Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Squash is an indoor racquet sport which was, until recently, called "Squash Rackets", a reference to the 'squashable' soft ball used in the game (compared with the harder ball used in its parent game Racquets or Rackets--see below).
The game is played by two players, with 'standard' rackets (or occasionally four players for doubles) in a four-walled court with a small, hollow rubber ball.
Squash historians assert that the game originated in the 19th century at the Harrow School, just outside London in England, as a derivative of the game of Racquets. The first recorded construction of purpose-built squash courts was at Harrow in the 1860s. It is possible that earlier squash courts were created at Harrow by sub-dividing a racquets court, which is almost exactly the size of three Squash courts (to allow more players on the courts at the same time).
The game generally remained the preserve of the schools and universities until the early part of the 20th century, by which time it was becoming popular in the private clubs (such as the RAC in London) and with officers in the British armed forces.
The USA was the first nation to form a dedicated association and codify its game, in 1907. In the same year, the (English) Tennis and Rackets Association formed a squash rackets sub-committee to administer the game, which became progressively codified during the 1920s. Subsequently, the (English) Squash Rackets Association was formed and took over administration of the game in 1928. The game is now administered by the WSF (World Squash Federation). The men's professional game is managed by the PSA (Professional Squash Association) and the women's by WISPA (Women's International Squash Professionals Association ).
Squash continued almost exclusively as the game of the upper middle classes until around the 1950s, when commercial operators commenced to build public courts. The game boomed in popularity, with participation peaking around the early 1980s. Despite a downturn in player numbers, the game remains popular in many countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Europe, North America and parts of Asia.
At the elite level, the game was strictly divided between amateur players (usually 'gentlemen' and 'ladies') and professional players, who were often coaches employed by the exclusive clubs. This division started to break down with the growth of the commercial side of the game in the 1960s, with the women's game becoming 'open' in 1973 and the men's game following in 1980.
The playing area
Courts are usually constructed with masonry walls, finished with a smooth render and painted white with red 'out' and 'service' lines. Many modern courts have been constructed with a glass back wall, and professional matches are often played on an 'all-glass' court, to allow for viewing by up to 2000 spectators.
The floor is usually a light-coloured timber strip flooring, laid longitudinally, with red line markings for the service boxes and service areas. The ceiling should be light-coloured and high enough to permit the ball to be 'lobbed' (hit in a high arc to the back of the court).
In the more popular and widespread 'International' (originally English) version of the game, the court is 9.75 m (32 feet) long by 6.4 m (21 feet) wide. The 'American' version of the game uses a harder ball and a court 18 feet (5.49 m) wide.
The 'International' court has a panel at the base of the front wall called the 'tin', surmounted by a 50 mm (2 inches) high 'board', in total 480 mm (19 inches) high. 'Out' lines 2.13 m (7 feet) high at the back wall and 4.57 m (15 feet) at the front wall, are joined by a raking 'out' line on each side wall.
'Standard' rackets are governed by the rules of the game. Traditionally, they were made of laminated timber, with a small strung area using natural 'gut' strings. After a rule change in the mid-1980s, they are now typically made of ceramic materials (graphite, kevlar and the like), usually with synthetic strings. Modern rackets are 70 cm (27 inches) long, with a maximum strung area of 500 square centimetres (approximately 80 square inches) and weigh between 110 and 200 grams (4-7 ounces).
Balls are made from two pieces of highly durable rubber compound glued together and buffed to a matte finish. Different balls are provided for the varying conditions and standards of play: less experienced players are able to use balls that are bouncier and larger than those used by more experienced players. Small coloured dots on the ball indicate the level of bounciness and hence, the standard of play it is suited for. The 'double-yellow dot ball' is currently the competition standard (before this ball was introduced in 2000, the yellow-dot was long considered standard), and is manufactured by Dunlop, Prince, Pointfore and others. There is also a high-altitude ball, used in places like Mexico City and Denver.
Because of the vigorous nature of the game, players need to wear comfortable sports clothing and robust indoor (non-marking) sports shoes. Towelling wrist and head bands may also be required in humid climates. Eye protection with polycarbonate lenses is also recommended, as players may be struck by a fast-swinging racket or the ball, which can typically reach speeds of up to 200 km/h (125 mph) - in the 2004 Canary Wharf Squash Classic, John White was recorded at driving balls at speeds over 170 mph (270 km/h). Many Squash venues require the use of eye protection.
The play and scoring
The players take turns hitting the ball against the front wall (referred to as 'rallying'). The ball may be volleyed (hit on the full) or hit after its first bounce. To be considered 'good', the ball must reach the front wall below the 'out' line and above the 'tin', before touching the floor. The ball may also be struck against any of the other three walls before and/or after reaching the front wall. Shots that are first played off the side or back walls are referred to as 'boasts' or 'angles'.
The rally continues until a player is unable to return his or her opponent's shot or makes a mistake (i.e. hits the ball 'out' or onto the 'tin'), or a 'let' or 'stroke' is awarded by the referee for interference (see below).
In the 'traditional' English scoring system (as adopted in 1926), a point is scored only by the server (when the receiver is unable to return the ball to the front wall before it has bounced twice). When the receiver wins the rally, they are awarded only the right to serve.
Games are usually played to 9 points (alternatively, the receiver may opt to call 'set two' and play to 10 when the score first reaches 8-8). Competition matches are usually played to 'best-of-five' (ie. first player to win 3 games wins the match).
Alternatively, in the point-a-rally scoring system (referred to as PARS or 'American' scoring), points are scored by the winner of each rally, whether or not they have served. Traditionally, PARS scoring was up to 15 points (or the receiver calls 15 or 17 when the game reaches 14 all). However, in 2004, the PARS scoring was reduced to 11 for the professional game (If the game reaches 10 all, a player must win with two consecutive points with the serve).
In the 'international' game, club, doubles and recreational matches are usually played using the traditional 'English' scoring system.
Strategy and tactics
The fundamental strategy of the game is to hit the ball straight up the side walls to the back corners (referred to as a 'good length' shot), then move to the centre of the court to be well placed to retrieve the opponent's return. Attacking with soft shots to the front corners (referred to as 'drop shots') causes the opponent to cover more of the court and may result in an outright winner. 'Angle' shots (see above) are used for deception and again to cause the opponent to cover more of the court.
Highly-skilled players will attempt to finish rallies by hitting the ball onto the front wall and into the 'nick' (the junction between the side wall and floor), causing the ball to roll along the floor and be unreturnable. However, if the shot misses the nick, the ball may bounce out from the side wall and allow the opponent an easy attacking shot.
Interference and obstruction
Interference and obstruction are an inevitable aspect of this highly athletic sport, where two players are confined within a shared space. Generally, the rules entitle players to reasonable access to the ball, a reasonable swing and an unobstructed shot to any part of the front wall. When interference occurs, a player may appeal for a 'let' and the referee (or the players themselves if there is no official) then interprets the extent of the interference. The referee may elect to allow a 'let' and the players then replay the point, or award a 'stroke' (either a point or the right to serve) to the appealing player, depending on the degree of interference.
When it is deemed that there has been little or no interference, the rules decree that no let is to be allowed, in the interests of continuity of play and the discouraging of spurious appeals for lets. Because of the subjectivity in interpreting the nature and magnitude of interference, the awarding (or withholding) of lets and strokes is often controversial.
Cultural and social aspects of squash
The relatively small Squash court and low-bouncing ball makes the game harder to master than its American cousin racquetball, as the ball may be played to all four corners of the court. Since every ball must strike the front wall above the tin (unlike racquetball), the ball cannot be easily killed. As a result, rallies tend to be longer than in racquetball.
Squash provides an excellent cardio-vascular workout. In one hour of squash, a player may expend 700-1000 calories (3 to 4 kJ) which is significantly more than most other sports. The sport also provides a good upper and lower body workout by utilising both the legs to run around the court and the arms/torso to swing the racquet.
There are several variations of squash played across the world. In the US 'hardball' singles and doubles are played with a harder ball and different size courts (as noted above). Whilst 'hardball' singles is losing popularity in North America (to the 'International' game), the doubles game is still active. There is a also a doubles version of squash played with the standard ball, sometimes on a wider court, and a more tennis-like variation known as squash tennis.
Squash games are most competitive and enjoyable when played between players of similar skill levels. However there is no international standard method for evaluating the players' skill levels. This creates a rather interesting phenomenon within the squash community: many squash players are constantly on the look-out for potential partners who are compatible physically, mentally, and technically.
Players and records
The (English) Squash Rackets Association conducted its first British Open championship for men in 1930, using a 'challenge' system: Charles Read was designated champion, but was beaten in home and away matches by Don Butcher. This championship continues to this day, but now using a knockout format since 1947.
Since its inception, the men's British Open has been dominated by relatively few players: F. D. Amr Bey (Egypt) in the 1930s; Mahmoud Karim (Egypt) 1940s; brothers Hashim and Azam Khan (Pakistan) 1950s and 1960s; Jonah Barrington (Great Britain and Ireland) and Geoff Hunt (Australia) 1960s and 1970s; Jahangir Khan (Pakistan) 1980s; Jansher Khan (Pakistan) 1990s. Recent championships have been shared by players from England, Scotland, Wales, Australia and Canada.
The women's championship started in 1921, and has similarly been dominated by relatively few players: Nancy and Joyce Cave (England) in the 1920s; Margot Lumb (England) 1930s; Janet Morgan (England) 1950s; Heather McKay (Australia) 1960s and 1970s; Susan Devoy (New Zealand) 1980s; Michelle Martin (Australia) 1990s.
Because of its traditions, the British Open is considered by many to be more prestigious than the world championships, which commenced in the mid-1970s.
Heather McKay, with her lengthy and absolute dominance of the game during the 1960s and 1970s, is undoubtedly the greatest woman player of all time. Amongst the men, most modern commentators consider Hashim Khan (1950s) or (the unrelated) Jahangir Khan (1980s) to be the greatest men players. Other worthy contenders are Jonah Barrington, Geoff Hunt and Jansher Khan.
- List of squash players
- List of World Open Squash Championship results
- Women's International Squash Players Association
See also the Squash Hall of fame.
Bellamy, Rex: The Story of Squash, Cassell Ltd, London 1978
Palmer, Michael: Guinness Book of Squash, Guiness Superlatives Ltd London 1984
- SquashTalk, has squash hall of fame, historical information, current news
- College Squash Association, has complete details on intercollegiate squash in the USA
- World Squash Federation, has more details on rules, rankings and court dimensions
- Guide-to-Squash, with some online videos of squash
- SquashClub.org, an online community of squash players
- Washington DC squash links
- RopeyLadder.com, an online system for running competitive squash ladders
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