Squash is similar to tennis, except you’ll do a lot of running after that not-so-bouncy ball.
I WAS NERVOUS about the geometry of squash after a recent run-in with racquetball — but I really should have been more nervous about the relentless sprinting.
I was at PRO Sports Club in Bellevue to learn more about squash. I have played squash before, and remembered feeling more at home there than with racquetball. Both of them use indoor courts, but squash is different, in the best way — it’s a lot more like tennis, which I grew up playing. My teacher, Shabana Khan, calls those two racket sports cousins. Hallelujah.
The squash racket is similar to a tennis racket, only slightly shorter and lighter. The court has boundary lines, unlike racquetball. More importantly, the ball hardly bounces. Why does it matter? See: relentless sprinting.
Khan starts me off with a rally. I have good hand-eye coordination, but I keep forgetting I have to hustle to get to the ball, which doesn’t bounce. I whiff a lot early on.
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We work on my swing and follow-through. I tend to swing up and over my torso to my opposite shoulder, from my tennis days, rather than extend my arm, keeping the racket parallel to the ground. Whenever I extend properly for my follow-through, it shows, and I am able to hit well.
Khan ramps things up quickly, or at least that’s how it feels. She has me hit 10 shots in a row, then another 10, always patiently reminding me to bend my knees more to get to the ball. I would get lower, but my legs are burning. I’m breathless from chasing down that little not-so-bouncy ball.
We work on cross-court shots, and then she has me face sideways to practice hitting down the line. That kind of placement could help me force my opponent into a corner, she says. I struggle to return those shots. Khan tells me to slow down my swing, and be patient. It is hard.
The squash backhand is one-handed, and I again have to work on a straight arm and follow-through. Khan has me hit 10 in a row, and then another 10.
At one point, she asks whether I want a break. Yes! I get some water, and look at the clock. Twenty-two minutes in. I’m sweaty and panting from the running. Thirty minutes seems like a long time.
After practicing hitting down the line on both the forehand and backhand side, we work on returning shots to the back corner. My feet are always ready, she says, but I need to have my racket prepped. The game is so fast, it’s important to keep my body in position to hit and then return to the T in the center of the court.
We move into full points. Khan is a placement master, and she has me running all over the court. My tennis mind comes into play, and I try to hit it closer to the wall and then force Khan to run to the other end of the court. Khan applauds my efforts, though my mind is ahead of my execution — it frequently doesn’t work.
I win a couple of points, but mostly the best I can do is get a couple of shots back before Khan kills me with a drop shot or a shot close to the wall.
We play the full hour, and by the end, I can’t believe how tired and sweaty I am. You can’t sit back on your heels in squash.
And, it was awesome. If I had regular access to a squash court, especially in winter, I would be right there, chasing down that crazy, not-so-bouncy ball.