The ultimate nightmare of tennis players at all levels seems to be playing against the so called "dinkers" or "pushers".
As I walk around the grounds at Balboa Tennis Club, I am frequently asked by members and friends for tips on how they can improve their games. A sure winner among the most frequently asked questions is "how can I beat a "dinker""? They are retrievers who may not look fit nor fast, and yet they get to virtually every ball you hit. They prefer to "dink" balls over the net with incredible backspin and/or sidespin drawing you into the center of the court in "no man's land". They also like to hit short drop shots followed by incredibly high and deep lobs. "Dinkers" don't make many unforced errors and rarely go for big winners. Sounds familiar?
So let's go over a few tips on what you should do when facing such a player:
1) Respect the “dinker”. This is probably the most important tip. Without respecting this kind of opponent, no strategy will ever work! Recognize that this style of play, though not flashy, is a valid way to approach the game. As soon as you ridicule the "pusher" in your mind, she/he has won a major victory.
2) Give them deep, high bouncing balls to deal with from the baseline. "Pushers" generally do not like moonballs because hitting slice and sidespin off of high bouncing balls usually is difficult and forces them to experience a bit of frustration.
3) Come to the net. Net rushers are the "pusher's" Nemesis. They usually do not possess great passing shots and will frequently attempt to lob you, so keep an eye out for the lob. Serve and volley, if you can, and chip and charge on the return.
4) Mix up the placement of your serves. Hit flat, slice and kick serves to all parts of both service boxes. The key is not to be predictable on your serve. The "pusher" is very good at discerning any patterns.
5) Make them move diagonally. Pushers like to move side to side -- they are used to it. However, they hate to move on diagonals. If you hit a shot deep to the "pusher's" backhand and then follow it with a short shot to the forehand, he/she will have to run diagonally to get to the ball, and likely go for a shot he/she probably doesn't own -- the big winner.
Now let's cover a list of things you "should not" do:
1) Do not resort to playing the "pusher's" game. You can't beat a "pusher" by "pushing" yourself. She/he is probably much better at it than you. Once you begin to "push," she/ he will miraculously find a way to hit winners. This will invariably add to your frustration.
2) Don't rush. You need to be very patient when playing the "dinker," especially if you are not attempting to take the net. Big groundstrokers often self-destruct against "pushers" because they are impatient. Be prepared to run. Don't be too eager to go for put aways. Wait until you have a clear opportunity to win the point before you go for the winner.
3) Don't try to outpower the "pusher." Try to hit your groundstrokes at 3/4 pace. Don't push the ball, just try to hit the ball at less than maximum pace.
4) Don't wait for the ball to come to you. Aggressively move to every ball. Adopt the "Andre Agassi" mindset. This action will minimize the effects of the "pusher's" spin.
5) Finally, don't ever let the "pusher" see you angry or frustrated. The "pusher's" game is based more on psychological warfare than upon tennis skills and strokes. He/she lives to see you snap psychologically. Truly, this is a major reason why they play the game! If you remain calm and seemingly confident regardless of the score, the "pusher" will frequently begin to lose confidence.
The "dinker" does not have to be your most feared opponent! If you are patient, use your net game, hit deep and high shots to the baseline, and move quickly to every ball, you will find that you will be able to turn the table, and instead of having nightmares, you will become one!