By Richard Millman
A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of being present at the final of the Delaware Investments U.S. Open in Philadelphia. Apart from the packed arena, one of the best women’s finals of the year and the chance to see many great friends from all over the squash world, one thing particularly impressed me. Despite the fact that he was operating on one leg, Nick Matthew was able to win the second game of the men’s final against arguably the best player in the world, Mohamed Elshorbagy.
How could this be? A player who couldn’t actually turn laterally on his forehand side was able to win a game against the world No. 1. The answer was tightness. Matthew was able to keep the ball so close to the backhand wall that Elshorbagy was denied the opportunity of taking advantage of a clear and glaring weakness in his opponent.
Mohamed Elshorbagy has had a number of notable and possibly unexpected losses as a result of tightness. In the 2016 World Championships in Seattle, for example, James Willstrop produced an extraordinary win against him with exactly this game plan. So the fact of the matter is that if you play tight—I mean on the wall, not just close to it—no one, not even Mohamed Elshorbagy, can hurt you.
I recently gave a lesson to a decent adult club player and we worked on tightness.
At the end of the lesson I asked my student to give me a recap of the specific tips and advice that I had given him in the course of the lesson. He tried to list them all:
1. Racquet prep to trigger the planning process in the subconscious mind
2. Visualization of precise line of the intended shot (and using the sidewall as a map of your line)
3. Loading potential into the legs for movement and weight transference (being active and dynamic—never static and passive—and maintaining balance toward the ball at all times)
4. Clinically setting up the body perpendicular to the intended direction of the shot
5. Targeting the exact length for the first bounce
6. Keeping set-up and execution absolutely distinct
7. Moving off of the shot while still keeping balance and primary focus on the ball and being continuously ready to pounce on the opponent’s next shot with all of the above ready to go
These are the main things that are required to hit consistently tight drives. Without absorbing and understanding this information either consciously or subliminally, you will never play tight consistently. Even if you do absorb this information from a good coach or through years and years of trial and error (and it really would take years if you don’t have someone coaching you), you will never play really consistently tight unless you do the one thing that the great players all do. Get on court for at least an hour of solo every day.
Maybe you feel you don’t have time for an hour a day, that you can’t fit in the solo. Perfectly reasonable. And if that’s what you tell yourself—that’s why you will only be a reasonable squash player.
If on the other hand you want to be an unreasonable squash player, then get on court and practice alone every day (other than maybe one rest day per week). Even if you practice every day, it will take a long while to be able to control all the variables that I listed above. Either do this or accept that you will never play really tight.
As the old Nike advertisement said: “Just Do it.” Period. There is always someone who wants it enough. No reasons. No excuses. You just have to decide if you are that person. Tight is an easy word to speak. But it is a Holy Grail of squash that only the most determined will perfect.