This is an early draft of a chapter from Tennis Strategy 201, because...
If you want to move beyond 4.0 to 4.5 and beyond, you absolutely must learn to beat a ‘pusher’ nearly 100% of the time. But what really is a pusher?
There are different kinds of so called ‘pushers’. In general, the pusher does not create as much pace as the power player. There is a sliding scale of perception in terms of what player’s regard as someone playing like a pusher. Everyone has their own idea, and you might really love what I write here, or need some time to think about it. The pastor of my church used to say, in order to show how naturally judgmental we are from our own standard, “Everyone driving faster than me is a maniac, and anyone slower is an idiot”. It was a funny sarcastic way to describe how subjective our judgement is. So, take a moment to take stock of your own relative evaluation of a pusher for just a moment. Just because someone does not hit the ball as hard as another player, you would not want to label them a pusher if they also come to net frequently, run you around on the court, or mix up their shots to throw off your rhythm. The retrieving baseliner is the category where I place the true pushers. Four of the major strategies outside of power player involve mixing up the speed of shot to some degree.
What are some of the common traits of a pusher?
They don’t hit the same speed as a power player, instead they seem to relish the pace coming from a more aggressive player.
Have higher net clearance and my hit the ball high and deep down the middle often.
They lob often, especially if you come to the net.
They are fairly non-aggressive, but extremely patient.
They take more pleasure in seeing you frustrated, missing and impatient, than they derive from winning a point outright.
But there are pushers who take on some minor in characteristics of the major styles, and they might even be more successful if they realized that they came to realization that they were minoring in a major.
Some pushers will take a short ball, come to the net to finish. Aaron did this until we worked on making his game about getting the short ball, making a great approach and finishing with one volley, then he became a pressure time and space player.
Some pushers run around and play only heavy arching topspin, but Peter who was very quick around the court became a pressure movement player by using his spins to create angles, instead of dumbly sending them up the center of the court to simply make one more shot.
Some pushers will mix things up a little bit to frustrated you, but shrink back to a less risky style of playing it maximally safe, especially if they mishit a couple of shots. Shreyas used this as his C game and pulled a major upset over an overly conservative player who had the offensive fire power to blow him off the court, but lacked the confidence in taking an irregular ball on the attack.
Michelle started as a player obsessed with ‘consistency’, even though she was built for power, and had explosive serves and forehand, along with a good backhand. When she fully committed to the power game, she also was freed up to go lights out and play in the zone. I will never forget a match she played that was nearly a golden match where she only lost a few points against a closely matched opponent because winners were flying off her frame. If I had to guess, I would say she had 5 aces, 10 return winners, 12 forehand winners, 5 backhand winners, and 8 winners at net in two sets winning 6-0,6-0 against a girl that she previously beat twice but in three long sets.
When you are the pusher you don’t want to give the power player any pace to work with, because they will use it against you. If you keep the pressure time and space player deep, and especially deep to their backhand, they will have a very hard time coming forward. When you keep the pressure movement player deep down the middle, or deeper crosscourt, you take away the geometry of the court that allows you to move them. Also giving the rhythm disruptor no pace and deep in the court reduces the effect of their shots, and the variety of placements, making it easier to read their shots. But, when you play another pusher, just hope it’s not a hot day, because you could be out there for over 3 hours.
If pushing is the only way, that’s fine, but you won’t really go much farther than 4.0 without some other element of attack in your game, as you will be vulnerable to those who have and execute a plan and have the technical weapons to back it up. There are some who call Andy Murray a pusher, but lets break that down. Andy can serve 130 MPH, and he can return 140 MPH serves and he handled Andy Roddick’s serve just fine, one of the best servers in the history of the game. Andy also hits winners, and comes to the net to finish, so no he is not really a pusher. But he does often hit a slower paced groundstroke than many of his contemporaries, so in relative terms, you might say he is a pusher, but not really in the context of 99.9999% of tennis players.
Some things to consider when playing a pusher:
1. Their game is based on extreme patience, so you will have to be very patient.
2. They wish for you to lose to them, and get frustrated in the process, because they know no-one want to lose to them.
3. They don’t really have any weapons to hurt you, so you can use your weapons to hurt them, if you are smart.
4. Their game is built around muting many types of weapon shots with slow balls, no pace, keeping the ball low or very high and deep center, using the lob to counter net play, etc.
5. You might need to use some counter-intuitive play to induce them to do what you want. Likely, you may have to go a bit out of your comfort zone to play this person well.
Now on to the tactics that work well against the pusher.
How The Power Player Beats The Pusher
Put more premium on targets than you normally do, they can’t beat your pace, but if you can hit the corner and wide serve, you will make quite a bit of room for your first shot, and if you can get them on the extreme defensive, then you can crack open the point. Remember, more balls are going to come back, and they are not going to give you the pace you like, so you will have longer points than you normally play. Take more time setting the points up. It would be tempting to want to ramp up your power and thus miss more first serves, and make more errors, and that plays right into their hands. The pusher loves you, because you give them the pace they need, and they can conserve a lot of energy when you give it them.
Hit one ball normal pace, the second ball a bit slower, the pusher doesn’t often adjust well and will hit a short ball that you might be able to tee off on.
Go deep to their backhand side to try to force a short ball with a strong shot.
Pressure Time And Space Player: Best Match Up
This is probably the best match up against the pusher, because you can mainly force them into needing to hit a good shot now! Again it comes down to some precision of shot to make up for the lack of ball speed to work with, and you also may have to come in some deeper balls than you normally do. You should also expect the lob often, so don’t get too close to the net and be ready to hit overheads on anything but a perfect lob.
Come to the net on the deepest possible approach shot, this will make it more difficult for them to cover the open court. The deeper you approach, the more likely they will lob the first ball, so look for the overhead first.
When they hit a high arcing shot up the middle of the court, hit them back an even higher arcing shot deep to the backhand and ‘sneak’ into the net as the ball will be in the air so long you have time to get in easily, but it’s a great idea to be just inside the service line waiting for an overhead first, because a very high percentage of time you will get a high shot back, if you don’t get a high shot, then the next ball should be very attackable.
Pressure Movement Player, So Similar
The pusher is usually also a good mover, but because they don’t give up a lot of pace, they then give themselves more time to recover in their positioning. The key here is to time your shots well, because slower balls are more difficult to time. You may need a bit more spin than you normally use to control your shots, and like the other styles a bit more precision with your shot making can take the pusher to the extremes of movement, because your game is based on this, and theirs is not based on this intelligent play, you are in charge of the points even if they can prolong points more than your average opponent.
Serve wide and go deep crosscourt to the other corner of the court. You might go a bit wider in your diagonals to make your opponent move the greatest distances. This player, if they were smart would probably play like you.
Hit the ball at them to freeze them for a moment, then go back behind them to the corner that is opposite the stroke they just used. This makes it harder for them to get going, and you can also induce an even weaker shot when they have to get out of the way of the ball.
Retrieving Baseliner: Looking In The Mirror
You are facing someone very similar to yourself, people often call you a pusher. This is your least favorable match up. Run around and hit one more ball and enjoy the match up, it’s going to be a long day on the court.
Make your first serves at a very high rate. Run around and hit deep cross court.
Return the ball at them, make them get out of the way of the first ball, run around and hit the ball deep cross court.
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