Being a mentally tough squash player is all about playing the big points better than your opponents. Many people who are new to squash find themselves struggling with either game point up or down, but in order to play these points effectively you have to why you are playing them ineffectively.
The most common reason people struggle with this is the lack of a finishing strategy. If you don’t have an idea of how you plan to win, you may panic, get nervous, or radically alter your game, none of which tend to help anybody close out tight matches.
I’ve definitely been there. A lot. I struggle particularly with game point up and this constantly plagues me both physically and mentally.
In a squash tournament last year, I played a guy that I had always been competitive with and I ended up winning 17-15 in the 5th. This sounds like a pretty good win, but there’s more to this story. Throughout the match, I had a total of 12 match points before I finally closed it out. I went up 2-0 in games, and had 6 match points in the 3rd game before I finally lost. I was so mentally drained that I dropped the 4th with little fight and found myself down 10-6 in the 5th. I don’t know how I managed to pull out the victory, but I really should have won it in 3, and not in extra points in the 5th which is basicly a coin toss
The truly ironic thing about my victory is how well I played game ball down. I felt like a squash pro, hitting all my shots well and playing tactically cool as a cucumber. But as soon as I went game ball up, I started hitting tins, floors, missing the ball completely, hitting extremely loose drops and boasts, and making very poor decisions with the ball.
While this made for an exciting match, by the end, I was so mentally fatigued and frustrated that I ended up just playing squash, and not worrying so much about the score.
Although I haven’t been able to conquer this problem fully yet, there are a couple ways I have seen people handle this situation over the years.
1) Catch your opponent off guard by using the shot you haven’t played yet in a deceptive way. I don’t know of a lot of squash players that are able to do this, but if you have a shot that you play well, this can be an effective way to close out matches. You only need to hit it once to win. The only problem with this approach is what might happen if your opponent is able to get back your special shot, or if you don’t get a chance to use it in the rally. With you bag of tricks empty, you may run out of options and find yourself deflated.
2) Make your opponent have to play an amazing shot to beat you. When matches get tight, I usually think to myself “play tough squash”. If my opponent wants to roll off a bunch of amazing nicks consecutively or hit some ridiculous winners then so be it, but I’m not going to let them win by giving them free points due to my errors. The only problem with this approach is that your opponent might also play tough squash, and if they have a fitness advantage on you, especially in the twilight of the game, you might get tired doing this before they do. And there’s also the chance they might actually hit the shots they aim for.
3) Play game point the same way that you played every other point. I remember watching a match where a guy crumbled after being 10-2 up, serving the ball out, hitting tins, and playing a totally different game after going game point up. Between games, his friend told him to not worry about the score and to play every point the same, and he won the following came 11-4. His logic made perfect sense. Since it was how you played the rest of the points that got you to game ball, why would you change that? Unless you are very confident in you ability to play tough squash or to hit a special shot, this way of thinking is probably the best.