How Squash has changed …

“I’m back into squash after a 13 year absence and there have been lots of changes,” says Phillip Marlowe …


SH_488I’m back into squash after a 13 year absence and there have been lots of changes.

In the same way that the metaphorical boiling frog doesn’t notice the gradual increase in temperature, some changes aren’t always obvious to those who have lived through them.

So, I’d like to write about some of those changes and see if you agree with me …

Author: Phillip Marlowe

Having started playing squash in my late teens, it was clear that I was never going to reach the heights of my dreams. I did, however, claim the Guinness World Squash Endurance Record of 122 Hours and 44 Minutes. After that Squash became my life. Phillip's full profile

23 thoughts on “How Squash has changed …”

  1. Great article. However I disagree about the disappearance of the ‘cocked wrist’. It is true that Ramy especially appears to have a ‘straight’ wrist before hitting, but if you look closely you will see that all players have a cocked wrist just before and at the moment of impact.

    Another thing I disagree about is that Geoff Hunt would like to be known as Geoff Hung… or maybe he wouldn’t mind…

    One other change is that players seem to be much more adventurous in going for shots today, compared to the severe attritional matches of the 70’s and 80’s. I think it is because of a different mentality which isn’t only due to equipment changes and lower tins. In fact with PAR scoring you would assume that players would be more cautious, yet the reverse seems to be true.

    So I would say it looks to me like the best players in the past seemed to have infinite patience and endurance and played safe length most of the time (Jansher, Jahangir), whereas today the best players are more acrobatic and other shots are played more often.

    1. Stefan,

      I didn’t mean to suggest that the cocked wrist has completely gone, but more that the very formal, regimented cocked-wrist preparation, so common in the past, especially, on the backhand.

      You make a good point about the scoring and adventurousness of the players. I used to enjoy the old system, but I also recognize that it’s more interesting for some players and definitely TV.

      The word “acrobatic”, also reminded me that many more players dive across the court that I ever remember, even amateurs.

  2. Excellent comments about the warm-up – drives me mad the way players hog the ball. I usually put my racquet down and lean against a wall, and feign surprise when the ball is sent, reluctantly and usually unplayably, back to me ! It never makes any difference though !
    Actually, even asking for lets seems to have disappeared, an assumption is made instead, and I have often heard refs asking players if they were, in fact, asking for a let !

    1. I make the same point about asking for lets in the article. I think there should be some agreed visual signal for asking for lets, perhaps an open palm raised or something.

      1. I think there is an agreed signal…? Players frame the letter “L” with their thumb and forefinger in our club. I have seen professional players use the same signal. In noisy environments the referee can use the same signal (or a closed fist to signal a stroke) to let the players know what the decision is.

        I fully agree with players following “due process” instead of trying to influence the process by assuming certain results. I think it is because of a mindset of “fighting for every point no matter what” instead of “follow the rules no matter what”. Players want to be winners but sometimes end up being whiners instead…

  3. My theory on a couple of your points:

    – On the cocked wrist: The cocked wrist is helpful in that it helps immobilize the wrist and prevent you from using small muscles to control the ball. It helps you to isolate larger muscles. Whether it is fully cocked or more extended, locking it is the key. Ramy does hit many balls fully extended and some more cocked depending on the ball position. But it is always locked out.

    – On more adventurous shots: I think the main reason for that is the lower tin for pros. You may not have even observed it after the long layoff (I didn’t) but lowering the tin provided more reward for shotmaking and easier angles to the nick.

    – Other changes: The change that disturbs me the most is the double yellow dot ball. It was meant to slow down the game so that pros could actually hit winners. I have seen studies that the double yellow ball does that for amateurs, but that for pros the ball pressure actually expands (the pros’ power heats the ball to a higher temperature), and it actually bounces more than the old single yellow balls. So it actually had an unintended effect for the pros and takes away the attritional game for the average amateur. Amateurs below the top level should be playing with a single yellow and even a white dot in very cold temperatures. This (together with PAR for amateurs) is a very disappointing development for amateur play.


    1. I’m not suggesting that the cocked wrist is bad or has no benefit, I was just trying to make the point that the very early cocked-wrist preparation has serious declined.

      Having a cocked wrist helps pronation and supination during contact, there’s no doubt about that.

      With regard to the tin height, you could be right and I’ll have to check the heights of the tins I play at, but I’m not sure I agree that it has made that much difference. The types of shots I am thinking about are no where near the tin, it’s more angles that seem to have changed. I believe that the tin height has affected nicks and drops more than anything else.

      The issue of the balls is a thorny one. I dream of a day when we have one ball for all standards and all temperatures.

    2. Good thoughts on balls, Mr/Ms LKanon. Particularly for older ‘Masters’ players, on cold courts the double yellow ball produces a travesty of squash. There isn’t the power to warm the ball up, with the result that points are reduced to two or three shots. Allied with PAR scoring, matches typically take fifteen minutes or less. With older Masters, the serve and return of serve are anyway pre-eminent – if you put yourself in a bad position with one or other, you don’t have the speed to get back into the rally. Faster balls would counteract all this and allow strategy and fitness to have the serious influence that they should on the outcome of the game.

  4. Great to see an action photo of the great Sean Flynn. One of the best junior players ever, even beat Jahangir on 1978 world junior champs semi final.
    Saw Sean last weekend at the Gard du Nord in Nimes where he is coaching.

  5. Wow, now I understand why the old guys never hit too many balls in a row during the warmup, and lecture me when I hit three in a row back to myself. Logically speaking it makes sense to hit more balls back to yourself and then send the ball to your opponent since practicing straight drives is obviously more important than practicing crosscourts. So, message to old timers: get with the times. We will hit the ball 5-8 times, then you will hit the ball 5-8 times. The warmup is not a big life lesson metaphor about sharing. If anything, perhaps the warmup is a life lesson on patience. Don’t freak out if you don’t get the ball back every second shot.

    1. On behalf of the old timers, if you haven’t got your straight drives grooved already then the warmup is far too late to be practicing them. The warmup is for warming up the ball and both players simultaneously, not practicing your shots.

    2. I agree with Steve, if you need to practice you straight drives in the warm up, then you are in trouble!

      Perhaps it comes down to two things:
      1. Good manners. Sure hitting a few shots to yourself is fine but some players hit nearly ten shots and in that time I am standing around getting cold. It’s wrong.

      2. The psychology of the real game. We hit alternatively in the match and that’s 99% percent of the time on court so it’s something we become accustomed to.

    3. The warm up isn’t a practice. Read the label: it’s a WARM UP. It’s an opportunity to get the feel for the pace of the ball and the court, how the ball comes off the side wall and so on. If you like, by varying the shots you hit to your opponent you can start to explore their strengths and weaknesses.

      Sure you can turn squash into another self-obsessed sport, me-me-me and MY right to hit MY shots to MYself, but one of squash’s strengths is that up to now it hasn’t been intrinsically mean-spiritied. This is the background to Philip’s comment, “I feel confident that I could go anywhere in the world and visit a squash club and say I’m visiting and receive a warm welcome.” I regard being a squash player as almost as good as having a second passport. It’s a WARM-spirited game.

  6. Nice article. I came to the game late and would love to see an “old-timers game” some time with old equipment. Loved the warm-up comments. John White says he saw a guy disqualified in the warm-up for not hitting to his opponent enough.

    1. Having a Seventies night is great fun. Dunlop greenflash style shoes, wooden rackets, big moustaches (ladies included) and whites only kit!

      In fact, it can be very instructive to play with a wooden racket to fully realize how good the pros were back then.

      Never saw anybody disqualified in the warm up, that’s sounds a little extreme.

  7. White kit, yesss! Pardon the outrageous self-promotion, but see the reference to white knickers in my squash thriller, “Sex and Drugs and Squash’n’Roll”. Pushy parents, conning the ref, sabotaging the opponent off the court by various more or less murderous tactics, AND the stuff in the title, it’s all there!

  8. Th comment of being a squash player is like having a second passport I can relate to. I moved to Sydney 9 years ago and received what seemed like a red carpet welcome. I joined a “pennant” team after one friendly hit from dropping into the local centre and now have a number of good squash pals. I mix things up by playing at a number of centres but Bondi remains my home club. Like American Express – squash players are accepted everywhere. Keep up the good manners

    1. That’s fantastic Dave. It’s great to hear real stories like this. Sport has so much power to bring people together. I’ll be sure to look you up if I ever get to Sydney.

  9. To Dave: it was in Sydney that I too first experienced the door-opening power of the squash passport, initially with Sydney Uni and then at the – probably now defunct – Sydney Club. I can feel the warmth of the welcome to this day.

  10. Sydney Uni are a great bunch. I got invited to a BBQ from one of their comp players a few weeks ago, its a great squash community.
    In terms of changes, Australia has a squash matrix. Which means every player has a ranking. Your team is put into a division based on the ranking of the players. The team order is automatically picked from matrix ranking. Every time you play a comp match you either gain or lose points.
    I think this is a great system on a number of levels. There is never any discussion about player order. It is a great way to measure your progress and a good motivator. It also encourages players to play in teams and tournaments.

  11. For me the biggest change is in tactics. Now players are attacking much often. They speed agility is on higher level so they are not afraid of attacking. And the biggest change is the Video Streaming, now it can be watched 🙂

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