Moving from racquetball to squash

I began the transition from racquetball to squash this afternoon. One of the downsides of the Hitachi Consulting acquisition was that our Navigator-paid health club membership was no more. Unfortunately for a few of us regulars, there just aren’t that many courts around. The place Nav paid for was one of the few choices, but hard to justify with Christy already having a membership closer to home. So, I added on to Christy’s membership at Lifetime where squash is the only option.

My first stop was to a few sites to learn the rules (World Squash) and the difference between squash and racquetball.

First, the racquet. A racquetball racquet looks like a stubby tennis racquet. A squash racquet looks more like a badmitton racquet and has a smaller head. I was worried it would take some getting used to but the transition was very natural so no worries there.

Next, the ball. In racquetball, the livelier the ball, the better. In squash, apparently, the really good balls are extremely dead (In fact, I have no idea how you know when your squash ball has gone bad). The first time I dropped the squash ball on the court I knew I was in for something different. It hit the court with a thud, maybe bounced a half inch off the court and just sat there. A racquetball would have bounced about fifteen times, bounced out the door, and down the hall. The ball does get a bit more lively as it heats up during warm up and game play. A squash ball is significantly smaller but that didn’t bother me.

Balls are rated by their bounce. Double yellow dots indicate that the ball will need lots of action to get it going. See this site for more on ball ratings. Of course I thought “pro” was marketing speak for “our best ball” so that’s what I got. I don’t know if that’s what most beginners do. We’ll see.

Finally, the court. The court is smaller than a racquetball court but because you aren’t getting much bounce you’ll swear you are running the same amount if not more.

A squash court has several markings not present in a racquetball court. In racquetball you can serve anywhere between the two lines on the floor. Left side, right side, center, it doesn’t matter. After hitting the front wall, a serve can land anywhere in the back half of the court. During play, the ball has to hit the front wall but can hit any other side wall including the ceiling.

A squash court, on the other hand, has two designated areas from which your serve alternates. A served ball must hit the front wall (in a specific area, see “service line”, below) then land in the opposite quarter, like tennis. After the serve the rules are like racquetball except for the out lines which I’ll discuss shortly.

The part that takes more getting used to is the “tin”, the service line, and the “out” line. The tin is, literally, a piece of metal that runs across the bottom of the front wall. It’s OB. This is good for two reasons: First, anything hit that low could never be returned. Second, it eliminates the problem in racquetball when you have to rely on the “squeak” to know if the ball hit the floor first or the wall first. When a ball hits the tin you know it. The problem for us racquetballers is that a really low shot is a really great shot, usually, so I was whacking the tin with some regularity.

The service line runs across the front wall about halfway up. The serve has to hit the front wall above the service line but below the out line.

The out line runs around the entire court at varying heights. Anything on or above that line is also OB. That rules out ceiling shots, high shots off the side wall, and long lobs that come off the front wall and hit high on the back wall. But, again, because of the dynamics of the ball, we didn’t see too many balls hitting that high unless they were really bad shots.

See the World Squash court diagrams to get the picture.

I’ll miss racquetball. When I was really in the zone I felt like I had time to slow down and analyze the shot before making it–picture “bullet time” photography a la The Matrix. My racquetball mantra was always “patience”. Maybe once I settle in to the Zen of Squash I’ll be able to recapture that.

Today after hitting around a bit with Christy to get used to things I was able to pick up a game with a guy who plays regularly. I was happy to find it was every bit as physically and mentally challenging as racquetball. (And I was happy to see that some of my racquetball skills were still put to good use–he didn’t skunk me).

One thing that killed me was corner shots. In racquetball if someone puts it in the corner you can usually dig it out because there’s enough bounce left for you to get under it. In squash maybe good players can dig out a corner shot but I found that if I let him get to the corner I was dead. Another was the back wall. Hitting off the backwall is a common racquetball shot. A successful back wall shot is more geometry than muscle. In squash you’ve really got to crank it to have a hope. I never saw my opponent try it. I tried several times out of habit and never came close.

So there’s another acquisition transition item taken care of. On to the next one.