In local league table tennis, especially in the lower divisions, you’ll often have to play against pushers. These are players who don’t seem to do much else other than play forehand pushes and backhand pushes, over and over again.
They keep the ball low over the net, with plenty of backspin, making it difficult for you to attack. Even if the ball pops up high, they may wait for the ball to drop and push again rather than attack.
The pusher’s aim is to frustrate you. They want to draw you into a pushing match (which is what they are best at) or force you to take on a risky attack. The outcome is often an unforced attacking error, frustration, more attacking errors and more frustration.
Pushing is a safe way of playing table tennis, but it can be very effective at lower levels of table tennis. A pusher can win lots of matches, simply by putting the ball back on the table and waiting for their opponent to mess up. They barely break a sweat!
If you struggle against this type of player, here’s some suggestions to help you win more points.
Attack with topspin – This is by far the easiest way to beat a pusher. They want to keep you in a backspin rally, so don’t let them. If their push is long enough, you should try and play a topspin attack. Pushers usually stick quite close to the table (unlike a chopper who will go back and keep defending), so if you get a topspin attack on the table you will often win the point outright or get a high ball to attack.
If you find it difficult to play topspin attacks against backspin balls, you need to prioritise developing the correct technique, as it gives you so many more attacking options. Take a look at my forehand topspin vs backspin page for coaching tips (I’ll be adding a backhand topspin vs backspin page soon).
Use long serves – Pushers aren’t usually very strong attackers (this is why they push!), so you can use plenty of long serves. If you serve long topspin or sidespin it is much harder for a pusher to keep the ball back short and low. You should get plenty of easy balls to attack.
Make them move – From my experience of playing pushers, they don’t move particularly well. Their comfort zone is the middle of the table. So play outside of their comfort zone. Aim for wide angles, keep switching the direction of play, touch some balls short and attack deep. If you keep them moving, they will make more errors or give you easy balls to attack.
Target their weak side – A pusher often (not always) has a weaker side. They prefer to push with either backhand or forehand. If they have a weaker side, target it. For example, if a pusher prefers to play backhand pushes, they may try to cover most of the table with their backhand. If you place the ball to a wide forehand position, you will make it very awkward for them to play a backhand push. You will force them to use their weaker side and they will make more errors or give you easy balls to attack.
Give them a few balls to attack – This may seem like a strange tactic, but pushers are often very erratic when they attack. They may hit one or two winners but will miss lots. Try popping the ball up with a push or a slow topspin and tempt them to attack. You’ll often get a cheap point as they hit the ball into the net or long. You probably shouldn’t overuse this tactic as the pusher could gain confidence and start hitting more winners than errors. But doing it occasionally can work.
Play them at their own game – If all else fails, try playing them at their own game. I remember a league game in London and a junior on my team was playing a pusher. He kept missing his attacks and was getting frustrated. Eventually he switched tactics and just kept pushing the ball back. It was tedious to watch – two players pushing the ball back and forth for ages – but he won!
Out of all of the tactics above, I have found playing topspin attacks to be by far the most effective tactic. If you master this, you’ll find this type of opponent quite easy to beat.
What tactics do you use when playing a pusher? Let me know in the comments box below.