We’ve all been there. Standing across the net from a player who swings their racquet like a cast iron skillet. They’re holding a continental grip for every shot they make and their ready position involves their racquet dangling by their side like they’re holding a bag of oranges. Yet, they’ve somehow gone up 3-0 before you could even blink.
You try to adapt your game to the the snail-like pace and heavy backspin coming your way, only to sail balls long and hit directly into the bottom half of the net. Perhaps you’ve slowed your pace to match theirs and attempt a conservative strategy, only for them to miraculously start putting away winners and controlling points.
Best case scenario is you learn some exciting new phrasing for your curse words, and worst case you try to create a new doorway in the back fence with your racquet while vowing to never play the sport of tennis again.
Congratulations, you’ve just faced a pusher.
So what’s the best way to combat this sort of player? Here are four of them.
1. Don’t Overhit
Grinders make a living off of long rallies and keeping the point alive. They want to get into a marathon with you, and they’re almost always incredibly fit players.
By overhitting you’re opening yourself up to a very risky style of play that may occasionally pay off but more often than not is going to be returned ad nauseam until you make a mistake.
Just because you’re receiving a slower ball doesn’t mean it’s a winning ball. Going for a winner when you’re out of position is a recipe for disaster even at the best of times. You want to build your point until you’re in a position of strength. Set your point up until you get a mid-court ball that allows you to swing freely, not because there’s a floater coming your way, but because you put yourself in a position to hit your desired shot. Changing the rhythm of your swing to overcompensate for bad position, whether it be too hard or too soft, will inevitably end up being detrimental.
So how do you make sure you're in good position?
2. Good Footwork
But here’s the caveat. There’s such a thing as too much footwork. If you’re not moving efficiently and with purpose, then you’re going to be a frantic mess.
Side steps and pivots are what you want to use until you’re in the preferred position to plant your feet, otherwise you’re only going to tire yourself out while still hitting a bad shot.
3. More topsin
4. Approach the net
Like we discussed earlier, build your point until you see an opportunity to attack, and in this case, wait until you get a mid-court ball to either approach with topspin, or better yet, a low slice. Unless you’re in a position to win the point, the best option is to cut a low slice so that your opponent doesn’t have room to hit their favourite high topspin ball back. If they’re forced to move forward and reach to pop the ball up with a slice of their own, you’ll now be in control of the point. A good approach shot will either end the point or set you up to end the point, but make sure you choose the right time to use it.
Just hit it like him and you'll be fine.
The cold, hard truth.
That’s the danger of taking these players lightly. Just because your strokes might look better, it doesn’t mean you’re the better player.
And here’s where things get brutally honest. Are you ready? Here it is: A pusher that defeats you has mastered their game more than you have.
I know that’s difficult to read, but it’s true. Their methods might be a bit unorthodox, but they’ve put the practice in and have a better grasp on their mental game than a player who misses regularly and mentally collapses when they do.
This is why you never see a pusher get past a certain level in tennis. Eventually a player with better technique who has also mastered their game is going to overtake them. Remember, there’s no rule telling us we have to hit the ball a certain way, but there is a better way to do it. And when you get a player that has great strokes and a pusher mentality? That’s a dangerous player.
So, good luck out there! If you’re a pusher, keep mastering your game and try to incorporate some good technique, and if you’re trying to defeat a pusher, try these 4 approaches. Or just try chucking your racquet at their ankles, that might work too.