Getting into squash

About 3 years ago I began playing squash. A little late in life but better late than never. It’s a sport that I’ve really come to enjoy. And the Athletic Centre at the University of Toronto has almost a dozen courts in pretty good shape… not to mention that the AC is a great facility that is very handy.

So, anyway, after several years I’m wondering about a new racquet and some stringing options to enhance my otherwise lame game. Me being me, I’ve researched the topic and thought others might benefit from some of the stuff I’ve learned.

Racquets:

There are two basic shapes. Almost everyone these days is using the teardrop shape with the open neck. Because the strings in these racquets are longer they give more bounce to the ball after being struck. They, therefore, result in more power. However there is always a trade off of power for control. A teardrop shaped racquet will impart less control.

Most teardrop racquets have a lower string density (usually 12 x 17 or so–that’s 12 vertical by 17 cross strings). That means each string is less tethered down and moves more with each ball strike, again decreasing accuracy of the shot.

The other basic shape is oval or quadra shaped. These racquets have closed throats. The string pattern is about 16/17, ie: a denser pattern for more control. But, there is less power imparted by an impact of the same speed and strength.

Contrary to what many people think, a tighter strung racquet is a less powerful one. The deformation of the strings and the resultant trampoline effect is what imparts speed to the ball. Tighter strings don’t move and therefore don’t trampoline as much.

That’s why teardrop racquets with longer string length and lower string density are used for power while the reverse is true for control.

Depending on your game, you should use a racquet that either enhances your strength or smooths out your weaknesses. I’m still working on what is best for me. My current racquet is more of a control oriented one (Dunlop Liquidmetal). More on my next choice later. Of course most racquets promise to to enhance both, but there is always a trade off.

Strings:

Aside from string tension (as above) there are other attributes to string technology. First is gauge. The higher the gauge the finer the string. The finer the string the more power (they usually stretch more) as well as the better the control (based on finer ball indentations). But the world is unfair and finer strings will break more easily. That’s $40 for a re-stringing. Gauges are 17, 18 and even 19. I think you’ll likely find it hard to get anything other than 17 or 18. By the way, 16 gauge is pretty thick for squash and not recommended. I have heard of shops that don’t do much squash stringing who have used 16 gauge because they have it is stock for tennis racquets.

String can be nylon monofilament or braided and natural gut (from cows). I have yet to try gut but if you’re a serious squash player it sounds like gut is one of those ‘you gotta’ try it once’ kind of things. Gut is about $40 more expensive, raising the cost of a re-string to about $80. But gut holds it’s tension longer so you get better playing for longer. As well, it is more forgiving in that it imparts less tension through the racquet to your hand/arm and is therefore recommended for players who are struggling with tennis elbow. I haven’t personally tested this yet so I’m just going on written advice. Gut is very sensitive to moisture and can rot and sag with high humidity. You can’t leave it in the hot trunk of a car or a wet and smelly locker (oops, that leaves me out).

Ashaway makes most of the string sold in North America and the U.K. I am currently using a textured Ashaway string, the Supernick XL. It is a 17 g with a textured surface for better ball control. Next time, though, I think I’m going to try the 18 gauge Ultranick or Powernick. The Powernick comes in a 19 gauge but I haven’t heard a lot of good things about it. It confers power but with a real lack of feel I understand.

Re-stringing costs anywhere from $15 (at Sportcheck) to $20 (Sporting Life) for labour. String is $15 to $30 (more for gut). Usually you will walk out with a bill for $30 to $40. Rule of thumb is to re-string your racquet as often per year as you play per week. So if you play twice as week, as I do, you should string your racquet twice a year (which I haven’t adhered to).

By the way, the strings that new racquets come with are usually pretty bad. Depending how anal you want to be and how much you want to spend, you can play out the factory strings or pay to re-string your new racquet at the time of purchase. If you are new to squash just play with the new racquet as is until you decide what you want to go for in several months. Get to know your racquet and your game style.

So where am I at regarding my purchase? Well, my current racquet definitely needs to be re-strung. So I thought this might be a good time to put that money toward the purchase of a new one. For some reason, I’m stuck on buying a Head racquet. For me the price/performance ratios seems to be right and they have several models that might work for me.

Luckily all the models I’m thinking of are sold at the UofT Athletic Centre and all three models are available for trial before purchase. So I’m going to try:

Head Youtek Cyano 2: this is a 115 gm racquet. It’s very light, and as typical of such a light racquet, it is head heavy. That means the balance point is past the half way point of the racquet toward the head. Otherwise the racquet would feel too light. New players like lighter racquets because they feel they can swing faster. But a lighter racquet can impart less power and can be harder to control, even though you can get your swing off later than might be wise. Pros can use the lighter weight to greater advantage than can a beginner.

At 115 gm it may be too light for me.

It is a teadrop racquet that, in spite of being so light, is built for power.

Head Youtek Anion2: this is the same racquet as the Cyano but is heavier at 135gm. As well, it is head light. Where the balance point of the Cyano is 365mm, the Anion is 335. because the balance point is closer to the handle, the Anion feels very similar in weight to the Cyano.

Head Neon2: this is a 130gm racquet with a 370 balance point. It is quadra shaped and built more for control than power.

I am just going to have to try each of these for a game and then see what feels better. They can each be tweaked by a re-stringing as well.

They range in price from about $130 to $160 (even though ‘MSRP’ pegs them at about $200).

By the way: Dunlop double dot balls. Period. When the balls become shiny (and therefore less grippy), wash them under water and give them a rub (to roughen them) on a carpet.

Opinions vary on when to replace balls. Some say when they break, others when they get shiny and feel dead.

I signed up for squash lessons at the Athletic Centre to help improve my game. Who knows, with a better racquet and lessons I might be able to return the odd serve yet!

UPDATE(Sept 30): So I played squash yesterday and talked the Pro Shop at the AC into letting me serially go through the three racquets I’m interested in.

First I went with the Cyano2. I must say I liked it quite a bit. Although it is quite light the head heavy balance seems to work well to give it the feel of a bit of heft. I wasn’t blown away by the power but it did hit a bit harder than my current racquet. I didn’t feel any real loss of control. I appreciated the lightness.

The Anion2 just felt heavier and not as quick as the Cyano.

The Neon2 had quite a different feel. I think I could sense the lack of power in return for more control. My partner/opponent thought I was making more accurate shots. Hard to know.

In the end, I found a great deal on the Cyano at Sporting Life and decided to buy it. I may or may not keep it.

I’m thinking if I string it with 18 gauge Supernick XL string I may have the perfect balance.

I should also add that I developed some bad habits over the last several years of playing and since starting lessons my game has definitely fallen off as I concentrate on technique. In other words I’m playing at the bottom of my correct style rather than at the top of my bad habits. So far I’m down on my game. But, hopefully, it will all pay off in the end.

UPDATE (Oct 2): So this afternoon my new squash racquet arrived by UPS. Tonight I broke my old squash racquet! Karma.

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2 Comments to “Getting into squash”

  1. Hey, found your blog entry when googling for places *other* than sportcheck and sporting life to buy strings and get racquets strung. Alas, nothing there… but, if you are looking for more partners to play at U of T AC drop me a note. I play there, am looking for more partners, and it sounds like your game might be in the sad vicinity of my own! (Assuming your are exaggerating downwards, though, at least a little…)

    • Thanks. I’ll give you a buzz if I’m looking.
      By the way, I had my racquet re-strung at the Adelaide Club at King and Bay. You don’t have to be a member and he did it in about an hour. Was about $15 if I recall.

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