The Pusher's Mental Advantage And How To Use It Against Him
A pusher is a type of player that just "pushes" the ball back with no pace but with great control and depth – and they seem to be able to do it forever.
While their ability to stay focused in long rallies is quite evident and so is their stamina, there is another not-so-obvious mental advantage that they have.
They see success differently than you.
Let me explain...
When you play a pusher and you're the more aggressive player, you will have different criteria defining what it is to succeed.
Your criterion for success is winning the point (since each point brings you closer to winning the match), but the pusher's criterion for success is only preventing you from winning that current point.
So, as the point goes on and you're trying to get an advantage but he neutralizes you well – meaning prevents you from getting the upper hand in the rally or hitting a winner – you grow more frustrated.
Meanwhile, he grows more happy – because he is focused JUST on neutralizing you with that one shot that he plays off your shot.
And if he does it well, it makes him confident and strong, and he'll keep doing that.
The pusher "forgets" that he "should" try to win the point because he is so focused on that single shot with which he wants to neutralize you.
From his experience of hundreds of matches and possibly even of today's match as he is playing you, he knows that he just needs some patience. If he keeps the rally going, eventually you'll miss and he'll get his point.
For the pusher, the path from the start of the point to eventually winning it is crystal clear. That's why he is not anxious nor does he lose focus.
But for you, the path to one single point is not crystal clear since you keep wondering what you need to do to win the point. ;)
So, the key mental advantage that pushers have is their complete focus on one single shot that they are executing.
When they succeed in preventing you from attacking again, they have achieved their goal and are therefore growing in confidence.
They are focused on the process of constructing the point – meaning just focusing on executing one shot at a time – and not on the outcome, which is winning the point.
They can sense your frustration – or perhaps even hear it ;) – and therefore they are very calm and collected, knowing that they are on the right track to win the match.
You, on the other hand, are focused on the outcome – you want to win the point. Therefore, the longer you are prevented from winning it, the more frustrated and impatient you get.
So now that you understand the pusher's mindset, you can play him.
How To Outplay A Pusher
You need to first let go of desire to win the point. Your goal is to put him under pressure; that's all.
Pushers are still humans, after all. While they are fine running around for a while and chasing your shots, they can't do it indefinitely. Even they get tired and run out of patience if you persist long enough.
One thing that usually stops players in overcoming pushers is that you don't want to get out of your comfort zone during the match.
If you want to get the pusher out of his comfort zone, you will have to push yourself out of yours.
That includes playing different patterns of play like serve & volley, chip & charge, drop shot & lob and so on.
I've included all these and other tactics in the Tennis Strategy Encyclopedia under the Pusher's section – which, by the way, you can get for free by entering your email in the form on top of the right sidebar.
Lastly, here's what I often used to do to overcome those persistent pushers...
I often decided to stick with the pusher's tactics and just rally with him.
If you let go of the desire to win the point and just play each shot tactically correctly, then you just respond to each ball – exactly what they are doing all the time.
Not to mention that pusher's shots are very easy to deal with. They are slow it give you more than enough time to set up for your next shot.
I expect hard work and just keep hitting balls tactically correctly, but I am not looking to finish the point.
At some point, the pusher gets confused because the point doesn't end on my unforced error – which is what he is expecting to happen.
He is a pusher, remember: he can't force mistakes or hit winners. Most pushers have only a drop shot as their "winner" shot.
So then he starts to wonder what is going on. He is now confused, not me. And then he may start to make stupid errors.
When you take away a pusher's satisfaction of preventing you from winning the point, they have no plan B.
Of course, you can only do that if you stop trying to win the point and simply focus on playing one single shot tactically correctly, looking only to put the pusher under pressure or simply playing the ball back deep and accepting that there will be very long rallies.
It's of course hard work to get there. But while it may seem that if both of you continue with these long rallies, you'll play the whole afternoon, that won't really happen.
After just a few games or even just points where you show the pusher that you're not troubled by long rallies and that you're not frustrated, they will get confused and lose their clear sight of the path to winning points.
They will soon start to make some bad decisions because now they don't know how to win points.
Their whole strategy relies on you eventually making an unforced error while being frustrated. When you take that away from them, they don't know really how to win the match.
Once you have them in that mental state, it will be much easier to play your usual all-court game and gain advantage in the match.
And lastly, never underestimate pushers, no matter how old they are or how incorrect their strokes look.
They are willing to suffer for every point and invest massive amounts of physical and mental energy to win the match – and you must be, too, if you want to earn that victory.
You can learn a lot from pushers. If you apply their principle of focusing on a single shot and not on winning the point while playing tennis more aggressively, you will definitely reach a new level of play.