In Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, more and more people were living in cities where it was hard to find open spaces for sports and games. But people love games, so they worked out ways to use whatever small spaces they could find, and ways to use the brick and stone walls that enclosed these spaces. They found walls in back alleys and courtyards, and outside factories and churches. And with just a wall and a ball made of rolled up cloth, they could play handball by hitting the ball against the wall with their hands. At the same time rackets were being used in another new game called "real tennis". A game then emerged in nineteenth-century Britain that combined real tennis's use of rackets with handball's use of walls. This new game, called rackets, was popular among schoolboys, especially those in public schools like Harrow, where "rackets courts" were soon being built. And it was on these courts in the 1830's that some inventive boys first tried playing rackets using balls made of a new material called rubber. But they found these balls were often too hard, and they'd bounce too far, and this made shots too easy to reach. So they softened the balls and made them "squashy" by sticking tiny holes in them with pins. This meant they didn't bounce so high, or fly so fast, and players had to run to the ball instead of having the ball come to them. It was this modified form of rackets, played on a court with a soft rubber ball, that became the game we now call squash.
How The Game Works
Courts and equipment
The size of squash courts has been fixed since the 1920's at 32 feet from front to back and 21 feet across. The front wall has 3 horizontal lines; the board at 18.9 inches from the floor, the service line at 6 feet from the floor, and the "out" line at 15 feet from the floor. Between the board and the floor is the tin, which is out of play, as is the area above the "out" line. On the floor, the short line divides the court into the front half and the back half. The half court line runs from the middle of the short line to the back of the court and divides the back area into two quarter courts, in each of which a service box is marked out (see the diagram below).
Equipment needed includes squash rackets and squash balls. The balls are 4cm (approx. 1.5 inches) in diameter and made of a special type of rubber. They come in different degrees of hardness, with softer balls not bouncing so far, and harder ones bouncing further. The further they bounce, the easier shots are to reach on the court. The degree of hardness and "bounciness" is indicated by the colour of small dots on the ball. Players also need light, flexible shoes and loose-fitting clothing.
Shots and scoring
A game begins with the player serving first standing with one foot in the service box. Serves can be overarm or underarm, and both styles are commonly used. A serve must hit the front wall between the service line and the "out" line, and then land in the quarter court opposite the server, unless the receiver hits it first. A rally then begins with players taking turns to hit shots. Each shot must hit the front wall between the board and the "out" line. The most common shot is the flat, firmly-hit drive or rail shot, which hits the front wall near the service line and bounces behind the service box. A good drive is tight, or close to the side wall. The drop shot is a soft shot that comes off the wall just above the board and can be difficult to reach before its second low bounce. The boast is a shot that hits one or more walls before hitting the front wall. The lob is hit high off the front wall so that it arcs high and lands deep in the back court, and a volley is a shot that is hit before the ball bounces. A very good spot for any shot to land on is the nick, which is the junction of the floor and the wall. This is because the ball will bounce very low, making it nearly impossible to hit.
A rally continues until a player misses a shot or hits the ball out. If a player thinks he missed a shot because of interference by his opponent, he can appeal. The referee can reject the appeal if he thinks there was no interference, or award a let or a stroke if there was. A let is awarded if the referee thinks the interference was accidental, and the point is played again. A stroke is awarded if the referee thinks the interference was deliberate, or it stopped a winning shot, and the striker is awarded the rally. In traditional scoring, also called "international scoring", if the server wins a rally, or is awarded a rally, he or she gets a point and keeps the serve. But if the receiver wins or is awarded a rally, he or she gets the next serve, but doesn't get a point. In the most common format the winner of a game is the first player to score nine points, and matches are "best-of-five", meaning the first player to win three games is the winner.
A new scoring system has recently been introduced and it's now being used in many competitions, including on the men's and women's professional tours. In this system, called "point-a-rally" (or PAR) scoring, players score a point for every rally they win. In the most common PAR format, the first player to score eleven points wins the game (PAR11). But if the score reaches ten all, or 10-10, the game keeps going until one player gets two points clear, as in 12-10 or 13-11.
StrategyIn all racket sports it's important to be in a good position on the court when ones opponent plays a shot, meaning in a position from which most shots can be reached. The best position for this in squash is near the "T", which is in the centre of the court where the half court line and the short line meet. To get there, a player could play a tight drive to force the opponent to the side of the court, and then move to the "T". Once there, the player might try to keep hitting shots that force the opponent to the walls or into the corners. This would keep the opponent on the defensive, and make it quite possible to beat him or her with a winner. Among top players, rallies can go on for twenty or thirty shots, so it can make a big difference to the result if one player is dominating the "T" while the other is running around the court trying to reach drop shots, boasts and tight drives along the walls, and becoming quite exhausted while doing so. The player who dominates the "T" will usually win the match.
Heather McKayFew people have ever dominated a sport the way Heather McKay dominated women's squash in the 1960's and 70's. She won 16 British Open titles in a row from 1962 to 1977, and then won the first-ever Women's World Open title in 1979. What makes Heather so amazing is the fact that from 1962 until the end of her career in 1981, a period of nineteen years, she was never beaten in a competition match! In fact, she only lost two matches in her entire career, one in 1960 and the other in 1962. This remarkable achievement has rarely been matched in the world of sports.
Jansher Khan is one of the greatest squash players in the history of the sport. He was born in 1969 in Peshawar, Pakistan, into a family of squash players. His older brother Mohibullah was a top international player in the seventies, so young Jansher had a teacher and role model right there in the family home. And learn he certainly did. Jansher won the World Junior Squash Championship in 1986, and the very next year he won the World Open title. He went on to win the World Open a record eight times, and also won the British Open six times. If you watch the video clip below you can see Jansher in action. You'll see his speed and his skill, and how he always seems to get to the "T" after playing a shot. Many saw this almost magical ability to dominate the "T" as one of his greatest strengths on the squash court.
Jansher "The Punisher" Khan, in action:
Researched and written for EnglishClub by Matt Errey