Playing Against a Pusher

Q. I was in a tournament and I played 2 kids in a row who were pushers or at least very steady. I almost lost my first match and got killed in my second. How can I learn to beat very consistent players and win when I should?

A. Become more consistent yourself. If you are an aggressive player, then often this means modifying your shot selection against a “pusher.” Be patient. Wait for the right ball to attack. Typically, a pusher will not hurt you with the pace of his shots, so there is no need for you to make unforced errors.

Move the ball around the court to force the pusher to scramble. The more he moves, the more he is likely to hit short (or miss). When he hits short, then jump all over it and attack. When you are deeper in the court, then choose to bide your time by playing more conservatively.

Q. What are some good tips to beating a pusher at tennis?

A. Tactics to use against a “pusher”:

1. Simply resign yourself to out-rally your opponent, especially early in a match. To handle a consistent baseliner who is not aggressive, you need to have the correct mindset. Do not miss for the first few games and maybe they will grow impatient.

2. Keep the ball in play until you get an easy, short ball and then attack.

3. Bring your opponent to net with a short chip- a better option than a drop shot- and then either pass him, make him hit a volley, or lob him. By bringing him forward, you will get him out of his comfort zone.

4. Mix in some sneak attacks. Roll the ball back deep a few times and then, quickly, move forward and take a floater out of the air. Even if you do not win the point with this tactic, it will force him to become more aware of where you are and when you might rush the net.

5. Serve and volley occasionally to force him to hit an aggressive return or a decisive passing shot early in the point. Pushers do not like being hurried.

6. Attack the second serve. It might be the shortest ball you get all rally, so take full advantage.

7. Move your opponent around. Hit steady balls, but keep them away from the middle of the court. Force the pusher to move and he will hit shorter, weaker shots. When he does, then pounce.

Q. Every time I come into contact with a pusher, my game seems to go into the gutter. I've tried numerous different strategies, and can't find one that works. I was wondering if you had any suggestions on how to beat a pusher.

A. Tactics to use against a “pusher”:

1. Simply resign yourself to "out-rally" your opponent, especially early in a match. To handle a consistent baseliner who is not aggressive, you need to have the correct mindset. Do not miss for the first few games and maybe they will grow impatient.

2. Keep the ball in play until you get an easy, short ball and then attack.

3. Bring your opponent to net with a short chip - a better option than a drop shot - and then either pass him, make him hit a volley, or lob him. By bringing him forward, you will get him out of his comfort zone.

4. Mix in some sneak attacks. Roll the ball back deep a few times and then, quickly, move forward and take a floater out of the air. Even if you do not win the point with this tactic, it will force him to become more aware of where you are and when you might attack.

5. Serve and volley occasionally to force him to hit an aggressive return or a decisive passing shot early in the point. Pushers do not like being rushed.

6. Attack the second serve. It might be the shortest ball you get all rally, so take full advantage.

7. Move your opponent around. Hit steady balls, but keep them away from the middle of the court. Force the pusher to move and he will hit shorter, weaker shots. When he does, then pounce.

That ought to get you started. Employ these tactics and develop some of your own ideas that work effectively and your game will stay out of the “gutter.”

Q. I have been called a pusher when I play. Is it more a mental state of play and does it really deserve such a negative connotation?

A. People HATE it when an opponent always gets one more ball back than they do. Absolutely hate it!

Being a “pusher” sounds bad, but the results can be devastating. Chris Evert won eighteen majors while utilizing this style of play. Bjorn Borg won six French Opens and five straight Wimbledons utilizing this style of play.

The best advice I might offer is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If winning often is beautiful to you, do not concern yourself with any of the petty jealousies or criticisms of your game style.

Q. I was wondering how to handle pushers. They get me so frustrated that I always lose. I’m a serve-and-volleyer, so what can I do to stop losing to them all the time?

A. “Pushers” make difficult opponents because they are so steady. As you probably know, the vast majority of points are decided by errors, and these particular opponents are quite stingy about giving any points away with unforced errors.

I would urge you to try to get these “pushers” out of their comfort zone. For example, they generally like to play sound, defensive tennis from the baseline. To make them less comfortable, you might try to draw them forward to the net (on your terms). Hit some short angles or low, soft slices and then look to pass or lob over them with your next shot. Also, generally pushers do not exactly punish the ball, so you can pick your spots to attack. Be patient. Because they are reluctant to hit forcing shots, you never need to panic during a point. Instead, when in doubt, just keep the ball in play until you get a short ball to your liking and then really thump it.

By using these tactics, you will dictate the pace of play and this should assist you in disconcerting your “pusher” opponents. Good luck.

Q. I play with a fairly extreme western grip on both the forehand and backhand and I find that I struggle when I play against someone who does not hit with much pace. I find that I'll either spin the ball weakly into the net or send it long when I try to flatten out my grip. Can you provide any tips for generating my own pace against a "pusher" or figuring out a way to still hit a hard, deep ball rather than being forced in to a rally of moon ball shots?

A. Lots of experienced players struggle against "pushers" so you are not alone. Do not change your strokes against this type of player. Instead alter your tactics slightly and you will enjoy more success. Be patient until you get the opportunity to be aggressive. For example, hit medium-paced "rally balls" with your opponent until he hits a short ball. When you see this short ball, jump all over it.

Another option is draw this pusher into net on your terms by hitting a short angle, a low chip or even a drop shot. Generally pushers do not like coming to the net until they are good and ready. By bringing them forward as you please, you get them out of their comfort zone.

A final tactical adjustment that you might try is to "sneak" in to the net when they least expect it. An example of how to do this is to loop a ball deep to your opponent (usually to the backhand side, where players tend to turn more before hitting the ball). As soon as they begin "pushing" the ball back to you, race forward to play it out of the air as a volley and really nail it decisively. Even if this tactic doesn’t work every time, it will force your opponent to be more conscious of simply floating balls back (and, in fact, be concerned that you might attack at any time).

Q. How do I finish points against a retriever, or one who only taps every shot? Is it better to play his game or go for the winner each time?

A. Against a “pusher” or a great defensive retriever, you need to show patience. They WANT you to go for winners immediately. Instead, keep the ball in play until you get a ball that you can really tag and THEN let it rip.

Avoid being the boxer who is always looking to land one big knockout punch. The champions in the ring know the importance of combinations, and that combinations ultimately will do more damage. In tennis, try to sequence your shots cleverly. If you hit a ball really wide to one side and then wide to another, options will certainly open up for you. Try this instead of one big shot to end the point.

Good luck.

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