Playing the Pusher – and Winning with the Lag

Pushers give everyone nightmares.

They are “walking” bad losses. Everyone expects us to beat them, but these pushers know the game and are darn hard to beat. They scoot around the court, slow the ball down and rarely miss. Finally, their hitting the ball softly thing and the attendant lack of pace often ruins our timing and ability to generate our own pace. Finally (as though this would be needed) the longer the rally, and the longer the match, they happier they appear to become.

Coming to terms with pushers requires patience on your part. It requires determination. It requires managing your own errors. And it requires adjusting your timing so you can “wait on the ball.”

Lagging on the way back

Against pushers our errors occur from preparing and stepping too early – said again our loss of rhythm and confidence occurs from preparing and stepping too early – instead you must turn to the side early, keep your feet moving, and delay the backswing until after the bounce. Said another way, as regards preparation, you must lag or delay the racquet head (but there is much more to this story).

Lagging on the way forward (the modern forehand)

There was a time when strokes were taught with the phrase – point the racquet to the back fence to prepare and to the front fence when finishing. But in the modern method the racquet initially points to the front fence and finishes pointing to the back fence. This is an acceleration model – and certainly the modern forehand is all about racquet speed.

There is one more piece to this puzzle, and this is in the lagging of the racquet head on the way forward. Your operative word is – loosen up and pull. In sequence the body unwinds but with subtle delays where the torso leads the arm, the arm leads the hand, and finally the hand leads the racquet head.

With practice and renewed determination revisit the dreaded pusher. You must be patient. You must move your feet. You must choose when to attack. But when that moment occurs – wait on the ball, delay the backswing, lag the forward swing – and paste the lines with your winners.

Don’t be shy, let me know if you’ve found this stuff to work for you…

23 Comments

  • James

    Reply Reply March 26, 2013

    Modern tennis is definitely not a ‘pushing game’. Top players have the courage to take winning opportunities, whatever the risk. They win matches on their own rackets, not by waiting for an error.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply March 26, 2013

      James – yes and no, pushing is a demeaning term for someone who plays patiently and waits for the error rather than going for immediate and outright winners, but one could say that Rafa plays this patient game waiting for the opening, and perhaps even Tomic. The balls may be now hit harder, but still this game is about error management.
      Jim

  • Zed

    Reply Reply December 1, 2010

    Jim, the technique you describe to counter pushers is the only way I know of how to push the ball on a forehand. Unfortunately i initially learned to hit the forehand with a baseball style swing and that is now my comfort zone even though it yields inferior results.

  • Zed

    Reply Reply December 1, 2010

    Understood. I have difficulty pushing the ball but when I do succeed I have so much more control of the ball. Its a great feeling. I would be proud to call myself a pusher if I could just consistently do it. I’m an aspirational pusher. I don’t understand why there is so much stigma attached to it.

  • Zed

    Reply Reply November 30, 2010

    To the best of my knowledge modern tennis at the tour level is a PUSHING game and a VERTICAL game. To master the pushing and vertical aspects at high power levels takes thousands of hours of practice with good coaching BUT you have to start somewhere. As a beginner using a head heavy racket it is not possible to have power and control while pushing the ball. The players who have power in their shots tend to use their rackets as if they are baseball bats. To push the ball the racket has to lag behind. To be a pusher is a good thing. Power in your shots is something that you introduce as you put the hours in and graduate to a headlight racket.

    • Jim

      Reply Reply November 30, 2010

      Zed – I never meant to imply pushing is a bad thing – but rather that the term flows from people who do not like playing against that style
      Jim

  • julian

    Reply Reply October 27, 2010

    “That said I think one can lag with a number of varying grips” but not the continental surely? it requires too much rotation in the forearm, and impeccable timing. Even Edberg, the last great continental player didn’t use this.

    • Jim

      Reply Reply October 27, 2010

      Julian – yes you are right, and your reference to Edberg is on the money – where you you teach?
      Jim

  • btaylor

    Reply Reply October 20, 2010

    Jim

    Excellent analysis of the lagging principal, however, it seems that you’re using what looks like a continental grip in your demonstration, which has the racquet “open” during the forward lagging phase…

    Perhaps a semi-western grip would be more visually accurate because the racquet would naturally be more “closed” as it approaches the ball (plus, it’s the grip that is in use in the “modern” forehand…)

    • Jim

      Reply Reply October 20, 2010

      BTaylor – yes for better or worse you are right – I have been a continental grip practitioner since perhaps 1966 – I still work on shifting my grip but rarely does it “take” – you have now redoubled my efforts on this
      best
      Jim
      That said I think one can lag with a number of varying grips

  • Daniel

    Reply Reply October 11, 2010

    Hi Jim, here Daniel from Spain, a forty years tennis club player. I have been taking a look to your latest posts during the last months. I wish I could have enough time to practice tennis through your ETI courses.

    Now, I thank you very much for your clear instructions. After your great last posts concerning pushers, lagging, modern forehand I have decided to contact you by the first time. Very valuable hints !! You are helping me quite a lot with my game, in spite of the few hours per week I can practice.

    Best,
    Daniel.

    • Jim

      Reply Reply October 11, 2010

      Daniel – thanks, some day I am hoping to visit Spain to do some coursework at a few of the clubs – I will keep you posted
      Jim

  • ramon del rosario

    Reply Reply October 9, 2010

    Jim thank you very much, I am from Manila and I find your videos and instructions very helpful and has taken my tennis game on a higher level thanks again.

    • Jim

      Reply Reply October 9, 2010

      Ramon – stay in touch, we have more coming down the electronic pipe – so to speak
      best
      Jim

  • Michael

    Reply Reply October 8, 2010

    Thank you for the nice clear instructions Jim!

    I like the follow-up comments and those of Victor above!

    I like that arm parallel to the baseline and it works for me, to get that “turn” of shoulders, trouble is as fatigue eventually creeps in some of these disciplines fall away.

    I do realise of course, that the last two instructional videos were highlighting different aspects of play!

    Many thanks…..

  • Víctor Liendo

    Reply Reply October 7, 2010

    Hi Jim,

    (Remember a couple of days ago, i put a post about imitating the pros and playing effortless)

    About the modern forehand

    I think that a part of what you have told us is about preparation. Rotating your shoulders. A good tip for doing that well is taking (or placing ?) your non dominant arm parallel to the baseline, at a height about your shoulder. This allows yo to turn your shoulder back automatically.

    I think the other part of your video is about the WWF (not the World Wildlife Fund, but the Winshield Wiper Forehand). You showed us almost everything about this way of hitting the forehand, although your finishing is not as pronunciated as the pros do. I believe your intention was not to introduce us to this term (WWF) because it is a bit complicated (but very effective), and your post comes most to club level player.

    WWF is an important part of the modern forehand

    I would like you can talk us more about the WWF, when you consider it right.

    Víctor

    • Jim

      Reply Reply October 7, 2010

      Victor – more about this finish in later posts – but my suspicion is that it should be “under done”
      Jim

  • Jim Fox

    Reply Reply October 7, 2010

    It’s interesting how some stuff changes, but other stuff stays the same. You often refer to Tom Stowe. I remember Dick Gould former tennis coach at Foothill College and Stanford who talked about laying the wrist back. I think that’s like the lag. Though he also talked about back fence, front fence, not the modern front fence, back fence.

    Jim Fox

    • Jim

      Reply Reply October 7, 2010

      Jim – thanks for the note – and yes, it was always the wrist laid back but not it occurs on the way forward, used to be on the way back – I see Dick Gould regularly –
      a good friend and wonderful man for the game of tennis (as well as for Stanford)
      best
      Jim

  • Quinby

    Reply Reply October 7, 2010

    Good tips!

    For me the key thought I took away from your message was that as long as I kept my hand and arm soft, the racquet would lag. I also could get more racquet head speed because of the lag.

    But if I tighten the hand and/or arm, I lost the lag.

    Thanks

    Q

    • Jim

      Reply Reply October 7, 2010

      Q- well said, so much of the game is about being loose and relaxed
      best
      Jim

  • kottresh

    Reply Reply October 6, 2010

    Great tips for Neel.

    Thanks Jim

    • Jim

      Reply Reply November 30, 2010

      Kottresh – thanks, I still want to work with your son
      Jim

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