With the prospect of squash squeaking into Olympic 2020, more and more racquet sports enthusiasts are trying to understand the game of squash. Tennis and badminton players are interested to find out how squash compares with their preferred sport. So, is it easy enough to switch from one game to the other and back without compromising the level of play? While we may not all be like Fred Perry who won world titles in dual racquet sports – tennis and table tennis, it is easy enough to get to a decent level in all three sports if you set your mind to it. Add table tennis to the mix and you have the sport Racketlon! Now before you head off and sign up for the next Racketlon tournament, here are some basics on Racquets, Shoes, Courts and such, for the uninitiated.
Racquets, balls and birds
I often get asked if any of the three racquets – tennis, squash and badminton – are interchangeable. The definitive answer is “no.” If you try, you are guaranteed to break your racquet, or injure your wrist.
Tennis racquets vary in size and weight. Based on the material and the size of the frame used, their weights range on an average between 250-325 grams. From a racquet sports perspective, tennis balls weigh the heaviest at around 57-58 grams.
Squash racquets are lighter and weigh in the range of 110-175 grams. Squash balls are smaller in diameter than tennis balls and weigh on an average 23-25 grams. Squash balls practically do not bounce until they are warmed up before a game by repeated strokes against the wall.
Badminton racquets are the lightest of the three and often weigh as little as 80 grams. Modern racquets made of carbon fibre composite help generate power irrespective of the racquet’s weight. The shuttle cock, often referred to as the “bird” or “birdie,” is typically made of feathers and weighs around 5 grams. Unlike feather birds, the plastic ones are more durable and have become the shuttle cock of choice for the casual player in North America. It is necessary to note that all professional level tournaments are played using feather birds.
Grip, balance and strings of the racquet will have a large impact on your game. If the racquet grip is too small, you end up gripping the racquet too tightly which could lead to injuries to the wrist and arm. A grip larger than your comfort level could end up slipping in your hand and take away from the effectiveness of your strokes. The balance of the racquet – head heavy vs. head light, – and stiffness of the racquet also have significant bearing on the power vs. control a player generates. To know more about how racquet strings affect your game checkout my recent post titled Do you know your racquet strings?
Can you play squash or badminton wearing tennis shoes? The simple answer is that you can, but not recommended. Tennis shoes rarely have non-marking, gum soles which are a requirement for indoor wooden courts. From a squash player’s perspective, the constant lunges and pushbacks are inconceivable without the proper traction and stability that a pair of flat, gum-soled shoes brings. Tennis shoes are heavier and have thicker padding in the heel area making it harder for badminton players to arch back for smashes and overhead clears. Squash and badminton shoes are largely interchangeable when playing on courts with wooden surfaces, though the sole of the two shoes are purpose-designed for movements that are unique to each game.
Tennis courts can be categorized into three types – hard courts, grass courts and clay courts. The most common court surface in North America is the hard court which traditionally has either asphalt or concrete foundation and is coated with an acrylic or synthetic layer for impact resistance.
Squash court surfaces are usually made of light coloured hard wood laid on top of fully sprung floors. A 3/8” gap where the side-wall meets the floor is part of the design that allows players to hit a “nick”, intentionally or otherwise.
Badminton, of the indoor variety, is played on sprung floors with synthetic or wood surfaces. The courts generally have a matte finish to prevent glare during play.
One common strategy that you will find across the board in all racquet sports is to attack the opponent’s backhand. This assumes that the most players have stronger strokes on their forehand vs. the backhand. This would explain why most professional and top class tennis, badminton and table-tennis players jump on the first opportunity to convert a backhand shot into forehand. Squash is perhaps the exception to this pattern. Though, the fact that most squash players chose to serve to the opponents backhand when they have a choice, supports this theory. Other common sense elements like keeping the ball as far away from your opponent and playing shots that force the player to the back of the court are also part of the strategy for all three sports.
As you can see, the three games have similarities and differences that would require players to adapt if they are switching from one to the other. Essentially, hand-eye coordination, footwork and endurance are the common elements in being able to play these games competitively or for fun.
So go ahead and give it a try!
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