroke. This is great if I’m close to the wall hitting the ball. But if I’m in the middle of the court, this becomes a big liability as the path of the ball puts it close the T. This allows my opponent to not stray far from the T to return the ball. This is also bad if I’m trying to hit a cross court shot as the path of the ball isn’t wide enough to actually traverse the width of the court.
My lob serves are not consistent enough to rely on from both service boxes. However, when the lob serves are working, they are generally hard to return.
So this new female squash player has horrible form. A glaring example is when she hits the ball. Her wrist isn’t naturally “cocked” which is one way of saying that the racket and the forearm forms a 90 degree angle. So when she goes to hit a forehand shot, it looks like the racket is an extension of the arm with the racket and the forearm forming nearly a 180 degree angle. Her backhand is very similar to the forehand but there’s an added element of trying to snap her wrist on her backhand in order to generate “power.” This results in a “broken wrist” which is bad form. Playing with bad form affects your squash game limiting the strategy and tactics available.
I was also a beginner once. I also believed in establishing strong fundamentals. For squash, a proper forehand and backhand swing is the foundation of being able to tactically hit the different squash shots which opens the court up for even more efficient movement. Don’t get me wrong… Movement is also a squash fundamental too. But movement tends to comes more from playing experience and the discipline/muscle memory of all the squash practice (if hitting with a partner/coach). In some ways, I practiced and corrected my form constantly for 6-12 months because in my mind, I was in no condition to play anyone. Why? Because playing with someone, not only do I need to focus on returning the ball but I also had to focus on the where the opponent would hit the ball and also focus on my movement around the court. Having to think about all these items is added brain functionality that ultimately breaks down everything resulting in nothing going right.
I suggested that this new squash player focus on just hitting against the wall to get her form correct. Her response? She countered that that playing against other people allows her to learn ALL aspects of squash from hitting to movement. I’m not sure how much she’s learning when she doesn’t have a consistent swing and constantly running from side to side.
1) I hit a forehand drop shot/kill shot that is placed at the bottom right front wall just above the tin. First bounce is probably 1-2 feet from the front wall. From my viewpoint, it was less than an inch from the right wall and eventually hit that right wall after the second bounce (which bounced about a foot after the first bounce).
2) When I hit the drop shot, I’m standing on the left side of the court if facing front wall and about 2 steps from the T diagonally backwards to the back left corner. My opponent is even further back probably another 2 steps behind me. When I hit the, I stepped forward towards the front wall to “clear” since the trajectory of the ball was along the right wall. This action (I thought) allowing him access/path to the ball. Although in retrospect, where would I “clear” to?
3) After I hit my shot, I feel him trying to get past me as the ball bounced the first time. Then because he couldn’t get to the ball, he decides to call a Let. His reasoning is… He couldn’t see the ball. Therefore could not react to the shot and ultimately, wasn’t able to retrieve the shot. He cited this “Fair view” rule.
4) After reading this rule, I will admit that I am a big guy. He probably couldn’t see the ball given where he was standing. Yes there was some interference since he bumped into me trying to get to the ball, but I wasn’t purposely blocking his path to the ball.
5) After playing squash, I get a feel for how fast the opponent moves and I think that this shot was definitely a shot he couldn’t have gotten. It was a) well placed, b) tightly hit along the wall, and c) he was backed into the corner and out of position.
6) We argued about this call because he expects me to acknowledge every Let he wants when I clearly think some Lets he calls are really not justified because I caught him flat footed and in a weak position. He disputes the fact that it’s not returnable because he wasn’t able to get to it. But that’s a circular argument. How do you know if you can return a shot if you can’t get to the shot. On a similar reasoning, how are you able to react to a shot if you weren’t able to see the shot because the opponent was blocking your view?
7) If this were a competition, I would have ruled it No Let because it was too good of a drop shot.
Over the weekend, I participated in the Equinox Irvine Squash tournament. It’s one of the two SoCal tournaments with the other being the San Diego Squash tournament. In the previous tournament entry, I washed out of the consolation round relatively quickly. At that time, I lost the first match putting me into the consolation, won the second match in the consolation bracket but lost the third match in the bracket. I had played horribly as well. My serves were not effective. None of my rails were effective. None of the shots were effective as well. And having come back from a vacation, I also was not relatively fit.
This time around, I won the first match, lost the second and lost the third. My serves were better overall, my shot selection was much better than last year and my fitness was improved but still not as good as I need to be to. In the two matches I lost, I made too many unforced errors giving the opponent free points. In one match and over the span of two games which I lost 11-8, 11-9, I made about 7 unforced errors. That’s 7 free points that I just gave to the opponent. For that match each of the games were very close and very competitive and it came down to the player who makes the least errors in all 5 games.
In another match, I made at least two critical mental lapses resulting in giving the opponent 2 free points. As the referee told me before I left, he honestly though that I lost the game as opposed to the opponent winning the game. Although I didn’t make as many errors in the match, I started to get tired and winded. My form started to break down during certain points of each game affecting both the placement and execution of the shot.
The biggest take away from this weekend might be that improving my fitness should lead to fewer mistakes due to fatigue.
The Men’s 3.5 was divided into two groups: a group of three and a group of four. I happened to be in the group of four that needed to play three Best-of-Five matches (two on Sat, one on Sun) with a potential fourth match depending on how well I do against the opponents. Fortunately I did pretty well and won against all three opponents. It should be noted that two of the opponents were junior’s. Their games were pretty straight forward and was easy to either overpower or deceive to win the match.
Unfortunately though, the game on Sun started at 11:15am and ended around 11:40am. And the Final game started at 12:30pm.
Going into the finals, there would be a number of different factors that would undoubtedly affect my performance…
I was already tired from the 1st game and having less than 1 hour to recover was not enough time. I drank some chocolate milk for quicker recovery but that milk didn’t seem to do much.
I tried to stay loose by continuing massaging my leg muscles. But the right leg effectively cramped up during the match limiting my mobility.
I was also sick and/or recovering from some weird flu I got earlier in the week. I didn’t get the full blown flu symptoms but I got like 20% of the symptoms… a little cough, a little runny nose, a little fever, etc… Warming on Sat, I was out of breath just hitting. So I knew my fitness would be impaired. The lack of fitness is what probably did me in.
In the finals, I figured, I can probably go full speed for about 4 games. I had to take and put pressure on the opponent before my fitness broke down. Sadly, I couldn’t last long enough to finish the game. If I didn’t have to play that first game on Sun, I think I probably might have won. I would at least not have been tired to start with.
Overall, I think I did pretty well. I was a bit disappointed that I got sick which affected my fitness. My mobility was fine until the finals which I attribute to fatigue. My service game was pretty good. My drop game suffered in the finals as well probably also to fatigue. I know I made some bad decisions in the finals. The fatigue affected my form. I think I was over-hitting and over-exerting on my swing. My right upper arm muscle (deltoids?) are extremely tight and sore since Sat night. I usually experience this when I try to force a swing in order to smash the ball.
I have to figure out some way to quickly recover in the future. I guess not all chocolate milks are equal. I should have spent the time to go to Whole Foods to buy the Metro Cocoa Milk instead of the Horizon Chocolate Milk that I bought at Starbucks that morning.