4 Ways To Defeat A Pusher

4 Ways To Defeat A Pusher
Pusher [poosh-er] noun is a defensive player who "pushes" back any shot they can chase down, without deliberately hitting a winner. They can angle shots, aim deep, as well as produce effective lobs. Pushers are extremely quick and consistent, rarely making errors.

 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

Your first instinct when playing a pusher might be to tee off on every shot, only to be surprised when you shank the ball into the parking lot or when they inevitably get it back, and back again, and then back some more, and then back with a lob. And so on until you introduce your racquet to the court in a way that would make Nick Kyrgios blush.

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

If you’re a competitive player, you’ve heard the phrase “Move your feet!” More times than you can count. Every good point starts with good footwork, and playing a pusher is no different. 
Sure, it’s going to take more effort, but your reward for that hard work is a more comfortable shot that’s hopefully now in your strike zone, and a ball in your strike zone is a ball that’s more often than not going to be successful. It’s very easy to stand still when the ball is so slow that you could send a text before it lands, but being flat footed is only going to get you into trouble.
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

Believe it or not, this is actually a good opportunity to work on something most of us could use more of, and that’s topspin. Instead of getting roped into a 10 minute rally to see who can hit the highest moon ball, use this time to practice hitting heavier topspin. Remember, trying to crush every ball is going to bring trouble, but lowering your level of play to match the constant lobbing is going to frustrate you. Approach this as if it were a drill to see how much more topspin you can put on the ball while moving your opponent around the court. An experienced pusher will be skilled enough to finish a point if you give them the chance, but if you’re hitting deeper into the court they will often resort to their defensive game. Identify their weakest groundstroke and put pressure on it. Utilize this and treat it as practice. It can be enough of a mindset change that it also brings down your aggravation, because once you start getting angry, say goodbye to the match.

4. Approach the net

You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t mentioned drop shots yet, and that was deliberate. It seems like an easy answer. If they have to come to the net, then they can’t hit their annoying lobs. But any decent pusher can put away a shot if given the chance, and that’s one of the reasons you feel helpless when you start losing. If you’re a wizard with drop shots and have confidence in them, then absolutely use that as a strategy, but remember, pushers tend to be able to get to everything. Instead, use the opposite tactic and bring yourself to the net. A volley is a good way to end a point before it becomes a marathon. However, and this goes for all opponents you face, do not come to the net on a bad approach shot. If you’re 5 feet behind the baseline hitting a forehand above your shoulders, it’s probably not the best time to move up. A good opponent, and especially a player who has mastered the lob, is going to eat that up and hope you keep doing it. 
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.

Pushers are often criticized by the tennis community as players who don’t play “real” tennis. It’s easy to dismiss them as inferior opponents because their technique isn’t pretty, but there are no rules that say this style of play isn’t permitted. The goal of tennis is to hit the ball into the court more times than your opponent, and just because a pusher/grinder/dinker/hacker does this in a way that’s not easy on the eyes, doesn’t mean it doesn’t count.
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.

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