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How to Beat a Pusher in Singles Tennis

Competitive tennis players commit themselves to grueling training sessions that constantly test their physical and mental limitations. All great tennis players dedicate their time, bodies, and hearts to the sport as they review and perfect every aspect of their game. They also have another common quality: A hatred for “pushers,” players who consistently keep the ball in play without much pace.

Whether they are on a varsity high school squad or an adult club team, competitive players despise matching up against junk ballers. They all ask themselves the same question: What’s the best way to beat a pusher? This guide explains the most effective technique for defeating pushers and explores the common holes in their game.

What is a Pusher?

Pushers generally don’t have any big weapon to use on the court. They can hit adequate groundstrokes, decent volleys, and run-of-the-mill serves. They typically don’t have amazing speed, but they cover enough of the court to keep the ball in play. Overall, their game is unbelievably average.

Despite their pedestrian style of play, pushers have a tendency to frustrate more “technically sound” players and walk away victorious. They can disrupt their opponent’s game plan and push their adversary to a point teetering on self-destruction and absolute implosion. However, pushers deserve more credit than they typically receive. Winning a tennis match often boils down to consistency, and pushers mold their game around keeping the ball in play.

Understand the Pushing Strategy

Before you try to blow your pushing opponent off the court with thunderous serves and booming winners, take a moment to analyze the pusher’s game plan. Their approach to the game is rather simple: Make the player on the other side of the net commit the error.

Rather than trying to hit winners, pushers focus on keeping the ball in play long enough for their adversary to make a mistake. Their persistence normally drives their opponents crazy. Even if the pusher appears to be slow or out of shape, they seem to return every shot you hit their way.

Although their shots lack pace, they like to spin and place the ball. Pushers utilize a variety of spin types, as they slice balls in the corners of the court and hit tough backspin shots into No Man’s Land. Their success hinges on three abilities:

  1. Returning balls at a high percentage
  2. Hitting with spin
  3. Placing balls in undesirable locations

If you hit a powerful forehand at a pusher, he will likely float the ball back over the net. If you give your opponent time to set up for a shot, he might surprise you with a drop shot, and then try to lob the ball back over your head. Pushers force you out of your comfort zone and commonly frustrate players to the point that they try to smash every shot for a quick winner. This aggressive approach normally leads to errors — exactly what a pusher wants.

Call to Action

Now that you understand how the pusher wants to play, it’s time to put together a winning game plan. Like any other opponent, beating a pusher isn’t easy. But with the right mindset and preparation, it can be done.

Hot Tip: Stay in Your Game

Remember, the pusher doesn’t see the court like you do. Where you would try for a passing shot, a pusher might hit a lob. Pushers play a very different style of tennis, so you have to be ready to move your feet and play with confidence. Don’t let the pusher surprise you with their tricky drop shots and moon balls. Be ready to attack every shot, and play within your comfort zone. Most importantly, don’t forget the fundamentals and keep your feet moving.

Respect the Pusher

Good pushers want you to look down on their style of play and underestimate them. Pushers – like any other tennis player – love when their opponents scoff at their technique, second guess their own abilities, and start over-hitting. You’re more likely to lose the match as you grow more frustrated, disappointed, and irritable.

The sooner you realize that pushing is a legitimate way to play the game, the better chance you have of winning. Every tennis player has pushed at some point in their career. Whether it was just a single point, game, or match, the bottom line is that you have resorted to pushing before. Respect your opponent’s style of play and don’t let it affect your game.

If you try to push back, the pusher will most likely win. You opponent is probably better at pushing than you, so don’t drastically change your technique out of frustration. He wants you to change your style of play and stoop to his level, so don’t give in. Play the type of game you’re confident in and your opponent will most likely crack as the match drags on.

Charge the Net

Pushers generally don’t hit with much pace, so they aren’t skilled at hitting passing shots. Keep the ball deep against your opponent, and charge the net after a good approach shot. You’ll most likely be able to take their “passing” shot out of the air and close out the point. However, look out for lobs. Pushers are good at placing the ball, so don’t play too close to the net. Your opponent probably won’t disguise their lobs too well, so keep your feet moving and play aggressively at the net.

When serving against a pusher, resort to the serve-and-volley technique. Keep your opponent on the move and work the angles. Although pushers are consistent, they don’t normally have a powerful weapon to rely on. Test their ability to hit difficult groundstrokes by moving them in all directions and using angles. They’ll most likely have to gamble and try to hit a winner, which you should be able to cut off and finish as you charge the net. The serve-and-volley puts pressure on your opponent, and drastically limits their options.

Don’t Over-hit

Pushers want you to overthink and hit shots that you aren’t comfortable with. Never change your style of play out of impatience and irritation. If you’re a serve-and-volleyer, stick to your game plan. If you’re an aggressive baseliner, continue to attack your opponent with penetrating groundstrokes. Like any other match, you’ll have to make slight adjustments to your game when playing a pusher. But, this doesn’t mean you should try to smack winners on every shot by over-hitting.

Play with patience and don’t be too eager to end the point quickly. You’ll likely make more unforced errors and drag the match on much longer than necessary by taking huge swings.

Play with Conviction

Many players have a tendency to reciprocate the pusher’s tempo and they start to play at a lazy, slow pace. No matter what you do, don’t let your opponent lull you to sleep! Establish your own pace to the game and dictate each point. If you’re quickly steam-rolling your opponent on service, continue to crank out serves at a fast pace. If you like to take your time between points, drag the match on for as long as possible. Pushers love to throw you off your game, so they’ll try to disrupt your timing. Don’t let their tactics affect your mentality. Play to your strengths and ignore whatever ploys your opponent may try to use.

Hitting balls on the rise is an effective way to dictate the points. Although pushers are normally good at covering the court, they aren’t always great at recovering. Take the ball early and establish a quicker pace to the match. It’s also much easier to charge the net if you take the ball early and keep the ball deep.

Stay Upbeat

Remember, pushers relish in your frustration and demise. The sooner they affect your mentality, the quicker your game falls apart. Don’t let their style of play get the best of you — simply play with confidence. You’re a more formidable opponent if you bury your emotions and play with poise. Sooner or later, the pusher will realize that he’s overmatched and lose belief in his own game. You’ll surely walk away victorious if you respect your opponent, charge the net, avoid over-hitting, and dictate the tempo of the match. With the right game plan, the pusher will be reluctant to step on the court with you ever again!

Most tennis players share their resentment for pushers. This guide breaks down the pushers' style of play, and explains the best line of attack against junk ballers.
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