The Game of Squash

The game is now administered by the World Squash Federation (WSF) and a full version of the rules and regulations is available for download from the linked website. The following is a brief guide to the game, covering the main rules, techniques and tactics:

The basics

Squash (technically called Singles Squash to distinguish it from the game of Doubles) is played between two players, each using a racket, with a ball and in a court.

The official spins a racquet to decide who will serve first (the equivalent of tossing a coin) and the player who is to serve first then chooses which service box he or she will serve from. Provided the server delivers a good service (see below for explanation), the players continue to return the ball alternately until one fails to make a good return.

Only the server can score points. The server is awarded one point for winning a rally. After winning a rally, the server continues to serve, using alternate service boxes. Should the receiver win a rally, he or she becomes the server, chooses which service box to serve from and play continues.

A game consists of a series of rallies, the first player to score 9 points wins the game. If the score reaches 8-8, the receiver chooses whether to continue the game to nine points or to ten points. These are referred to respectively as set one and set two.

A call of game ball is used to indicate that the server needs just one point to win the game. Match ball is called when the server requires a single point to win the match.

The Service and Return

The server must make a good service to begin the rally. The service is good if:

  • The server has at least part of one foot in contact with the floor within the service box. The foot must not touch the service box line when the ball is struck.
  • The server strikes the ball correctly before it has fallen to the floor, touched a wall or any part of the server’s clothing.
  • The ball directly hits the front wall between the service and out lines.
  • The first bounce of the ball falls inside the opposing quarter court. The ball must not touch the short line or half court line.
  • The ball is not served out – i.e. does not strike the front wall below the board or above the out of court line.

To make a good return, the receiver must:

  • Hit the ball before it has bounced twice on the floor.
  • Strike the ball so that it hits the front wall above the board directly, or indirectly via the side walls and/or the back wall. The ball must not touch the floor or any part of the racquet, body or clothing of either player before it hits the front wall. If it hits the front wall first, the ball may hit any number of walls before landing in the opponent’s quarter.
  • Make sure the ball is not out or down (ie. if the ball falls on/below the board or on the floor

Change of service may be referred to as the hand-out.

Interference
Obstructing your opponent is a major issue in the game of squash. A player has a tight to the following:

  • Unobstructed direct access to the ball after completion of a reasonable follow-through.
  • A fair view of the ball on its rebound from the front wall.
  • Freedom to hit the ball with a reasonable swing.
  • Freedom to play the ball directly to the front wall.

The rules therefore stipulate that, in order to avoid interference, a player must make every effort to:

  • Avoid obstructing direct access to the ball after completing a reasonable follow-through.
  • Allow a fair view of the ball on its rebound from the front wall.
  • Give the opponent freedom to hit the ball with a reasonable swing.
  • Allow the ball to be played directly to any part of the front wall.

The Let

The let is a concept peculiar to squash. A let is basically an undecided rally, following which the server serves again from the same box. No points are awarded for the undecided rally.

Players must make every effort not to interfere with the opponent’s shot and movement around the court. If the opponent is denied the opportunity to play the ball, a let is called for. So when exactly would a let be played?

  • If the striker hits the opponent with the ball before it reaches the front wall, and the ball would have struck any other wall and the return would have been good.
  • If the striker attempts to play the ball and misses, he or she may make a further attempt. If this attempt would have resulted in a good return but the ball hits the opponent, a let is played.
  • If the ball makes contact with an article lying on the floor.
  • If the striker refrains from hitting the ball because there is a reasonable chance of injuring the opponent.
  • If the receiver is not ready and does not attempt to return the service.
  • If the ball breaks during play.
  • If the referee decides that an incident outside the court has caused a player to be distracted

The Stroke (or penalty point)

If a player obstructs his opponent or interferes with his movement close to the ball (within 1 metre) then the referee may award a stroke, also known as a penalty point. A stroke differs from a let because a point is awarded to the penalised player rather than the rally being replayed. A stroke is awarded when:

  • The obstructing player did not make sufficient effort to avoid interference.
  • Interference by the player prevents the opponent’s reasonable swing.
  • The obstructed player could have played a winning return.
  • The obstructed player would have struck the opponent with the ball going directly to the front wall.
  • The obstructed player would have struck the opponent with the ball going to a side wall, and it would it have been a winning return.

The officials

A squash match involves two officials with quite different roles – the Marker and the Referee. The marker controls the flow of the game, ensures the basic rules of the game are adhered to, and calls faults. The referee, meanwhile, has the more difficult job of awarding or denying lets and penalty points, and adjudicating when there is a dispute. As in most sporting contests, a good referee will keep the game flowing and keep time effectively.

Types of stroke

The way a player connects with the ball when making a stroke is, of course, very important. The two fundamental strokes in squash are the straight drives – the forehand drive and the backhand drive. The ball is struck when it is in line with the player’s leading leg and knee. This is a simple but effective stroke, which requires good balance and positioning of the feet and body if it is to be executed to best effect.

There are further ways of returning the serve in squash. The main strokes are:

  • The cross-court drive – Almost identical to the straight drive, except that the ball is hit a little earlier. This stroke can be easily intercepted by the opponent if it is hit through the middle of the court. A good cross-court drive will strike the front wall too high for the opponent to reach it and then hit the side wall near the back corner of the court, forcing the opponent to retrieve the ball and leave the mid-court.
  • The drop shot – This takes the pace out of the ball, and sends it low across the front court, forcing the opponent to rush to the front of the court to return the ball. Used to great effect if the opponent is hanging back, expecting a deep return.
  • The lob – Lifts the ball high in the court, making it difficult for the opponent to reach the ball mid-court. It also slows the ball down, so that, when it falls in the back corners of the court, it can be very difficult for the opponent to retrieve and return.
  • The volley – Involves the ball being played while it is still in mid-air, before it has hit the floor. One advantage of this stroke is that it gives the opponent less time to react, as the ball is struck while still in mid-flight.

Each of these basic strokes has variations, depending on whether it is played forehand or backhand, cross-court or straight, from the front, middle or back of the court.

Any stroke which hits a sidewall or the back wall before hitting the front wall is called a boast.

Angles

Much of the skill of a good squash player lies in their understanding and use of angles, whether for an attacking or defensive shot. With the ball travelling at high speeds, bouncing off up to four different walls, a player must understand how the trajectory of the ball will be affected by the angle at which it has been hit.

  • The Short Angle (aka the Trickle Boast) – This stroke is played in the front of the court, and the ball is kept low over the tin, making it difficult for the opponent to retrieve.
  • The High Angle (aka the Skid Boast) – A stroke where the ball is hit high up, and thrown onto the middle of the front wall. The idea is for the ball to land deep in the back corners of the court, where it will be difficult to retrieve.

How to improve your game – squash skills and techniques

Successful squash players combine fitness, co-ordination, balance as well as skills specific to squash like ball control and deception. Here’s an acrostic of six tips to help you improve your game, which together spell out s-q-u-a-s-h to help you remember them!

  • Solo sessions – The good thing about squash is that you can play against yourself! Solo practice sessions are especially useful for improving your service.
  • Quickness – Speed, of both body and mind, will be necessary if you want to cope with the frenetic nature of the squash court.
  • Understand the opposition – By studying your opponent’s game, you will be in a position to modify your own to exploit his or her weaknesses. Also, look for clues during the pre-match warm-up period and decide how you will avoid playing to your opponent’s strengths!
  • Alternate between high-impact and low-impact training – Try organising your training in cycles, so that you build up and then wind down. This applies both to daily sessions and over longer time periods. Trying to do too much will result in burnout and possible injuries.
  • Skipping – Even when you can’t get to the squash court, you can boost your fitness by jumping rope. As for boxers, skipping helps improve co-ordination and speed for squash players.
  • Harder opposition – Try playing against opponents who are better than you. Squash clubs will organise their own events in addition to the internal league, like knock-out competitions and handicap matches. These are all good opportunities for you to compete at a higher level than usual.