This time we are going to talk about tennis pushers. Yes, those infamous club players that everyone hates playing against. First of all, the name “pusher” is so often used in a negative context. This is because the most of players who think they are good, often lose when playing against a pusher. The only excuse for them left to say in those situations is: “Nah, he is a pusher that is why he won. I have a better technique, I should have won.”.
What are the main traits of these players? Let’s examine how they are winning and then how we can beat them. In essence, we could say that a pusher is a player that returns every ball - all the time. This is why everyone is so frustrated when they lose a match against a pusher - he always returns one more ball over the net and wins the point. Pusher often returns weak moonballs and rarely attacks. His strategy is to play a long point and wait for you to make a mistake. That is truly a completely valid strategy that every tennis player would like to be able to execute. What is a paradox is that a pusher often doesn’t have a great technique, but his mental game is top notch. He always manages to win tough matches and his main strength lies in his court strategy and ability to stick to it firmly while other players are trying to play out of their comfort zone.
The worst mistake we can make when playing against a pusher opponent is to try to play “his game”. That’s right, playing his game just won’t work as no matter how hard we try - he’ll always be better at it as he gets to practice it in all his matches. In order to win against a pusher, we need to work on our own game and employ certain court strategies.
The pusher doesn’t like pace. All his returns are usually weak, slow moving balls that land in the middle of the court and bounce up high. This is a good strategy as it is hard for us to attack those balls, while our opponent gets time to recover his position on the court and get ready for the next shot. What we can do is to attack those balls. When we detect a high flying, slow ball, we need to step into the court and take it on the rise. Make a few steps towards the ball and hit it on its way up. Do not let the ball bounce up too high, as it will get out of your comfort zone and it will be almost impossible to attack it. Hit the ball early, on the rise and take away the time from the pusher. This strategy almost always works and you’ll have your opponent out of his comfort zone, because you’ll take away the precious time from him. Without enough time to recover, his court positioning will be compromised and you’ll get more open court to aim for.
This is one of the most effective strategies for beating pushers. Improving our net play and volleys can make a huge difference. Try hitting a deep ball from the base line in order to force a short and weak return. Attack the short ball and approach the net. What is left now is to play the overhead or volley, to end the point. Pushers will often try to lob you so be prepared for that. If you play the approach shot well, they won’t be able to get enough pace or height for the lob, so the ball will be an easy put-away volley or an overhead. It is crucial that you do not get fully relaxed when you see a slow flying ball going towards you as we often miss these “too easy” shots at the net.
Previous two strategies were both focused on taking away time from the pusher. This one is all about forcing the opponent to move in certain directions he is not comfortable with. Most pushers are extremely adapted and comfortable with moving side to side on the baseline. If we are attacking aggressively, they just back off a few steps from the base line and continue running from side to side. It is truly impressive how they manage to get to all those fastballs, but they do. What we can do to counter this and make them uncomfortable is to force them to move diagonally. This is something they are not used to doing. Try playing a short, angled shot. Imagine that you are playing mini tennis. Combine deep shots that land close to the baseline with short, angled forehand or backhand shots that land in the corners of the service box. This way your opponent will be forced to run both towards the net and diagonally to the side. When they do get to the ball, it is often an easy shot for you to make while the court is completely open. Experiment with this strategy, as in this case less pace is more.
Now this is a fun strategy to try against pushers. They are so used to running around the baseline that they virtually have a non-existent net game or volleys. Try luring the opponent to the net. Play a short ball or a dropshot and force them to approach the net. Usually a pusher doesn’t have an approach shot, especially from the backhand side. Force him to the net and then hit a passing shot. It is recommended to avoid hitting a lob in this situation as you’ll be much more successful with a passing shot. Even if your opponent manages to get to it and hit a volley (which they so often miss), you’ll get another chance to end the point.
Never underestimate pushers. These players should get the respect they deserve. All the matches they win are won fair and straight, it is our own game to blame for the losses. We need to practice and improve our own game, mentally and technique wise as well as to adapt our court strategy in order to start winning the matches. After all, it is all about the joy of winning and even if you are losing matches to “pusher opponents”, don’t get discouraged rather see it as a challenge. What is guaranteed is that if you train hard and utilize some of the strategies we’ve been talking about, you’ll surely start winning more of those matches over time.