If you are a beginner to intermediate tennis player, then a tennis pusher/moonballer can be one of the most frustrating players to play against.
Pushers/Moonballers can make you hate the game and just want to give up but thankfully there are ways to overcome these sorts of players at your local tennis club.
This article will look at what exactly a pusher/moonballer is and give you some tips on how to beat them in your next tennis match.
What is a Pusher or Moonballer in Tennis?
A Pusher or Moonballer in Tennis is a defence orientated tennis player who aims to get every ball back by any means necessary rather than trying to hit an outright winner.
Pushers and Moonballers have very similar strategies so for the rest of this article, I will simply refer to both as pushers.
You are most likely to encounter them at the beginner to intermediate levels, but there are players who rely on their consistency to win matches at the advanced or even pro level.
Pushers come in all different shapes and sizes with varying degrees of skills and technique but the key thing that they all share is their consistency and a mindset of getting just one more ball back than their opponent.
Pushers usually don’t have any weapons that can hurt you like a big serve or a killer forehand but they can win points by getting every ball back and waiting for their opponent to make a mistake, as their goal is for their opponent to beat themselves.
Top 10 Tips on How to Beat a Pusher in Tennis
1. Respect your opponent and their Style of Play
Always have respect for your opponent and don’t assume that you should win just because their technique isn’t pretty or they have no weapons that can hurt you.
If you truly are the better player then you will win but don’t expect the win to be handed to you as you need to go out there and prove it.
If you are losing to a player with a pushing style, it is not because of the style of play they are using but it is because your own game needs to improve.
2. Be Patient
When you are playing someone who hits with very little power, it can be tempting to go for winners all the time.
However, this is likely to lead to you making a lot more unforced errors and is exactly what the pusher wants you to do.
If your opponent is hitting down the middle and you are going for lines every time, then over the long run you are going to lose.
Instead, you should be patient and wait for a ball that you be aggressive on but at the same time have some margin of error e.g. you may have pulled your opponent out wide on one side of the court and now there is space to hit the ball down the line.
Instead of going for the line, pick a target a foot or two inside the line.
Your opponent may be able to get to this ball but they should only be able to hit a weak ball back to you that you should be able to hit for an easy winner.
When playing a pusher, you will also need to build up your shot threshold as you need to show them that you are willing to play long rallies to win a point.
If you show them that you will just go for a winner after 2 or 3 shots, then they will know their strategy is working.
You need to have a high shot threshold so that they will think they have to do something else that push to win the point.
This is especially important at the beginning of a match.
3. Don’t try and out Push the Pusher
Although it is important to be patient and have a high shot threshold when playing a pusher, that doesn’t mean that you should change how you hit your groundstrokes and start hitting the ball like they do.
Instead, focus on being steady and hitting a solid ball to targets that give you a good margin for error.
If you go down the road of hitting more slices and moon balls, then this can lead to you losing rhythm on your regular groundstrokes.
Therefore it is better to focus on being more consistent with your own game rather than trying to emulate the pusher.
4. Come to the Net
In my opinion, this is the key to beating a pusher as often they will not be great at hitting passing shots when you are at the net.
However, the key to making this work is choosing when you move into the net.
If you simply hit a regular cross court ball and then race into the middle of the net, that isn’t going to be good enough.
Even the most inexperienced pusher will have a good chance of hitting a passing shot by you.
Instead, you should wait for the right moment to move into the net like when you have your opponent pulled out wide or if you have hit a good down the line shot.
When approaching the net, make sure you are on the same side of the court as the ball you just hit.
This will mean in are in the center of your opponent’s possible shots as if you move to the middle of the net then you will be leaving too much space on either side of you for your opponent to hit a passing shot.
You will often find that they will try and hit a lob when you come to the net, therefore it is important that you don’t get too close to the net so that you have no chance of getting to the lob.
Instead, you should aim to do your split step just as the pusher is about to hit their ball.
Once you know it is a lob they are hitting, this will help you move back in time to get to the lob.
5. Bring the Pusher to the Net
Bringing the pusher to the net can often be a good strategy as often pushers are used to moving left to right and right to left on a tennis court but they are less comfortable moving forward and back.
Pushers also usually don’t have great net skills so bringing them to the net is taking them out of their comfort zone.
If it is a drop shot that you have hit to bring them into the net, just remember to follow the shot into the net as the most likely next shot from the pusher will also be short.
A common mistake I see recreational players make is hitting a good drop shot that has their opponents struggling to get to the ball but they stay on the baseline after hitting it.
The pusher then just about gets the ball over the net but because they are at the baseline, they have no time to get to the pushers ball and they end up losing the point even though they hit a good drop shot.
6. Open up the Court by Using Angles
Another good strategy to use against pushers is to try and hit angles to pull them off the court and opens up the court so that you can hit an easy winner.
This is especially useful if you target the weaker side (usually the backhand) of the pusher as they are likely to hit a defensive ball back to the middle of the court that you will be able to attack and hit to the open court while still leaving a healthy margin for error.
7. Take Time away from the Pusher
Taking time away from the pusher can help you to put pressure on the pusher so that they are more likely to make an error or provide you with a poor return ball that you can attack.
There are a couple of different ways you can use to take time away from the pusher including stepping up on their serve, hitting balls on the rise, hitting dry volleys, and approaching the net.
Each of these tactics has its own risks and rewards and require more skill to execute correctly so if you are having an off day, you might be better off sticking to your groundstroke game.
8. Work on your Overhead
One of the best defensive tools a pusher has is the lob and/or moon ball.
These shots are great at giving the pusher extra time to get back into a position and resetting the point.
You will usually find that pushers will be able to hit a good lob and/or moon ball so it is important that you develop a powerful and consistent overhead to medicate this.
If you can’t put balls away with your overhead, then pushers will keep using the lob to neutralize the point and will wait until you make an error on one of your overheads.
Not having a good overhead is one of the main reasons recreational players struggle against pushers.
9. Mix up your Serve Type and Placement
It is important that you don’t allow a pusher to get into a rhythm on your serve.
If you hit the ball in more or less the same place with the same amount of spin every time then a pusher will get used to this and will consistently return your serves.
That is why it is important that you mix up both the type of serve you hit and also where you try and place the ball on your service games.
You don’t have to hit a completely different serve on every serve but you should vary it enough so that your opponent doesn’t get into any sort of rhythm on your serve.
A tactic I use in singles and doubles is to hit the majority of my serves to their weaker side (usually their backhand) with different types of spin (topspin, slice, and kick), then every 3rd or 4th serve, I will hit a ball to their stronger side to keep them honest.
10. Don’t go for too much on your Return of Serve
From my experience of watching people play at the recreational level, the return of serve is where so many points are lost simply because the player is trying to hit a winner off their return of serve.
This is an even bigger problem when you are playing a pusher as it is likely that they do not have a strong serve so you will be tempted to rip a winner down the line.
However, more often than not, you will either hit this shot into the net or it will go long.
Instead, I would recommend hitting all your returns into the middle of the court and waiting for a better ball that you can attack.