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Attacking the Front
This week we’ve been focusing on attacking the front forehand corner. We’ve been paying attention to shots such as the forehand drop, the trickle boast and the low cross cut kill as well as looking at body positioning and how you should approach the ball with your movement. It’s a difficult area of the court to master and requires a good understanding of what’s happening with your racket face.

Ideally, you want to be opening the face up and ‘cutting’ the ball when you are taking it in and Peter has highlighted the benefits of taking the ball on the rise or at the top of the bounce. If you watch someone like Amr Shabana he’ll approach the ball at a 45-degree angle which means he is demonstrating the ability to hit straight or crosscourt meaning his opponents have to cover both options.

I’ve always found going short off an easy ball, even with plenty of time, a challenging aspect of my game. Attacking from the middle of the court is much easier for me as I flatten the racquet head and hit through the ball a little harder, leaving my opponent less able to get onto the ball and counter attack due to their positioning and shot type. From the back of the court, I could only ever attack by hitting the ball deep again - my highest quality option being a forehand boast.

So, why did I find it so challenging to attack from the front of the court? From an early age, I did play some open squash - however upon turning professional I realised I was well behind my peers in this style of play, therefore the quickest/most efficient way to improve was to become physically fit, mentally strong and play a more controlled and aggressive game to the back of the court. I focused on developing this style of play, which worked well, but after several years became victim by my own design as I became stuck in the same style of play. It wasn’t until the last few years of my career that I began to experiment and break out into a new, more aggressive style of play.

The reason I chose my initial style of game was simply because I was much more able to play this way. I don’t have a strong or quick wrist. My racquet head speed is fairly average. My forehand is incredibly flat and I struggle to cut under and around the ball. All of the above means I was not comfortable at the front of the court unless hitting deep. The problem this created was I only attacked half the court and my opponent only needed to cover that area – not great to only have 50% of the court to work with.

I felt vulnerable further up the court when I had time to play any shot - I could feel my opponent coming up behind me and got nervous. Feel similar to anyone out there?!

Nearing my late 20’s I started to experiment with going short from the front area of the court and often got burned badly. My opponent would come charging past me and either hit the ball deep quickly or counter my shot - my short game obviously needed dramatic improvement if I wanted to utilise it during competitive play. Understanding that I was never going to play like Power or Shabana, I started working on practical and simple ways to improve attacking a short ball into the front of the court.

Coaching Points:

Stay closer to the T before hitting

I was guilty of pushing too far up the court and turning side on, giving my opponent clear view of my shot and pathway to any short straight shot – the only type of shot available to me when in that position. I started hanging back on the T, tracking the ball going short with my eyes and lifting the racquet head. Staying still forced my opponent to wait behind me and also meant I was coming into the shot at a 45 degree angle, not from side on. The other positive aspect is that by keeping my stance open, attacking straight or crosscourt short became realistic options. My opponent would have to wait and had several more potential shots to deal with.

Practicing these shots in matches and accepting some level of failure is an important part of the process - I played some poor matches when integrating more attacking short shots into my game. This was tough to take but over a period I formed a better-balanced game and understanding of when to go short.

Dropping the racquet head through the ball and height at impact

One simple way I felt more comfortable going short was to hit the ball either on the up or at the very top of the bounce. This allowed me to drop the racquet head severely through impact and impart a lot more spin than I was used to - thereby keeping the ball shorter - and with my new body position, made my opponent have to move so much further to retrieve the ball, a defensive shot was much more likely. A revelation for me was hitting the ball on the rise with open racquet face - it was very difficult to hit the tin! Sounds unlikely but gave me confidence to be much more severe with my hitting into the front.

We all have different areas we need to work on more – mine was definitely going short from the front. As I’m a little older and less fit, I’m now back to working more on my fitness and strength – always learning, always adapting. I love this game!

from Peter Nicol