How to beat the pusher

One of the more common questions that I receive as a teaching pro: "How do I beat a pusher"?

I have no problem with the "pusher".  The most hated player on the planet has learned to win ugly.  It's a beautiful thing.  

Possibly the most common question that I receive as a coach is "how do I beat a pusher"?  It starts by accepting that you must take the word "should" out of your vocabulary.  How many times have we all said "I should have beaten that player"?  When we use the word "should" we are not giving the due respect to someone that just beat us.  Step one is to give our opponent credit.  Step two is to try and figure them out the next time without making excuses.  It's similar to the situation where we blow a lead and lose the match.  Here comes the word "should".  A better way to phrase it would go something like this:  "I was in position to win that match, but I have to give my opponent credit, they came back and beat me".  So here we go...

I know that I would far rather win ugly than look good and lose.  When we think we are better than our opponent and subsequently lose the match, out comes the word "should".  If you should have won, you would have won, it's that simple.  He or she was better on that day.  You lost, deal with it and give the opponent credit.  Now, what can we do different?  You must practice the two key shots to beat the pusher:  The swing volley and the overhead.  No matter what your game style is, you have to take some balls out of the air and take initiative of the match.  You will miss some, but you will be able to control play and take control away from your opponent.  The most dangerous pusher will hit loop balls all day long, and the moment you come into the net they all of a sudden hit low at your feet.  If that's the case, I would still rather go down swinging and attacking, rather than staying back and playing right into what the pusher is trying to accomplish.  They will more than likely miss a few of those shots under the pressure that you are now creating at the net.

My style and philosophy has always been "someone has to miss first, it's not going to be me".  A good friend of mine that is a teaching pro has the philosophy "someone has to take control of the point, it's going to be me".  He and I have contrasting styles.  He and I have met in the finals or semi-finals of two separate Colorado championship level tournaments and our record is 1-1.  He and I both played college tennis on a scholarship and #1 varsity singles for our high schools.  We have both been ranked top ten in Colorado at the open level.   To be successful at tennis, you must learn your own style and what fits your personality profile.  A good teaching pro can help you in that journey.  No matter what your style, all great players will sometimes play defense, and also sometimes go on the attack.  As another teaching pro friend of mine commonly says "It's not rocket science".   It's just tennis.  

All great players will take short balls to the net.  I suppose that will never change.  There are two things at play here:  You must take short balls to the net, but you must go big on that short ball.  There is such a thing as a "good miss" if you go big on the short ball and miss.  At least you made the correct decision.  It's suicide to come into the net without going big on the transition ball, but it is also a fatal error to stay back and not attack a ball that can be punished.  Also, keep in mind that you can approach down the middle and crosscourt.  That is one of the bigger myths in tennis.  Approach shots do not always have to be down the line.  Execute the right shot at the right time.  Make sure that every ball has a purpose.  Become a thinking player out there.

As Brad Gilbert illustrates in his book "Winning Ugly",  it's ok if it's not pretty.  If you win the match, you deserved to win the match and you were better.  If you lost the match, the other player was better and deserved to win, it's really that simple and black and white.   It does not matter what it looked like out there.  Learn to enjoy the battle that is tennis.  You will play the big points much better if you enjoy the war that takes place between two players on a tennis court.  Play to have fun and get better and the wins will pile up for you.

See you on the court!


Tags: Strategy, tactics, shot selection

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