Squash is an indoor racquet sport that was formerly called "Squash racquets," a reference to the "squashable" soft ball used in the game (compared with the harder ball used in its parent game Racquets (or rackets; see below). The game is played by two players (or four players for doubles) with 'standard' rackets in a four-walled court with a small, hollow rubber ball.
The 'International' size court was codified in the 1920s at 32 feet (9750 mm) long and 21 feet (6400 mm) wide. The front wall has an 'out' line 15 feet (4570 mm) above the floor, connected by a raking 'out' line meeting the 'out' line on the back wall at 7 feet (2130 mm) above the floor. The front wall also has a 'service' line 6 feet (1830 mm) above the floor with the 'tin' (the equivalent of a net) 17 inches (430 mm) high surmounted by a 'board' a further 2 inches (50 mm) high. The floor is marked with a transverse 'half-court' line and further divided into two rear 'quarter courts' and two 'service boxes', as shown in the diagram above.
The traditional 'American' court for the USA game, (now referred to as 'hardball squash') is a similar size, but narrower at 18 feet 6 inches (5640 mm). The floor and wall markings differ slightly from the 'International' court and the tin is lower, at 15 inches high. However, hardball squash was replaced by softball in America as the standard version of squash and has since almost completely died out.
A 'Converted Court' is the result of converting racquetball courts to squash. Racquetball courts are 20 feet wide and 40 feet in length, so it is relatively easy to install a back wall, producing a squash court of 20 feet wide by 32 feet in length.
'Standard' rackets are governed by the rules of the game. Traditionally they were made of laminated timber (typically Ash), with a small strung area using natural 'gut' strings. After a rule change in the mid-1980s, they are now almost always made of composite materials or metals (graphite, kevlar, titanium, and/or boron) with synthetic strings. Modern rackets have maximum dimensions of 686 mm (27 inches) long and 215 mm (8.5 inches) wide, with a maximum strung area of 500 square centimetres (approximately 90 square inches). The maximum weight permitted is 255 grams (approximately 9 ounces) but most generally weigh between 110 and 200 grams (4-7 ounces).
Squash balls are made with two pieces of rubber compound, glued together to form a hollow sphere and buffed to a matte finish. Different balls are provided for varying temperature and atmospheric conditions and standards of play: more experienced players use 'slow' balls that are smaller and have less bounce than those used by less experienced players (these 'slower' balls tend to 'die' in the corners of the court, rather than 'standing up' to allow easier shots). Depending on its specific rubber composition, a squash ball may have the property that it bounces more at higher temperatures. Players tend to warm up balls by bouncing them on the ground prior to play. As a rally progresses, play is complicated as the ball usually becomes hotter and speeds up.
Small coloured dots on the ball indicate the level of bounciness and hence, the standard of play it is suited for. The recognised colours and 'speeds' (indicating the degree of bounciness) are:
- Double Yellow - Extra Super slow (very low bounce)
- Yellow - Super slow (low bounce)
- Green or White - slow (average bounce)
- Red - Medium (high bounce)
- Blue - Fast (very high bounce)
Balls are manufactured to these standards by Dunlop, Prince, Pointfore, Wilson and others. The 'double-yellow dot ball', introduced in 2000, is currently the competition standard, replacing the earlier 'yellow-dot' which was long considered the competition standard. There is also a high-altitude "orange dot" ball, used in places like Mexico City, Calgary, Denver and Johannesburg. In North America the Dunlop "green dot" ball is often used at high altitude.
Other balls available are:
- Dunlop 'Max Blue' (aimed at beginners) which is 12 percent larger and has 40 percent longer 'hang time' than a 'double yellow' dot ball and has 'instant bounce'
- Dunlop 'Max Progress' (red) (for players wishing to improve their technique) which is 6 percent larger with a 20 percent longer hang-time than a 'double yellow' dot ball and has instant bounce
Because of the vigorous nature of the game, players need to wear comfortable sports clothing and robust indoor (non-marking) sports shoes. In competition, men usually wear shorts and t-shirt or polo shirt. Women normally wear a skirt and t-shirt or tank top, or a sports dress. Towelling wrist and head bands may also be required in humid climates. Eye protection with polycarbonate lenses is also recommended, as players may be struck by a fast-swinging racket or the ball, which can typically reach speeds of well in excess of 200 km/h (125 mph). In the 2004 Canary Wharf Squash Classic, John White was recorded driving balls at speeds over 270 km/h (170 mph). Many squash venues mandate the use of eye protection and some associaton rules require that all juniors and doubles players must wear eye protection.
The play and scoring
The players usually spin a racket to decide who commences serving at the start of the match and this player starts the first rally by electing to serve from either the left or right service box. For a legal serve, one of the server's feet must be in that box and, after being struck by the racket, the ball must strike the front wall above the service line and below the out line and land in the opposite quarter court, unless volleyed by the receiver.
The players then take turns hitting the ball against the front wall (referred to as 'rallying'). The ball may be volleyed (hit whilst still in the air) or after its first bounce and before the second. To be considered 'good', the ball must reach the front wall below the 'out' line and above the 'board' or 'tin', before touching the floor. A ball landing on either the out line or the line above the tin, contrary to tennis, is considered to be out. The ball may also be struck against any of the other three walls before reaching the front wall. Shots that are first played off the side or back walls are referred to as 'boasts' or 'angles'.
The rally continues until a player is unable to return his or her opponent's shot or makes a mistake (e.g. hits the ball 'out', or hits it after its second bounce, or onto the floor, 'board' or 'tin'), or a 'let' or 'stroke' is awarded by the referee for interference (see below).
In the 'traditional' British scoring system (as adopted in 1926), a point is scored only by the server (when the receiver is unable to return the ball to the front wall before it has bounced twice). When the receiver wins the rally, they are awarded only the right to serve.
Games are usually played to 9 points (alternatively, the receiver may opt to call 'set two' and play to 10 when the score first reaches 8-8). Competition matches are usually played to 'best-of-five' (ie. first player to win 3 games wins the match).
Alternatively, in the point-a-rally scoring system (often referred to as PARS or 'American' scoring), points are scored by the winner of each rally, whether or not they have served. Traditionally, PARS scoring was up to 15 points (or the receiver calls 15 or 17 when the game reaches 14 all). However, in 2004, the PARS scoring was reduced to 11 for the professional game (if the game reaches 10 all, a player must win by two clear points). PARS is now used on the men's Professional Tour, and the tin height has been lowered by two inches for the men's professional tournaments (these canges have been made in a hope to shorten the length of the rallies and therefore the match). The women's Professional Tour, however, still uses the original "upto 9 English scoring" and the original tin height.
In the 'international' game, club, doubles and recreational matches are usually played using the traditional 'British' scoring system. Scoring systems and rules can be adapted subtly to accommodate shorter game time (e.g. games played to 7 points, best-of-three games) or multiple players (e.g. a form of squash called three-quarter court, where one service box is blocked out and excess players wait in that area while two players play a single point in the remaining area of the court). The 'British' scoring is generally used for USSRA (United States Squash Racquets Association) matches.
Strategy and tactics
The fundamental strategy of the game is to hit the ball straight up the side walls to the back corners referred to as a straight drive, wall, or "length", then move to the centre of the court near the "T" to be well placed to retrieve the opponent's return. Attacking with soft or "short" shots to the front corners (referred to as 'drop shots') causes the opponent to cover more of the court and may result in an outright winner. 'Angle' shots (see above) are used for deception and again to cause the opponent to cover more of the court.
Highly skilled players often attempt to finish rallies by hitting the ball at an angle onto the front wall and into an area known as the 'nick' (the junction between the side wall and floor) which if done properly will cause the ball to roll out along the floor and be unreturnable. If the shot misses the nick, however, the ball may bounce out from the side wall and allow the opponent an easy attacking shot.
A key strategy in squash is known as "dominating the T" (the intersection of the red lines near the centre of the court where the player is in the best position to retrieve the opponent's next shot). Skilled players will return a shot, and then move back toward the 'T' before playing the next shot. From this position, the player can quickly access any part of the court to retrieve the opponent's next shot with a minimum of movement.
Rallies between experienced players may involve 30 or more shots and therefore there is a very high premium on fitness, both aerobic and anaerobic. As players become more skilled and, in particular, better able to retrieve shots, points often become a war of attrition. At higher levels of the game, the fitter player has a major advantage.
Almost all players (inexperienced or experienced) will fall into the following categories of style of play:
- "Retriever"- Usually a very fit player, plays patiently, can retrieve most shots hit by an opponent, but doesn't have a particularly strong attacking game.
- "Shooter", or "attacking player"- May be a patient player as well, but is more comfortable trying to hit winning shots or going for "nicks". Generally has very good shot accuracy and deception skills.
- "Power Player"- Tries to overpower their opponent by hitting the ball with extreme pace. Not known for their fitness, or patience.
- "All-Around Player"- Is comfortable playing all different styles and places, comfortable in all areas of the court.
Ability to change the direction of ball at the last instant is also important to off-balance the opponent. Expert players can anticipate the opponent's shot a few tenths of a second before the average player, giving them a chance to react sooner. Such skill is usually acquired by a lot of practice and game experience.
Interference and obstruction
Interference and obstruction are an inevitable aspect of this highly athletic sport, where two players are confined within a shared space. Generally, the rules entitle players to reasonable access to the ball, a reasonable swing and an unobstructed shot to any part of the front wall. When interference occurs, a player may appeal for a 'let' and the referee (or the players themselves if there is no official) then interprets the extent of the interference. The referee may elect to allow a 'let' and the players then replay the point, or award a 'stroke' (either a point or the right to serve) to the appealing player, depending on the degree of interference and whether the player interfered with was likely to have hit a winning shot had the interference not occurred.
When it is deemed that there has been little or no interference, the rules provide that no let is to be allowed, in the interests of continuity of play and the discouraging of spurious appeals for lets. Because of the subjectivity in interpreting the nature and magnitude of interference, the awarding (or withholding) of lets and strokes is often controversial.
When a player's shot hits his or her opponent prior to hitting the front wall, interference has occurred. If the ball was travelling towards the side wall when it hit the opponent, it is usually a let. However, it is a stroke to the player who hit the ball if the ball was travelling straight to the front wall when the ball hit the opponent.
Cultural, social and health aspects
There are several variations of squash played across the world. In the U.S. 'hardball' singles and doubles are played with a much harder ball and different size courts (as noted above). Whilst 'hardball' singles has lost much of its popularity in North America (in favor of the 'International' version), the hardball doubles game is still active. There is also a doubles version of squash played with the standard ball, sometimes on a wider court, and a more tennis-like variation known as squash tennis.
The relatively small court and low-bouncing ball makes scoring points harder than in its American cousin racquetball, as the ball may be played to all four corners of the court. Since every ball must strike the front wall above the tin (unlike racquetball), the ball cannot be easily 'killed'. As a result, rallies tend to be longer than in racquetball.
Most squash players prefer partners who are compatible physically, mentally, and technically, as a small difference in ability may result in one player overwhelmingly dominating the match. Currently there is no international standard method (other than for professional players) for evaluating skill levels for players.
Squash provides an excellent cardiovascular workout. In one hour of squash, a player may expend approximately 700 to 1000 calories (3,000 to 4,000 kJ) which is significantly more than most other sports and over 70% more than either general tennis or racquetball. The sport also provides a good upper and lower body workout by utilising both the legs to run around the court and the arms/torso to swing the racquet. However, some studies have implicated squash as a cause of possible fatal Cardiac arrhythmia and argued that squash is inappropriate form of exercise for older men with heart disease.
Squash now has a universal appeal, as there are courts in 148 countries in the world from Argentina to Zambia..
Players and records
The (British) Squash Rackets Association conducted its first British Open championship for men in December 1930, using a 'challenge' system: Charles Read was designated champion, but was beaten in home and away matches by Don Butcher, who was then recorded as the champion for 1931. The championship continues to this day, but has been conducted with a 'knockout' format since 1947.
Since its inception, the men's British Open has been dominated by relatively few players: F.D. Amr Bey (Egypt) in the 1930s; Mahmoud Karim (Egypt) 1940s; brothers Hashim Khan and Azam Khan (Pakistan) 1950s and 1960s; Jonah Barrington (Great Britain and Ireland) and Geoff Hunt (Australia) 1960s and 1970s; Jahangir Khan (Pakistan) 1980s; Jansher Khan (Pakistan) 1990s.
The women's championship started in 1921, and has similarly been dominated by relatively few players: Joyce Cave and Nancy Cave (England) in the 1920s; Margot Lumb (England) 1930s; Janet Morgan (England) 1950s; Heather McKay (Australia) 1960s and 1970s; Vicki Cardwell (Australia) and Susan Devoy (New Zealand) 1980s; Michelle Martin (Australia) 1990s; Sarah Fitz-Gerald (Australia) 1990s and 2000s.
Heather McKay, with her lengthy and absolute dominance of the game (she remained undefeated in her 18 year career during the 1960s and 1970s), is undoubtedly the greatest woman player of all time. Amongst the men, most modern commentators consider Jahangir Khan (1980s) or (the distantly related) Jansher Khan (1990s) to be the greatest male players. Other worthy contenders are Jonah Barrington, Geoff Hunt and Hashim Khan.
Because of its traditions, the British Open has been considered by many to be more prestigious than the World Open, which began in the mid-1970s. However, some have shown concern about the ability of the former to sustain its prominence, citing its failure in 2005 to attract top players, probably due in part to the disparity in prize money. In 2005 the combined men's and women's prize money for the British Open came to $71,000, compared with the 2005 World Open's prize money, estimated to be about $270,000.
Hashim Khan was the first of a line of great Pakistani squash champions, including Jahangir Khan and Jansher Khan. Jahangir, now president of the World Squash Federation, won the British Open ten times and the World Open eight times. Jansher took over his mantle in 1989 with his first of World Open titles.
Former world number one hundred Alby King of Dunedin, New Zealand has stated that he believes squash has a "very realistic chance" of being added to the list of Olympic sports for the 2016 games.
External LinksEngland Squash
United States Squash Racquets Association
World Squash Federation, has more details on rules, rankings and court dimensions
Squashblog - squash journalism and discussion
PSALIVE.TV - recording and streaming of matches from international tournaments
Squash playing resources