We’ve all been there. Blinded by fury, huffing and puffing on the court, muttering to yourself, “how am I losing to this (expletive) pusher!?”
Take a deep breath, tennis fans, because in this edition of Distance Learning, Paul Annacone and Prakash Amritraj walk you through the most basic, fundamental strategies to defeat this dreaded opponent. It’s a rite of passage for any serious tennis player, but it’s never easy. Pushers thrive on your unforced errors and negative emotion.
Making a lot balls on a tennis court is, of course, an effective strategy. So before we dive into our expert’s Do’s and Dont’s, remember that beating a pusher will never be one of your prettiest victories—but with patience and a positive attitude, it will be one of your most rewarding.
Prakash Amritraj’s “Do’s” for defeating a pusher:
Stay Patient: Pushers thrive against over-aggressive players, so it’s important to pick and choose your spots. Enter the match knowing that your opponent isn’t going to miss very many balls, so limiting your own unforced error count is of the utmost importance. Staying patient also involves shrinking the court, so don’t aim for the lines.
Play up the middle: The down-the-middle approach is one of the most underrated tactics in tennis. You'll limit your opponent’s angles; furthermore, a pusher will almost never hurt you if you play it safe. If your shot isn’t there, hit down the middle and wait for your next opportunity to attack.
Slow down your shots: You’d be surprised how often a pusher will make a mess of things when it’s their turn to attack. By mixing in off-pace, slow shots, you can frustrate the pusher and force them to overhit. Pushers typically struggle at the net, so a few short slices to bait them to come forward will go a long way towards taking them out of their coveted comfort zone.
Paul Annacone’s “Dont’s” for defeating a pusher:
Don’t become a pusher yourself: No matter the opponent, it’s imperative that you still play your game. An aggressive player will rarely beat a pusher by becoming one themselves.
Don’t be passive: If an opportunity to attack presents itself, take it. Nothing gets a pusher excited like an aggressive player forgoing their chance to attack and retreating back behind the baseline. Know that you are bound to commit your share of unforced errors, and that losing your killer instinct against a pusher will result in a long and painful day at the office.
Don’t over-play: This is arguably the most important piece of advice. Whatever you do, you must play within yourself. Pushers need your unforced errors to survive, so hit big to big targets, but do not try and slap winners. If a pusher realizes you are over-playing, they will tighten up the screws even more. If you overplay against a pusher, and cough up several errors a game, you’ll be shaking hands before you know it.