The rail, a ball struck that is intended to hug the wall, is one of the most effective shots in the doubles game. When struck properly, the opponent can do nothing more than scrape the tightly hit ball off the sidewall, usually leading to a loose ball or sometimes into an outright error. When struck poorly or at the wrong time, the rail can provide your opponent with an offensive opportunity or can result in a let point against you.
There are generally three separate situations where rails are hit. The first is where you are in front of your opponent. The second, where you are even with him, and the third where you are behind your opponent. Each situation calls for a different strategy and thus a different type of rail.
Situation #1: Your opponents have struck a ball that you end up playing four to five feet in front of the service line. Your opponent on your side of the court is slightly behind you and towards the center half of the court. In this situation, what is the likelihood of hitting a rail for length (having the ball bounce twice before reaching the back wall) without your opponent being in position to retrieve it? Not much. On the contrary, however, what is the chance of your attempted rail for length squirting out and coming back at you leaving your opponent a let point situation? Pretty decent. When faced with the situation above, the prudent striker either plays the ball short into his corner, plays the ball crosscourt, or, if you really want to get the ball deep into your corner, plays a lob rail (a ball struck for height and length that will bounce in the back corner of the court). The lob rail, while generally not intended as a winning shot, when struck properly, forces your opponent to play the ball in the back corner of the court, increasing the chances of a loose ball and an ultimate winning opportunity.
Situation #2: Even with your opponent. This is the place where the hard rail for length is most effective. By backing into your opponent while setting up to strike the ball, you force your opponent into one of three dilemmas: move to the center of the court and be susceptible to a rail for length, move forward to take away the drop and be again susceptible to the rail for length, or slide back and towards the wall to take away the rail for length but open up Pandora's box as to the available options for the striker to hit a winning shot in the front court. Obviously, your choice of shots as the striker depends upon the position of your opponent. The rail for length in this situation generally does not lead itself to let point situation because of the side-side nature of the positions rather than the front-back positioning in situation #1 above. (For further explanation of the let point rule, see my Doubles Boast article in the June/July 2000 issue of Squash Magazine).
Situation #3: Opponent is in front of you. In this situation, almost invariably your rail should be struck high and deep. Since your opponent is in front of you, a short or low rail, except when perfectly hit, will lead to an offensive opportunity for the opponent. Instead, try to hit the ball high and deep so that the ball bounces in the very back of the court and forces your opponent to take the ball off of the back wall. This should allow you to retake the front position and force him to hit a shot that you can put away.
DRILL OF THE MONTH:
A good drill for the rail situation has you and your opponent each playing the same side of the court. Player A starts out with the ball at the service line and hits a rail. Each player continues to hit rails until one person has an opportunity to hit a reverse corner. You win points either by hitting good length, by hitting such a tight rail that your opponent cannot play it back, or by hitting a reverse corner winner. The same situations as those set forth above will play themselves out. If you are in front or behind your opponent, hit high and deep. If you are even with him, back him and hit for length. If your opponent is behind you and he tries to hit a high deep rail, try to cut it off and hit the reverse.
Question: A few years back, during the US Nationals in Buffalo, the following situation occurred. How would you have ruled had you been the referee?
X and Y are playing A and B. A plays the ball into the right front corner of the court where X, his opponent, makes what X believes to be a good get. A's partner B, believing that X did not retrieve the ball prior to its bouncing a second time, yells “down” and continues play. X and Y, clearly distracted by B's outburst, calls “let.” The referee rules that X did get A's initial shot before the second bounce.
What is the proper call? Would the call change had X or Y, while clearly distracted by B's outburst, struck the ball into the tin rather than calling let? (Answer below.)
These types of questions come up often in doubles matches and are addressed in the “North American Hard Ball Doubles Referee's Exam” available on the USSRA website at www.us-squash.org. Take the exam. We need more qualified referees, especially now with the tremendous differences between the softball singles rules and the hardball doubles rules.
ANSWER: X and Y win the point due to B's intentional audio disturbance. B should have merely raised his hand so as to preserve his appeal of X's get after the point is over. He has no business intentionally causing an audible distraction. Had X or Y played the ball and hit the tin they would have lost the point since, by playing through and not calling the let, they have waived it.