[tennis players] how do you deal with pushers (junkballers)?
how would you handle a frustrating opponent who hits consistently weird shots with not alot of pace but can get the ball back almost everytime?
It's best to discuss what makes pushers so difficult. If we can pinpoint those reasons, then we can better attack them.
1. Pushers capitalize off their opponents' weaknesses--off of their mistakes. A previous poster mentioned that they exist everywhere, but she would also admit, I'm sure, that they are more numerous in recreational tennis than in D1 and professional tennis. This is because as players move up in skill levels, they make fewer and fewer dumb mistakes--i.e., pushers have fewer and fewer chances to make their free points.
2. Pushers are able to "get one more ball back". It goes without saying that the player who returns more "last balls" is going to be the one who wins.
3. Pushers aren't the ones who feel the pressure. More likely than not, pushers are the weaker of the two players on the court. In this situation, it's obviously the stronger player who tells himself/herself, "Okay, you can beat this moonballer..." And then as soon as you start making mistakes you get down on yourself, "C'mon! This kid sucks! You should beat him left-handed! You must really suck." Etc.
4. Pushers don't care about pace. This is what I hate the most. When I am the one who has to provide the power and the pace to my shots, I start making more errors. However, my pace doesn't cause too many problems to the pusher because all he has to do is block my shot back.
I suppose that there are a few other reasons that could be examined, but these four are the ones that cause so much trouble for me. Now, let's try and break down each one to figure out how to use it agains them.
1. A pusher wants me to make mistakes. Pushers want us to go for "too much", or as a former coach always used to say, "To go for 21 when our opponent had 13". You're going to want to make sure that your shots have good clearance over the net and that you apply a good amount of topspin. Pushers aren't going to punish you for short balls, and so don't worry about keeping things deep. If anything, the short balls will make things difficult for them as they'll be forced to adjust (as was mentioned by a previous poster who talked about drop shots).
2. If the pusher's goal is to get one more ball back than you, then you're going to make them earn it. I like to work them hard. If they think that all they're going to have to do to beat me is to run down my shots for three strokes before I make a mistake, I make a point of showing them otherwise. I hit a lot of high-percentage shots to the corners (remember, the distance from corner to corner--or even from the middle to the corner--is much longer--and therefore a harder shot to miss long--than going down the line) and make them run. Mix things up. Make them take a few steps into no-man's land and then make them move backwards. Drop shots are difficult shots to hit on a high-percentage basis, but if you can do it well, then pull that out (I can't, so I don't use it too much...unless I feel REALLY inspired).
3. Make the pushers feel the pressure. They read things on your face and in your body language. If you're upbeat and bouncing around and positive, they're not going to gain any confidence from your frustration. Plus, if you're making them run and getting back a lot of shots and making them pay for hitting the ball back to the middle, then they'll start feeling the pressure. This one is mostly mental. Don't get frustrated.
4. Don't worry about hitting the fuzz off the ball. The best thing to do is to work your way in to the net, where you can better take advantage of the angles of the court to make the pusher cover more ground. Be aware that you could get some lobs, but again, don't try to kill them. I don't know how many overheads I've muffed against pushers because while the ball's in the air I say, "Okay, this point has gone on way too long. This loser is going to pay right here." Only to hit the ball out or frame it or something else totally embarrassing. Again, don't worry about killing the ball on overheads. You'll undoubtedly have another chance if you don't put the ball away the first time--and if you hit the first one right, you'll have a bunch of open court to use.
JC, the key to beating pushers is really to remember that THEY don't have any weapons. They can't punish you if you hit the ball a bit too short, nor if you return the ball back to the middle. They can only take advantage of your mistakes. So, you need to avoid the temptation to show them how tennis SHOULD be played, and just work them around the court with high-percentage tennis.
Anyway, I hope that I helped. Beating pushers isn't easy. But if you're disciplined and can avoid getting down on yourself, you'll discover that you can consistenly beat your pusher friends (or enemies, as the case may be). If you have any questions, just drop me a line.
--Your fellow pusher-hater--
Hope I helped! :)
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