“My opponent was rubbish, but I still lost!” “They brought me down to their level.” “That was the worst I’ve ever played!” These are all common complaints we hear from tennis players all over the world when they play “pushers”. Often these remarks have been preceded by a torrent of bad language on court, a flying racket, and often a broken racket every now and again! Such are the frustrations the pusher creates against their opponents, seeking out information about how to beat these dreaded pushers is one of the most common things to do during online tennis research these days.
Rest assured, every player has been there and has experienced your frustration first hand, including all the players at TheTennisBros.com! It may surprise you to learn that pushers are present at every level of tennis. Former World Number 3, David Ferrer, might seem like a power house to a club level player, but at the tour level he has relatively normal levels of power. Similarly to aspects of a club level pusher, he has great movement, can run down almost every ball and is phenomenally consistent. Of course, he does all these things way better than a club level player, but the key aspects remain the same. At 5 feet 9 inches, he has found a way to dominate in a world of giants.
At the club level, the pusher will give you no power. Often players are so used to playing against power, the sudden lack of it can be extremely disconcerting. Playing against reasonable power feels good. Without being conscious of it, you don’t have to have absolute control of your technique; blocking your opponent’s shots back and using their power to transfer energy into your own strokes. However, when the power disappears, you must create your own power, and this requires a far greater amount of technical control.
One of the most difficult things in tennis is to change the speed of a tennis ball from one extreme to another. For instance, if your opponent hits a forehand at you travelling 40 mph, and you try to create 80 mph, this is very difficult indeed. Conversely, if a player hit a 110 mph serve at you and you tried to return it at 30 mph with full control, that is also very difficult.
In the context of beating the pusher, this article will equip you with all the tools you need to play and win against this type of player who supply you with absolutely no power on the ball but seem to hang in the rallies.
Today is finally your day! In this article we’ve compiled and created the best tips out there for you to implement in your game; turning those depressive days against pushers into the light of victory. We’re also convinced you’ll discover a new-found confidence in your game along the way!
We hope you’re ready…
Tactic 1 – Bring Them into The Net
Pushers are rarely confident or able at the net. They play the majority of their club tennis from the baseline; soul destroying opponents through their lack of pace and making a lot of balls, often with very poor technique! However, if you are able to change up the play suddenly, you will find that you disrupt their rhythm very quickly.
Try this one. Rally with your opponent at a comfortable pace, then interrupt the rhythm and play a slice forehand or backhand short, cross-court. The slice shot should land around the level of the service boxes towards the side line and should be kept low, so the opponent must pick the ball off their feet.
At this stage, the pusher will be feeling extremely vulnerable. Not only are they in a position in the court they hate, but they have also been forced off the court, leaving you an easy passing shot. They’ll likely leave you a short ball, which you can step into. Or even if they play the ball back deep and position themselves over the net, they’ll likely play a poor volley and leave you an easy put-away or miss their volley altogether.
I’ve also come across plenty of club level pushers who have very poor technique. Through practice they’ve been able to punt a ball back in play, but they’ll never be able to access true power or spin due to the limitations in their mechanics. Additionally, the lack of technical ability limits them in varying situations. For instance, one of the most common things I’ve seen is using a forehand grip on all shots. The reason I mention this is it’s extremely limiting during net play as it offers no control for volleying.
I would advise trying the “bring them into the net” tip for any type of club level pusher, but especially so if you see your opponent using a forehand grip on all their shots!
Tactic 2 – Step In On Serve
Often pushers will have a very average or below average serve, both in terms of speed and spin. If you are prepared, you can really take charge during your opponent’s service game and step into the return if the serve is slow enough to allow you to.
I’ve rarely seen a club level pusher that can hit an effective slice or kick serve, so you are more than likely going to receive a flat serve. They may be able to get some reasonable speed on their first serve, but as I mentioned earlier, there’s a high chance they’ll be using a forehand grip rather than a continental grip. Therefore, they won’t have access to true power and will lack the ability to get the ball up and over with some natural topspin to increase their first serve percentage. This will be even more of an issue on the second serve where they can’t access the spin they need to kick the ball into the opponent.
Instead, the pusher’s second serve is likely to just sit up with poor pace asking to be punished. The mistake players make in this situation is to try and overhit their return of serve. So many players see the slow, “pancake” serve and look to bullet the ball back as hard as they can. However, this rarely works. As I touched upon earlier in the article, creating a contrasting velocity with a tennis ball is one of the hardest things to do in tennis.
Even some very good players will look to “tee off” on these flat, 40mph “club pusher” second serves. However, all too often I see these returns going through the back fence; clearing the court altogether!
The best advice we can give is just to put a little bit more mph on the ball than you receive from your opponent. This way, you are creating the best of both words; most importantly maintaining full control of the ball, but also using enough speed to penetrate your opponent’s defence.
Additionally, aim to close off your stance and transfer your weight on to the front foot when hitting your return on these slower serves. This will give you more natural power and stability through the shot and leads to a more consistent strike throughout the course of a match. Hitting open stance is fine, but on such a slow ball, it really doesn’t provide any extra value over the neutral stance. In fact, it would actually be less effective as the openness of the stance can lead to inconsistencies to creep into the stroke.
Tactic 3 – Take Time Away
Taking time away from the pusher is an incredibly effective strategy. Often, pushers hate to be rushed as they don’t have the technical level to deal with it. They spend virtually all of their time quite far behind the baseline to give themselves time to prepare their strokes and are creatures of habit. They’re very one-dimensional so disrupting their rhythm is one of the best things you can do to challenge them.
How would you do this? By taking the ball on the rise. Of course, it’s also fine to back off your shots and wait for the ball to drop to the height of your hip on some occasions. However, since the pusher is unlikely to be hitting with heavy topspin, hitting on the rise is less risky in this situation.
Look to take the ball soon after the bounce on the front foot and you’ll be pleasantly surprised how well this works! More often than not, your opponent will either miss their next shot or leave you a short one to kill.
Tactic 4 – Hit the Kick
If you have a good top spin serve, this can be a great way to tie up the pusher into all kinds of knots! Again, club level pushers almost always have poor technical knowledge and haven’t had a lot of exposure to a more advanced type of serve like the kick.
As a returner receiving the kick serve, you either have to take the ball early or back off and wait for the ball to drop to an appropriate hitting zone. Often, the pusher will do neither and get caught in the middle where the ball kicks into or away from them before they have chance to make a proper stroke.
Normally people tend to hit the top spin as their second serve, but we would also recommend varying this as your first serve much more often against the pusher who will likely loathe this kind of serve over a flat one!
Tactic 5 – Find The Angles
Although pushers are often fit tennis players, hitting a tennis ball accurately on the move requires extreme levels of co-ordination and technical ability. The club level pusher has neither of these things, so you must use this weakness to your advantage.
Find the angles of the court consistently; pull and press your opponent as much as possible without taking too much risk with pace. I’m willing to bet they’ll break down very quickly indeed once you start moving them effectively. It really is extremely difficult to be competitive in the rally when you’re on the run! If you utilise this idea, you’ll soon find you receive a short ball that you can punish very quickly indeed.
If your opponent is firing all these balls back to you with consistent depth, then you are playing a very good player indeed and they probably aren’t a club level pusher at all!
Review by: Tom