Front-Court Squash Tactics: WISPA Grinham-Grainger Examples

There is very little published on squash tactics – and even less on differences between men’s and women’s squash tactics.  The purpose of this post is to use brief (about 10 points) notational analysis of a pro squash video to examine tactics and movement in the front court at a top world level (Grinham-Grainger Semi-Final 2006 Worlds).

The video analyzed was purchased at the WISPA website, and loaded into Dartfish for analysis with its “tagging module”. : every time the players being analyzed played a shot in the front court zone, I hit a “button” on the tagging panel I designed (based on the “Zone” model), which saved and labelled (e.g., backhand drop winner) a short video clip for later analysis.

Currently, most tactical information is given in a fairly general manner – for example Geoff Hunt’s famous “10 Commandments”.  For the past twenty years I have been using a zone model of squash (developed and tested with the assistance of my Princeton University friends Gail Ramsay and Bob Callahan) to add a high degree of precision and objectivity to any tactical analysis.  By focusing in on one zone at a time (front, mid, back),  the difficulty of the ball received (easy, medium, difficult) and categorizing shots according to the player’s tactical intent (attack, rally, defend) it is possible to develop quite specific tactical guidelines.

What can we learn by focusing our analysis on two of the world’s top players?  Here are a few of the observations and conclusions an analyst might make from this small sample of point seen in the clip below.  This is a great clip to analyze the front-court as we have a classic, defensive retriever (Grinham) playing an opponent with great attacking skills (Grainger) – so lots of play in the front of the court.

  • Grinham’s movement to the front on defence does not really resemble our classic squash ghosting drills – she moves in on a straight path to the ball, even leaning up against the backhand wall to maintain and regain her balance; the racquet work on her defensive lob is a flick with the hand/wrist – not at all like the demonstrations of lobbing from the front that we see in numerous squash books (stroking action from the slow-moving shoulder joint).  Grinham’s return to the “T” in the first front-court example features an about face which I have never seen a squash coach demonstrate in a practice or clinic (yet it obviously occurs and there must be a reason for it).
  • Under pressure in the front, we see that straight drives can result in a stroke against the striker (twice from Grainger in this clip), with cross-court drives being the most successful choice of both players.  This seems to contradict the current squash coaching practice of prescribing lots of “boast-straight drive” drills.  Although practicing straight drives from the front may have a technical and fitness purpose (more physically demanding and allows for “offensive” positioning), coaches should be wary of reinforcing tactical patterns that occur infrequently or are “poor tactical choices”.
  • There does not appear to be a “rally” phase in the front-court – the players are either defending or attacking (whereas in the mid-court we see many exchanges of length shots (“rallying”).
  • On Grainger’s tightest and most difficult shots, Grinham makes at least three racquet errors trying to lob.  I coach my team to redrop or hit a defensive, tight drop since the biomechanics of this action (push-touch with no backswing) are more simple than a lob (wrist snap or flick), a strategy that should result in fewer errors.  My observation of female American players (college/pro) is that they have not been trained sufficiently (too much grooving of ground strokes from mid- and back-courts) in the use of the hand, wrist and touch (certainly compared to the Egyptians and some of the English players).
  • We do not observe the use of the cross-court drop and very little use of deception (once from Grainger?) from these two players – which may be a male-female tactical difference due to men’s greater speed to and in the front-court ( time for deception and ability to cover the cross-court drop if it is not a winner).

Obviously, this tiny “research” needs to be extended with an analysis including entire matches featuring more female players.

Application for Squash Coaches:

  1. Findings from notational analysis of current top players can contradict current practice and published knowledge of squash coaching.
  2. We cannot take it for granted that men and women “play the same game” – something to keep in mind when planning summer camps.

2 Responses to Front-Court Squash Tactics: WISPA Grinham-Grainger Examples

  1. roddehaven says:

    nice. 2 observations:

    1) “the racquet work on her defensive lob is a flick with the hand/wrist”
    sort of, but i’m not sure that’s the bulk of it. it’s definitely not the shoulder, but it looks, after advancing frame by frame several times, as if it’s the forearm rotating upward. her wrist definitely releases (and more than occasionally), but it doesn’t appear to happen until after the impact.
    in much the same way that there is ~0 wrist to the standard baseball swing (even though the wrists break every time post impact), i’d wager that even under the most desperate pressure, her lob is coming mostly from the forearm. the hands and wrist surely come into play, but more for feel than for origination of the stroke. (this isn’t to say you can’t generate a lob from the wrist and hand, or that this is the better way to do it, but having seen a wrist-flick lob and this lob, i’d say they’re easily distinguishable)
    i’ve noticed lately that i can almost always distinguish top pros from everybody else based simply on how much the forearm is rotating (i believe the analogous exercise would be supination). for some reason, we (the average player) can intuit the shape of the stroke, but have very little of the forearm rotation, perhaps a result of lack of development of the supinators, or just a general inability to accelerate along that plane of motion around the elbow.

    2) “Grinham’s return to the “T” in the first front-court example features an about face”
    if you try blasting into the front corner on a straight line at speed, and then do the turn toward the side wall and then to the back wall and move back to the T, going ‘forward’, as opposed to backward, you’ll probably find that it’s significantly more comfortable, and perhaps more energy efficient, than our traditional movement. you unfortunately lose the ready-type position that we traditionally have while you’re on route, and this i assume is why it isn’t done more often.
    when i first observed this in a JP match a few years ago, i thought it was ridiculous, until i went out and tried it myself. you can most easily understand when you do it at full speed, but the difference is pretty simple – traditionally, we move forward, plant, and then explode back (a hockey stop/start, e.g.), whereas with this type of movement, you can basically eliminate the stop/start, and carry your momentum through the turn back to the T (like when hockey players reverse direction on little arcs, as opposed to stop/starting). as mentioned, however, it appears to put you in a much weaker ready-position for the duration of the movement back to the T.

  2. Tim Bacon says:

    Agreed on both points. Wrist flick in squash almost always involves forearm pronation/supination (preceding joint). Method of recovery from front “almost” irrelevant (since a good lob provides lots of time) – momentum off a “hard” get makes “about face” recovery most efficient (tennis baseline recover off a wide ball at baseline).

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