Stay Out of the Bermuda Triangle
Just Because the Pros Venture Into Bad Court Territory
Doesn't Mean You Should
Rod Symington is on the WSF Rules and Referees Committee and is a consultant on Rules and Refereeing to the USA. He has also been the Tournament Referee for, among others, the Women's Worlds, Pan Am Games, and Junior Men's and Women's Worlds.
To contact Rod with questions or to enquire about clinics and his Squash Rules for Players, email him at email@example.com
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A recent correspondent wrote me the following query:
At the Tournament of Champions recently in New York I saw the following situation several times. The server (“A”) serves from the right-hand box to the receiver's (“B”) backhand. The serve comes off the left wall towards the middle of the court. B does not turn but backs across the middle of the court to prepare for a backhand return. A is desperately trying to stay near the center of the court for fear of a tight left wall rail that A would be able to hit. In his zeal, A moves a little too much toward the center and blocks B's return to the front wall. B asks for let, and the referee allows a let only, despite the fact that A was directly in the path to the front wall and made little or no effort to avoid the interference. I saw this situation numerous times, and none of the players questioned the call. Did the referee and the players have it wrong, or is there some subtlety that I am missing?
My correspondent has highlighted an increasing problem in squash: the ever-widening belief that when the ball comes off the back wall it and the striker asks for a let, it can only be a let.
Let me make myself perfectly clear: This assumption is WRONG!
The Rules of Squash are quite clear on this matter: After you have hit the ball, you have the obligation to give your opponent four freedoms: 1. Fair view of the ball; 2. Direct, unobstructed access to it; 3. Freedom to make a reasonable swing; and 4. The entire front wall to hit to. This includes the serve, and it includes a serve that hits the sidewall, then the back wall, and rebounds towards the center of the court. If you hit such a serve, you have to stay out of the way and give your opponent the entire front wall to hit to.
If you are in the line of your opponent's shot to the front wall, you lose the rally. The best way to establish whether you are in the way is to draw an imaginary line from the ball to the two front corners of the court. The resulting triangle is the “Bermuda Triangle”—and we all know what happens if you are caught in that: like so many before you, you disappear and die!
Now this triangle is better known as the “Danger Zone”: if you are caught in it, you are in serious danger of losing the rally. If your opponent stops play and asks for a let, and if your opponent could have hit you with the ball going directly to the front wall, you lose the rally.
Note that this is only the Danger Zone—you are not automatically dead, merely in danger of losing the rally if the opponent chooses to halt play and ask for a let, and if he or she could have hit you with the ball. It does happen quite frequently that a player is in the Danger Zone, but the opponent cannot hit that player with the ball—either the ball is behind the striker or the position of the striker's body prevents the ball from being hit into the opponent.
So what is the problem? Why do players increasingly believe that if a ball comes off the back wall they can penetrate the Bermuda Triangle and survive? Well, here we have to blame the pros yet again.
The professional players travel around the world playing each other at different venues. They play the same opponents all the time, week in, week out (and especially if, as most of the top players do, they play in the European leagues). In the course of such regular play, habits and conventions develop (such as never actually asking for a let).
One of these habits and conventions is the expectation that when a serve comes into the middle of the court, it is okay to encroach on the “Danger Zone” so as to be able to get to the resulting rail shot in time. What begins as a very minor encroachment (“let”), gradually becomes more and more of an encroachment (still “let”), and eventually a major encroachment...
After seeing the pros behave this way, everybody wants to follow suit! The thinking goes: If they can do it, and get away with it, why can't I?
This situation has become so bad that at the World Refereeing Conference in Melbourne last October the issue was brought up for discussion. It was agreed that in the case of an obvious and major encroachment into the Danger Zone on such a serve, the non-striker should definitely lose the rally.
Of course, the Rule forbids any kind of an encroachment. But these situations are never quite as simple or clear-cut as we would like them to be. Could the striker definitely have pulled the ball back into the opponent? Often it is not clear, and the appropriate decision is “let” for fear of injury.
So what is the appropriate decision? In all cases where the Referee is convinced that the striker's shot to the front wall has been blocked by the position of the opponent, the Referee should award a stroke. Where, however, the Referee is not absolutely convinced that such blocking has occurred, the Referee should award a let—for reasonable fear of injury.