​How to Serve in Squash - The Rules, Technique, and Positioning

The serve in squash is what I would call a “somewhat important” shot.  

Squash players aren’t known for having “big serves”, or accurate ones.  If you asked an experienced squash player who the best server in the professional game is, he or she would probably answer: “Who cares?”.

What you DO want, is to not mess up the serve. 

Your #1 priority when serving in squash is: Don’t let your opponent attack the ball and win an easy point off your serve.  Make it as difficult as possible for your opponent to hit a good return.

Squash ​Serve Lines

Funny enough, even though the serve is not very important in squash, most of the the court lines are actually meant for serving! 

squash court serve lines

Note that in squash, unlike in tennis, the ball hitting any line is OUT.  The squash ball can’t touch any part of any line, or it’s out. Similarly, your foot can’t touch the service box line when you’re serving, or it’s a service fault.

​From the image above, we have:

  1. The “T”.  Move here after you serve, as it’s where you want to be positioned after your opponent returns serve
  2. Service box.  You need at least 1 foot inside this box when you serve.  By keeping 1 foot inside, and 1 foot stepping out towards the “T”, you’ll be able to reach the “T” in 1-2 more quick steps, which is ideal.  When you or your opponent start serving, you can choose which side to serve from.  You then rotate left-right-left-right, etc, as you win sequential points. 
  3. The tin.  This doesn’t apply to serving, but this is the lower limit you can hit the ball.
  4. Service “out” line.  You have to hit the ball above this line on your serve.  Why?  This assures the ball is fairly put into play, so we can’t hit drop shots or kills right away.  Makes sense 🙂
  5. Out line.  This line applies to serves & all shots during rallies.  Anything on the line or above it is out.

​Should You Serve from the Left or Right?

When a squash match starts, whoever wins the racket spin / coin toss decides to serve from the right side or left side service box.

You also choose which side to serve from when you win the serve from your opponent.  You then have to alternate the side as you win sequential points, meaning you can’t serve from the same side each time.  For example:

  1. Your opponent wins the coin toss at the beginning of the match
  2. He/she wins the next 2 points
  3. ​You win the 3rd point - you now get to decide which service box to start serving from
  4. You choose the right side
  5. You win the next 3 points, and alternate left-right-left
  6. Your opponent wins the next point, and they choose which side to start serving from, and so on

So which side is best to serve from?

This depends on if your opponent is right-handed or left handed.  You want to serve to your opponent’s backhand, since it’s most likely their weaker shot.  

Always take note which hand your opponent hits with!  Since most players are right-handed, I almost always start serving from the right side, to their backhand.  But I’ve also gone entire matches forgetting that I’m playing a lefty, in which case I should serve from the left.

​Where to Aim Your Serve

Now that we know our limits and boundaries on the squash court, we can work on where exactly to aim for the ideal serve.

As already mentioned, we want to make it as difficult as possible for our opponent to hit a good serve return.  To do this, there are a couple of spots to aim for on the court, as well as places to position your feet.

squash serving position
  1. Have your foot in this corner of the service box when serving from the right side of the court.  Your other foot will be stepping out towards the “T”.
  2. Similarly, have your foot in this corner when serving from the left side of the court.
  3. Your left-side serve should contact the right wall here.  Why?  This is where your opponent is most likely to try to hit the ball, and it’s high enough that your opponent has to reach up to volley, which is harder than hitting at waist level.  The higher the better, without hitting the out line of course! By having the ball contact the wall at that moment, it’s hard for your opponent to scrape the ball off the wall. They either have to hit the ball just before or just after the wall contact.  This makes for difficult timing, and a more likely weak serve return!
  4. Similarly, your right-ride serve should contact the left wall here, giving your opponent maximum difficulty.

​Types of Squash Serves

Underhand Serve

This is the most common serve type in squash, and should be used the most often. Why?  

By serving underhand or at waist level, you can lift the ball high enough to hit the side wall at a height that your opponent will have to volley it.  Once again, the higher the better, without crossing the out line.

Also, it’s easier to control your precision and accuracy when serving underhand.  It’s a more delicate shot that can be controlled easier than an overhand serve

Overhand Serve

Similar to an overhead tennis serve, an overhand serve contacts the ball above your head or as low as head/shoulder level.  

Players can usually hit this at faster pace, which can put some pressure on your opponent.  However, most non-beginners will not have any problem with this serve.  Most of the time, you can let this serve bounce out, off the side and back wall, and you then have an easy ball to hit. 

Faster pace also means less accuracy.

The squash ball will also have a downward trajectory, meaning your opponent can either let the ball bounce first, or volley it around waist level.  These are much easier shots than a high volley.

For these reasons, I would only recommend an overhand serve as a variation to a more precise underhand one.  For example, you can randomly serve overhand 1/10 times to throw your opponent off and cause them some confusion. 

​Lob Serve

Th​e lob serve is a variation of the underhand serve, where the squash ball is hit high on the front wall with a high trajectory, contacting the side wall just below the out line.  

When executed properly, your opponent will have to hit a difficult high volley return off a lob serve.  With a steep downward trajectory, your opponent can’t let this ball past them, or it will die in the back of the court.

That said, the lob serve is a very difficult shot to execute properly.  To get the desired effect of a difficult return, the ball can’t be overhit, or it won’t die in the back of the court.  Instead, it will bounce back out to the middle of the court = advantage to your opponent.  Also, the lob serve has a high chance of hitting on or above the side wall out line.

Overall, it’s a risky shot that I see used mostly by older players, trying to get easy service winners.  It required a lot of practice to get right, and in my mind just isn’t worth the risk. The only professional I’ve seen use a lob serve is James Willstrop, and it doesn’t seem to give him much advantage again experienced players.

​Backhand Serve

Th​e backhand serve is the most common serve type in squash, and should be used the most often.  Why?  By serving underhand or at waist level, you can lift the ball high enough to hit the side wall at a height that your opponent will have to volley it.  

Once again, the higher the better, without crossing the out line. Also, it’s easier to control your precision and accuracy when serving underhand.  It’s a more delicate shot that can be controlled easier than an overhand serve.

See the ball trajectories in the image below.

how to hit a backhand serve
  1. The green trajectory, from a right-handed forehand, bounces further off the side wall – easier for your opponent to hit a good return.
  2. The orange trajectory, from a right-handed backhand, travels almost parallel to the side wall, giving your opponent less space to hit a return.  There’s more chance your opponent scrapes the side wall and hits a weak serve return.

Since 1 foot always needs to be inside the service box, a right-hander using a backhand serve from the right service box, can guide the box closer along the side wall towards their opponent.  Serving forehand from the right box, would mean the squash ball contacts the side wall at a larger angle, giving their opponent more room to hit the ball.

Put another way, a backhand serve can make the squash court angles work in your favor, causing your opponent to possibly scrape the side wall to make a return.

​Serve Return

​A good serve return in squash is essential to get the rally started, and prevent your opponent from hitting an easy winner off a weak return.

To hit a serve return in squash:

  1. Watch your opponent.  This is to see what type of serve they're hitting
  2. Stay at least 1 racket + stretched out arm's length away from the side wall, to give yourself space to hit the ball
  3. ​​As your opponent serves, turn your body so your chest is parallel to the side wall, giving you space to rotate through your shot
  4. Attack a weak serve ​with a straight drop or another attacking shot.  A good serve ​will force you to play a straight length or a crosscourt if you have space.  
  5. Trying to attack a well-placed serve is risky, and you'll ​end up losing more points thatn you win from this

Positioning:

court positioning to return squash serve

​The image above shows where to position yourself when receiving serve.  Note the distance to keep from the side wall.

  1. Server's position
  2. Receiver's position.  Stand slightly behind the service box, and keep the racket + arm's distance from the side wall.

​Overall Recommendations

For a right-hander:  hit backhand serves from the right service box, and forehand underhand serves from the left service box. For a left-hander:  hit backhand serves from the left service box, and forehand serves from the right service box.

When serving, remember these key points:

  • Step one foot out of the service box towards the “T”.  Keep the other foot inside the service box.
  • Aim to contact the side wall with the squash ball right where your opponent is standing.  Some players stand further up or further back, so you may want to hit your serve softer or harder based on this.
  • Vary your underhand serve with an overhand or lob serve every now and then.  This is optional, and is meant solely to keep your opponent off guard