We have all been there: playing that opponent that seems to never miss and who runs endlessly, pushing the ball back into the court time after time. Hitting moonball after moonball, or perhaps hitting back a “quality” loopy ball with decent depth. In any case, it makes you feel like you are playing against a wall. Side note, I have actually come across some players who like to go out there and hit against an actual wall- and who try to somehow beat the wall. How? I still haven’t figure that out; maybe by cheating? Or maybe by making up a random score? Anyways, luckily for us, your opponent is not literally a wall. With a solid game plan and few tips you can definitely increase the chances of beating a pusher! Retrievers (a more suave term for the word “pusher”) are found at any level, of course, the higher the level the better they hit (more depth, pace, spin, etc). However, the game plan should be relatively the same. Here is a list of tactical things you can do in your tennis match!
1. First thing is first: Patience is your best friend
In order to even have a slight chance of winning, you must prepare mentally before the match. One of the reasons that make a retriever so difficult to beat is because they don’t give you many free points. They play the ball safe, taking pride of hitting back into the court as many balls as possible. Before the match, you must prepare for long rallies and a long match. Don’t get frustrated if hours go by and your opponent just keeps running side to side as if it was the first minute of the match. You must stay positive and keep a fighting attitude, most retrievers hope that you’ll start getting frustrated and making easy mistakes, don’t let this happen!
2. The calculated attack
The calculated attack is just what the name suggests, attacking while taking a calculated risk. Try to pick the right moment to put more pressure on your opponent. This could be when they hit the ball short and/or are out of position. Going for a down-the-line winner when you are out of position is definitely a no. In addition, it is important to remember that a retriever usually plays like a wall, the harder you hit the faster the ball is coming back. It is not necessary to try to over-power your opponent. Keep putting constant pressure (by hitting the ball slightly harder or taking the ball early), moving your opponent side to side and waiting for the right opportunity. Once you get this opportunity try to play and/or aim 1 meter inside of the sidelines, this will give you more room for error. Another good strategy is to come to the net. How often you should do this just depends on how many opportunities you get and how comfortable you are at the net.
3. Shake & Mix it up
Every opponent, no matter who you play, has a hole. A hole is basically a weakness in someone’s game. Of course, the higher level you play the less holes a player has and the harder it is to find them. However, every time your opponent misses make a mental note of what shot they missed. Be as specific as possible. At which height did they miss? How fast did you hit the ball? How far was the ball from their previous shot? Which side? What type of spin? You might have to try different shots until you find their weakness, but once you find it you are on the right path to win the match. Perhaps you find that they don’t handle a low slice to their forehand well, or perhaps it’s a high topspin ball to their backhand. This is where shake & mix it up comes into play: you use variety to try to find out what your opponent dislikes and where they are more likely to make mistakes.
Positive attitude, attacking smartly and finding your opponent’s weaknesses are some of the most of important things you can do to increase your chances of winning a match against a retriever. Don’t fall for what most retrievers hope for- that is for you to get frustrated. Stay positive and keep a good attitude, after all the most important thing why we play is to enjoy it!