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Amazing Rodriguez

Squash can be viewed and played on many levels. To the uninitiated eye, two players run furiously round the court until one player either makes a mistake or somehow manages to hit the ball far enough away from the opponent so that he cannot reach it.

To the expert eye, the game is a technical, tactical and physical battlefield where attacks are mounted, openings created, weaknesses exploited, initiatives won and lost, desperate situations rescued and physical and mental resources tested to the limit. It is chess with one second between moves and with the energy clock ticking - a precarious balance of physical and mental risks and rewards. But one of the most fascinating aspects of the game is that - contrary to common belief - the importance of the physical side is almost always exaggerated. Like a good battlefield general, a good tactical squash player can beat apparently insuperable physical fitness odds stacked against him. Indeed, a good tactical but unfit player will almost always beat a fit but tactically poor player.

Squash is a game not an athletics event. So often, after losing, players will be slumped in the changing room saying "I must get fitter ". So, they go away and get fitter. Two months later they play the same person and they still lose. It just takes a bit longer. Yes, where two players are tactically similar, then the fitter one will win but players almost always win because they have outplayed their opponent not outrun them.

An incredibly fit but poor tactical player might on occasion beat a tactically good but horribly unfit player but this will be at great physical cost and is certainly of no use in a tournament where there is a relatively short recovery time between matches. In any case, the fun of the game is to outplay, not outrun.

So, how do we outplay our opponent? Obviously, where a good player plays a bad player, the good one will hit one good length, forcing a weak reply and the good player can simply hit the ball into the large gap. But the fun starts when two proficient players start to be able to rally properly. Small superficial differences become apparent fairly quickly. One player may look quicker and stronger, hit the ball harder and have a wider reportoire of shots. The other may be old and have bandages. These are clearly important factors but a long way from deciding the outcome. We have all seen players who - in the knock-up - look like world champions but who - in a game - quickly become horribly exposed. Equally, there are players who step on court looking distinctly second-rate and dog-eared but who turn out to be rather good. Appearances can be deceptive.

The knowledgeable player will be doing his groundwork from the start, paying dividends after about ten minutes and thereafter to greater and greater effect as time goes on. In the early stages, such groundwork may not be apparent to the untutored eye because the rallies may still be long and therefore apparently even. But the knowledgeable player will know that, although the rallies may still be long, he is not working hard and his opponent is. Slowly but surely the gaps will get bigger and bigger and, however fit one player is, he cannot retrieve forever.

So, again, what are the secrets? How do you really play this game?

Robert Forde

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