Deal With the Pusher

What's more frustrating than playing someone who just floats the ball back at half-speed or less, never taking a risk, never making an error, aka The Pusher?  We all sense that we should kill this guy.  After all, the ball assumes the proportions of a cantaloupe, and we've goty all day to line it up and cream it.  The guy misses his first serve, and we know he's going to just plop the second one over.  We're salivating!  We take a rip, and there it is again, an unforced error into the fence.  That's the trap the pusher sets, tempting us to over-hit./  He wins because of our mistakes, not because he hits great shots.  That's the bad news.

The good news is that we aren't wrong in sensing that there's an offensive opportunity when hitting the pusher's ball.  It's just usually not converted by pace.  If you're constantly trying to increase the pace of your opponent's shots, you'll play tense and make too many mistakes.  Instead, take advantage of moving forward into the court and taking the ball early.  The pusher's shots don't force us back; they invite us in.  And from that early, forward position, we can hit angles that just aren't available from behind the baseline.  Instead of creaming the ball, what about a sharp cross-court or a drop shot?  After all, you can hit the pusher's second serve, for example, from just a few feet behind the service line.  The dropper is just right there across the net.  And they don't have to be winners.  Pushers can also be beaten by your short, angled balls drawing them forward to net.  Get the pusher off the baseline, his comfort zone.

Same thing in doubles.  Get that lobber off the baseline and make her play at net.  Short angles, drops shots:  slice and dice.  Take those cross-court.  But there's another way to beat the pusher in doubles:  hard drives down-the-line, right at the pusher's partner.  Make the pusher feel that the risk she's willing to take on second serve is directly proportional to the physical well-being of her partner.  Don't try to pass the opposing net player or hit through her; don't make an unforced error.  Let her hit.  Take pleasure as she backs away from net, scowling at her pusher partner.  In doubles, remember that offensive success goes soft and short cross-court, hard down-the-line.  Deal with the pusher!

c Keith Shein