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How to Play Against "Pushers"
By:  Scott Baker | Tennis4you  | Tennis Forum  | E-mail

The dreaded "pusher". We all hate playing them. I get more questions about playing players who lob back almost every ball or just do not have a lot of pace and almost never miss. I have seen people go almost crazy trying to play them, it is a true test of patience. Just like playing anyone else, there is always a strategy you can take to the court with you to try to counter-attack the counter-puncher. Anyone with a NTRP of a 4.0 or higher should not really have any problems beating someone who pushes the ball back. The main reason being is that it takes a variety of skills and execution to successfully beat these types of players.

Many players go into a match against a "pusher" thinking that they can destroy these types of players, at least that is what it looks like from the sidelines. You must have respect for these types of players and their game. They will not make your life easy over the next 2-3 sets. If you think you can crush someone and they start winning it makes tennis all the more frustrating, and that is exactly what they want.

First of all you should not play their style of game. Do not allow them to dictate the pace of play and do not start pushing back your shots if it is not your typical game plan. You cannot beat a pusher by pushing the ball yourself, they are most likely much better at that style of play than you. You also never want the "pusher" to see you angry, stay focused and do not let them have the mental edge!

So what can you to do beat these types of players?

Get to the Net:
"Pushers" usually do not have great passing shots so you should be able to get just about anything they try to pass you with. It is also not their typical style to try to hit hard to pass someone, so it may force the error. Getting to the net will help you to be more aggressive and cut down your opponent's reaction time. This almost sounds like a bad idea since they may just lob you anyway, but there are some good ways to approach this that will help. I like to serve and volley when playing these types of players. They usually do not lob back the serve, and even if they do I am not having to run backwards to get the lob since I am not that close to the net yet.

Another great way to find a way to get to the net is to chip and charge off of their serve. This keeps the ball low and cuts down their reaction time. You can also find the short ball in baseline rallies and hit approach shots to get to the net. It is hard to hit great lobs on short low bouncing balls which will be to your advantage especially if you are coming to the net.

This last way to get to the net is my favorite way to get to the net against these types of players. The sneak attack! Trade some baseline shots and roll one deep to their forehand or backhand. As they are backing up to hit the ball sneak into the net. Usually what your opponent will hit is a floater which you can take advantage of from the net.

Be Patient:
You have to remember that even though they hit almost every ball back, their shots will usually not hurt you. Be patient and wait for the right ball to step in and hit a winner or an approach shot. If you get inpatient and try to hit the winner or approach shot to early you will end up hurting yourself, which is just what the "pusher" wants.

What is nice about playing a "pusher" is that they usually do not capitalize on your mistakes like the short ball. If you miss-hit a ball and it lands short the typical player would take full advantage and make you pay for the mistake. The "pusher" will probably push the ball right back to you. Knowing that, do not feel that every ball you hit has to be perfect. You will usually have time to recover from your mistakes.

Shot Selection:
If you chose your shot selection correctly and execute properly, taking advantage of the previous strategies will be much easier. The first piece of this puzzle is finding out what your opponent is uncomfortable playing. Your opponent may be uncomfortable playing at the net (typical of "pushers") or hate playing deep topspin shots to their backhand. In either case you need to take advantage.

Hitting short angles or drop shots will force them to run up to hit the ball and make it hard to lob the ball, in fact it will force them to have to be creative which might not be in their arsenal. If they do not like playing the net they are either stuck at the net forced to play out the point or (God forbid) run back to the baseline which will really get them in trouble.

High topspin shots that bounce over their shoulder will also help to force a short ball out of your opponent and allow you to attack the net, cutting down your opponent's reaction time. This is another strategy that will take patience. Do not get frustrated when they do not hit back the first ball short enough that you can attack. This could take several shots to draw the short ball.

Take the ball on the rise:
This last strategy is for more advanced players. Taking the ball on the rise (on serves and ground strokes) takes a lot of practice and coordination. However, this strategy again takes time away from your opponent which can force errors or cause them to rush their shots and hit short.

The "pusher" looks very beatable from far away, but once you get into the match they can cause many people problems. Stay patient, focused and do not get angry. Keep the above strategies in mind and work them to your advantage. Keep the points smart because they will most likely not be short points. Remember, they do not smash the ball if you do not hit the perfect shot, if you hit a short ball they will most likely not make you pay for the mistake and you can rework your way back into the point. If you can execute the correct shots at the right times you will give your opponent something to get mad about instead.

Good Luck on the Court!
Scott Baker
Tennis4you.com