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Ali Farag on attacking opportunities

This article, in which Ian McKenzie discusses attacking opportunities with reigning World Champion Ali Farag, was published courtesy of Squash Player magazine, the magazine endorsed by the World Squash Federation.

As your game is based on speed rather than power, do you have to take the ball early to be effective? You often take the pace off the ball to get it to die in the back and this gives your opponent a problem.  

Exactly. You try to take the ball as early as possible to take movement and thinking time away from your opponent so they are not comfortable on the next shot. To do that, your shot has to be accurate. If it is not, they will have a lot of time on the ball and then you are going to be the one in trouble. It means your shot has not been restricting enough.

If you play a shot that comes back high off the back wall, they will have lots of options. You want to hit a good shot first, then look to take the next one early, then play another good shot, then when you take the next one early, you want to play another good shot. 

So it takes a few shots to build up the pressure and take time away from your opponent, then when they are predictable you go in for the kill? 

This is how I think about the game and play the game. I like to take time away from my opponent with good shot selection and good accuracy and then take the ball early. Repeat. When I force the weak return, here is my opportunity to attack.  

How do you work your way into a match? 

Take for example my match against Nicolas Mueller [in last year’s Optasia Championships]. I wasn’t going short at all, but every time I got an easy shot I tried to make my opponent do an extra effort, and then an extra effort, and so on. I knew then that even if I lost the rally, I had a good chance of winning because I had put an investment into his legs. 

Then when the ball softens up in the second game and he is expecting me to play another deep ball, this is when I start to go shorter. 

Even if I have an attacking opportunity early on in matches, especially when I know I have the physical advantage over my opponent, I still go into the back corners and put work into their legs, then I will open up the front corners in the later games. 

The advantage of the length ball is restricting your opponent to hitting straight, but you also seem to stand further up the T than your opponents and look to volley anything hit crosscourt. You seem to mostly hit these straight. 

I do, but if you do this every time opponents can predict it so I mix it up and go corner to corner. Often I overdo the crosscourt and that gives opponents an opportunity to volley. I’m trying to be more aware of it.  

How and when do you look for volley opportunities? 

It comes down to the quality of the shot. If an opponent can’t crosscourt from the backhand corner, you are leaning towards the backhand and looking for a volley opportunity. 

In the front corner, an opponent can go straight, short or crosscourt. You are good at reading these. How do you know what shot is coming? 

I am going to repeat myself. One of the ways is to have a good quality shot. For example, if you hit a tight ball, they are not going to be able to play a straight drive off it. You know it is going to be a crosscourt. 

It can be coming at you fast, though. 

Yes, but when you watch a lot of SQUASHTV, you study your opponents and you know their patterns of play. For example, if their body position is a certain way, or they take a ball with a certain timing, you know that this is the most likely shot to come. 

Some players are hard to read. Nicky [Mueller] is one of the hardest players to read from the front. Mohamed ElShorbagy is a lot better on the forehand side so when I am defending, I tend to play to his – relatively! – weaker backhand side. [Karim Abdel] Gawad is a lot better on the backhand.

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