How to Coach: Use your opponents strengths

You’ve probably heard the phrase “every action has an equal and opposite reaction”. It’s used in physics but I like to use it on the tennis court. In fact I’ve had to learn it because I’ve met enough people that use my own power against me.

I still remember a ranking match where my serve was everything I hoped it would be yet I still lost and comfortably. The most frustrating thing was my opponent did not have any major weapon but he got everything back.

Now I know this guy was a pusher. I wish I had known then. Now I am really enjoying learning the pushers tricks. They’re so subtle yet so powerful.

I lost this match because I was predictable and gave my opponent everything he needed to beat me. The thing about a fast serve is that I comes back just as fast. The guy stood far back to receive and I didn’t follow it in. A fatal flaw. He just blocked the serve back high and deep.

I’ve learnt since that if I follow a good serve in then generally I will get a high volley or something short to start the point. If I stay back though the benefit is lost. I’ve wasted my own work.

Pushers feed off my game because the act of generating power often draws me out of position and takes time to recover from. They on the other hand only have to reach out and redirect my shots. The power is already there and I won’t have much time to get to whatever they play.

Now that I know this I can easily beat a pusher by varying my pace. Few pushers can dictate a point because they are used to redirecting your hard work. So feeding some softer shots in ensures I get a nice soft sitter coming back. What goes in, must come out. If I can make it awkward for them all the better because I will get a more predictable response.

On the other hand I am embracing the pusher mentality more and more. As I meet more competitive players and find more pace and quality of shot coming at me I use Novak and Rafa as guides. Novak beats Rafa because he can redirect Rafas huge crosscourt forehand down the line with his backhand. He just waits for Rafa to be out of position then uses it. Every time he has beaten Rafa he has used this tactic well.

But then that is just how Rafa beats Roger. Fed prefers to hit is forehand than his backhand. Rafa uses this to his advantage. He attacks Feds backhand to push him wide. Fed will usually choose to run around the backhand to hit a forehand moving wide on the court to do so. This leaves a lot of space to the forehand for Rafa to exploit. Rafa doesn’t attack the forehand at the first opportunity. He waits and eventually gets a weak ball and attacks it. The patience Rafa shows in doing this is what breaks Roger. That is the pusher mentality I am chasing. Doing what is necessary to win like Novak and Rafa, not just playing my favourite shot like Fed.

The point is to return someone’s power, like a big server or Wawrinka, being a pusher is just another tactic. which is a big part of why Rafa and Novak do so well. They let the opponent beat themselves. They just give them the ball to do it with.

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