for me it was always about keeping it together mentally and going for the percentages. imo, the worst thing you can do is try to adapt your game style. when i played juniors i was a pretty big hitter and i when i'd play a pusher/grinder i'd just go shot by shot and try to block everything else out
Fair enough. But as you say, you played juniors (i.e. you no doubt are a fully developed player on a technical front) and you hit pretty big. Therefore your normal game should be enough to eventually beat a pusher, assuming you didn't lose your cool mentally. If the opponent throws up a "reset" lob you can probably hammer a big fh to gain the advantage. If the opponent hits a squash slice defence, you can adjust to the odd bounce and hit a good shot which should be awkward for your opponent. If you get to the net you can probably finish the point. Going for percentages, for you, means finding the right balance between aggressiveness and patience that allows you to attack for say 6 or 7 shots in order to finish the point.
However, the OP doesn't seem to have the same technical advantages as you. His normal game, even if he stays calm, doesn't seem to be enough to win. Which is why I, and other posters, have suggested some alternative strategies. Without watching the match it is a little difficult to tell if this is just mental, but from the OP's posts it seems to be linked to technical difficulties with attacking high balls and no-pace balls, adjusting to the bounce from junk balls, and finishing at net.
If I summarise the ideas that other posters have suggested, we have:
- Try to beat him by playing like a pusher. This will work if the pusher is merely covering up a tendency to be inaccurate by playing very safe, and therefore only works at lower levels. Many lower level pushers actually do play that way simply because they lack the accuracy to play other ways. This might be a feasible strategy for the OP, depending on how well he can play pusher style himself, but he has said that he does not want to play this way. You also need great patience and endurance to outlast a pusher like this.
- The FYB video suggests ways of using aggressive play and creativity to rush and outposition the pusher. I.e. the video presumes that you have the tools to put away a pusher, and that you merely need to move well and look for the openings. This works if you are a strong modern player- you simply need to be focused and see any openings that pop up. If you have good attacking groundies and good forecourt skills there are always many ways of finishing a point against a pusher. You just need to make sure you don't get lulled into their rhythm, but instead continue to play your aggressive game. Rushing the pusher is how pros beat them- they dominate them and give them no time. They take balls out of the air and swing volley, they take balls early, they smack away high balls, they don't give the pusher any "safety zone". I.e. calculated risks defeats totally safe shots. However, the OP has mentioned that he struggles to finish the point at net, he mentions that if he tries to rush the opponent he makes more errors, and he also mentions that there is "nothing to work with on the ball" which suggests that he struggles to hit a big shot off a nothing ball. So these very aggressive and creative strategies, which are good for up and coming juniors etc, are probably not a good fit for the OP.
I like to play pushers this way, but I'm not the OP. For an aggressive player, pushers are just practice for opening the court and hitting winners. But you need to be a certain kind of player to win that way.
- The taking the ball early and using angles suggestions fall in the same category. They are good ideas to defeat pushers, but they require a certain set of skills that perhaps the OP does not have yet. (Maybe he will acquire these skills in time.) Taking the high balls and volleying or smashing them falls prey to the same problem- these are high level skills, unless you are a natural net player. Searching patiently for a little weakness in the opponent is a common way of winning for good juniors or amateurs, but requires you to have a lot of on-court insight which not everyone has. If the OP had this kind of insight he would probably already have defeated his friend when he tried to push.
- I liked Ms Q's idea of not going into DTL (into the open court) so much and hitting back cc more often. She also mentions that you need to keep your own rhythm. My idea extrapolates on that.
- I think instead of opening the court up and being frustrated by moonballs or slices which reset the point, the OP should try to draw the opponent into a hitting battle: i.e. try to make him not play like a pusher. But how do you do that?
If I were the OP, I would hit the ball reasonably flat (a little topspin is ok), rhythmically, fairly low over the net, not trying to hit a winner. This should be a safe shot, providing you pick the right amount of pace, which should be quite firm but well within your own safety zone.
If you pick the right amount of pace and keep the height low enough, you can lure the opponent (well, if he's a club player without a huge amount of wrist movement in his shots) into using your pace and hitting a similar low ball back to you. So he won't be playing like a pusher anymore. Then it just comes down to a hitting battle, somewhat like a practice rally. Which I think the OP will enjoy much more. He will have more pace to use himself.
I suggest not using too many angles because the OP finds the looped reset ball and the squash slice defence annoying to handle, and angles will induce these shots. Instead I think he should try to give his friend enough pace to use, and when it comes back with nice pace, he could use this pace himself to hit a harder deeper ball that hopefully causes his opponent to mistime the ball.
Naturally staying calm is still a big part of playing a pusher, at any level. They thrive on the opponent becoming frustrated. It's definitely hard to play a pusher if a) you aren't good at attacking high or soft balls, b) you don't finish well at net, and c) you aren't good at taking the ball early to rush the opponent. So I think that hitting firmly enough that the opponent (hopefully) has almost no choice but to hit a firm shot back is a good idea. The key is to make sure the ball is travelling through the opponent's strike zone with speed and also staying reasonably low. It's hard to loop against that shot. That's also why I think the OP should hit more balls close to the opponent to start the rally- when you hit too far from them the ball slows down by the time they run it down and they can then lob easily. He should try to make the match a hitting battle rather than a running battle. If his firm hitting induces a short ball, then he could try for a winner of course.