If you ask recreational tennis players which type of opponent is the hardest to beat, more often than not, the answer will be a “pusher”.
Now, a pusher isn’t the strongest player on the court; as a matter of fact, they typically have average on-court movement, ground strokes, volleys, and serves. But what they lack in strength and speed, they more than make up for with patience, placement, and consistency… and that, my friends, is what “pushes” their opponents to the point of teetering on self-destruction.
Like any other opponent, beating a pusher isn’t easy, however, with the right mindset and preparation, it can be done. I’ve actually had a couple of requests for tips on tackling this type of player, so here is some great (and proven) advice that on how you can push back — and win!
R-E-S-P-E-C-T the pusher.
The first step to beating a pusher is to respect their game as “real” tennis, because, well, it is, and it’s effective… and they do win. Good pushers love nothing more than for opponents to underestimate them; in doing so, opponents set themselves up for a frustration-filled match, which will quickly tear down their mental game.
Patience is a virtue.
If you’ve been playing tennis for a while, you’ve no doubt heard that it’s best to stick to your own game and not get “sucked in” to your opponent’s game. But if your game is to smack the ball and end the point in 2 or 3 strokes, that WILL. NOT. WORK when playing a pusher. When playing against a pusher, PATIENCE is a virtue. You need to be ready to hit 5 or 6 balls in a row (and more) from near or back behind the baseline before you get that one ball you can really take advantage of. If you aren’t patient, you’ll start going for winners from points on the court where you’re not comfortable, which will result in more errors… and that’s not good for your mental game either.
Also, try and hit more balls to their backhand or weaker side. This will reduce their ability to consistently hit the ball deep and result in more opportunities for you to come in to the net for some put-away volleys.
Come on in.
Unless your opponent is constantly lobbing, don’t hang out behind the baseline waiting for the ball to come to you. Return the ball hard and deep and come in to the net. You’ll have a much better angle for your high volleys and you’ll shorten your opponent’s reaction time.
Use placement to YOUR advantage.
Pushers are adept at placing the placing the ball where they want it (which is usually right at the baseline,) so turn the tables, and use placement to YOUR advantage.
- Pushers don’t mind running from corner to corner to chase down a ball, so instead of making them run, hit the ball BEHIND them as they are hustling to get back into position.
- And since pushers are typically baseline players and don’t like being at the net, throw in a drop shot or short ball and force them to come in (and make sure the ball stays low so they’ll have to hit up on it.) All they will be thinking about is how to get back to their comfort zone at the baseline, and will more than likely give you a weak ball that you can take advantage of.
When push comes to lob.
You’ll also come across pushers who are also “moon ballers”, or “lobbers”. These players like to keep the ball very high and deep, and they use lots of spin so that it travels far when it bounces. The most effective tactics I like to use against this type of player are:
- Throw up a high deep ball right back at them, and then rush the net. You’ll be in a great position for a high volley or maybe even an overhead if they return it short or mid-court. Even if you don’t win the point, you’ve now planted the seed that you aren’t going to sit around and hit high balls all day and wait to see who misses first.
- Serve to their backhand (weaker side,) as this will result in a weaker, usually shorter return.
- Take the ball on the rise (right as it comes off the court.) This is a little more difficult but very effective as it dramatically shortens your opponent’s reaction time to your incoming return.
Remember, pushers relish in your frustration, and the sooner they can get to you mentally, the quicker your game will fall apart. So don’t let their style of play get the best of you… simply take these tips to heart, and play with confidence; you’re a more formidable opponent if you bury your emotions and play with poise. Despite how they seem, pushers are not infallible… they have their weaknesses too. With the right game plan, the pusher will be reluctant to step on the court with you ever again!
** BONUS: Here’s an excellent tutorial on taking the ball on the rise from our own pro, Ramon Osa. For more of his tennis awesomeness, you can follow him on Facebook, and subscribe to his Youtube channel.