5 Keys to Playing (and competing against) the Pusher

Every club has one of these, a player who moves very well, makes darn few errors, often hits the ball softly or with unusual form, but over and over again this is a player who wins, and more than that this is a player that most dread.

The term “pusher” is somehow derogatory, implying that perhaps anyone could “win” that way but most pretend they would not stoop to such tactics.

I believe just the opposite.  These players understand that ours is a game of ERROR MANAGEMENT.

I am encouraging you (dear reader) to accept the challenge to improve your play against these players.  And that improvement must be mental, it must be technical, and it must be tactical.  And rather than avoiding this issue, I believe when you come to terms with your own ERROR MANAGEMENT, with understanding exactly whey they are so difficult, and when you learn how to WEIGHT AND WAIT your game will grow immeasurably.

I have two lessons from a series called 5 Keys to Compete Against the Pusher and want to share the following to encourage you to come to terms with perhaps the ultimate tennis challenge.

PS.  At the 2013 ATP Masters final in London, Nadal needed to win two matches in round robin play to reclaim the Number One ranking.  And in those two matches (which he won) Paul Annacone and Jimmy Arias (who are two of our best on air commentators) described Rafa’s play as pushing!  They said he was PUSHING!  Meaning he played the ball safely, rarely close to the lines, and was willing to out rally his opponents.  Certainly Rafa’s brand of pushing may be hard to fathom, but nevertheless that was their description of his round robin play.

The two cardinal rules of tennis.

  1. Put the ball over the net.
  2. Always be ready for the opponent’s reply.

You could say, “Hold on Jim, what about topspin, what about conditioning, what about …..”

All true.  But at the base level, you must put the ball over the net (ours is a game of hitting up) and you must be ready for the opponent’s reply.

The reasons pushers are so difficult is that they do put the ball up and over the net (if they miss they are more prone to hitting the ball long) but more importantly they are always in position ready for your shot.


Because, when hitting often more softly than you, they have more recovery time.  Repeated – MORE RECOVERY TIME.

Big hitters, if slow afoot, are truly often out of position – where their shot reaches the opponent so quickly they have not fulling recovered.

Take as much time as necessary to make sense of this.  Your first step is to clearly recognize this situation.  Let me know what you think.
I wanted to publish these videos to give you a sense of the material within my 5 Keys series of products.  In this series we go into more detail on how to compete against the pusher and  much more.


  • Larry Buhrman

    Reply Reply February 18, 2014

    Hi Jim,

    Good advice on the importance of good court position.

    I used to think “step in and hit” until I started closely watching the modern pros. Nadal and Djokovic “load and explode” in an angular way rather than stepping forward and hitting through the ball. Are you recommending stepping in and hitting through the ball, with a right handed forehand player stepping forward with his left foot rather than loading his right foot and hitting with an open stance, up and across the ball?

    I saw another video where you seemed to be converting to a more modern windshield wiper forehand with an open stance and Semi-Western grip rather than the conventional step in and hit through the line of the ball. Well, in either case, no matter what kind of player we have as an opponent, pusher, net rusher, all court player, etc., good court position can make or break you in a match.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply February 18, 2014

      Larry – court position, may be as important as any other aspect of the game

  • Dan Higashi

    Reply Reply February 17, 2014

    Hi Jim,

    I have a problem executing your “wait … step … hit” on my forehand. My one-handed backhand has no problem doing it. I can shadow stroke the “wait … step … hit” but when it comes to hitting an incoming ball on my forehand side my stroke reverts to a bad habit of “wait … hit … step”. Reviewing my stroke on video I can see my racquet making contact with the ball as my weight is shifting forward before my front foot hits the court. Although my racquet is square to the ball at contact, the contact point is ahead of my front foot and is already starting to decelerate so that it feels like I’m hitting a powder puff ball. I’m hoping the Tai Chi videos I purchased last week from Tennis One will help but do you have any suggestions? For some reason my body wants to hit the ball as my weight is transferring rather than after my weight has transferred which I’m doing perfectly on my backhand side.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply February 18, 2014

      Dan – upload a video of your problem stroke – but I think you are preparing “after the bounce” and are simply out of rhythm

  • tdog

    Reply Reply February 17, 2014

    I wish I had seen this before my match with a pusher yesterday!

  • fsilber

    Reply Reply February 16, 2014

    Premise: The pusher hits the ball high and slow enough that he’s always back in position, thus denying you the opportunity to force him.

    It seems to me that the solution is to master the topspin drive-volley hit from no-man’s land. The benefits of this tactic against the pusher:

    (1) You deny him time to get back into position.
    (2) No matter how softly he hits the ball, before the ball bounces it still has pace you can use against him.
    (3) You can take the ball at whatever height you like best.
    (4) You have tremendous angles into his court.

    The effectiveness of this solution may be the reason pushing is unsuccessful at high levels. At intermediate levels, most players are weak in the baseline drive-volley; you could say that the pusher specializes in exploiting this weakness.

    I suspect that most intermediate players would find it more satisfying to beat a pusher by rushing in to drive-volley than by learning to counter-push (i.e., learning to be patient).

  • Winslow

    Reply Reply February 15, 2014

    Jim, good stuff. I consider myself a good defensive/counterpuncher type player, but if Rafa is a pusher then I guess that makes me one! I would say I put more pace on the ball than the average pusher but when I meet up with one who really floats it over, I can get worn down mentally. It just kills me when I have the point set up for a winner to take the point but I make an error (usually because of the timing/waiting issue). It can really go downhill from there.

  • Bruce Wallace

    Reply Reply February 14, 2014

    Worthwhile information, especially when trying to play mixed doubles where many women, many of whom are very consistent, hit a ball that is much slower than men’s doubles and can result in many embarrassing strokes trying to adjust.

  • Rod macgregor

    Reply Reply February 14, 2014

    Thanks Jim. If only more younger coaches would get onto your website. Far too much emphesis put into hard hitting with little awareness to recovering for the opponents next shot.

    Keep up the good work

    Cheers, Rod Macgregor NZ

  • Bud Light

    Reply Reply February 14, 2014

    I loved these two short videos. As usual your experience shows. Your reference to “our game being one of” error management” really after all is said and done….says it ALL! I always try to emphasize to my students the ultimate truth of this; ie, that the player who makes the fewest mistakes, especially unforced errors….is generally going to win! This is one reason pushers are the way they are. They know they can’t outhit you so they make you do most of the work and get ready quickly to hit another ball. Notice in professional tennis today how many players are content to sit on the baseline and wear you out by returning shot after shot. What happened to serve and volley? Best, Bud Light, USTA; PTR

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