In tennis, a pusher is a player who can consistently hit the ball back inside the opponent’s court. They have good footwork and run to every ball. Michael Chang and Rafael Nadal are legendary professional players that have perfected this valuable skill.
In my opinion, pushers consist of two types, good pushers and bad pushers.
Bad pushers are those that hit patty cake shots without spin. Oftentimes, they use lobs to gain time to get back to the middle of the base line after each shot. The bad pusher’s strategy is to hit every ball back and wait until the opponent commits an unforced error. Playing against a (bad) pusher is frustrating because you need to earn points by either hitting a winner or making the pusher commit a forced error. At the recreational level at tennis clubs, say UTR (Universal Tennis Rating) score of up to 2, just being a bad pusher is often sufficient to win a singles match. (Doubles is a different story because you need to protect yourself against volleys.) Sometimes I see bad pushers with UTR 3, but bad pushers beyond UTR 4 are extremely rare. Since bad pushers don’t have much skills beyond the ability to run to every ball and return, you can beat them by either taking the net and volleying with angle, or mixing deep top spin, short slice, and angle shots to create open spaces and finish with approach shots.
Good pushers are those who can consistently hit neutral (not necessarily fast) top spin shots beyond the service line. By doing so, they push the opponent far beyond the base line, from where it’s difficult to hit winners or forcing shots. At the low end of competitive level, say UTR 3, being a good pusher is often sufficient to win a singles match. Beyond UTR 4, however, I would say almost all players are good pushers, so being able to consistently hit deep top spin is necessary for reaching UTR 4. To win a singles match against an opponent with UTR 4, you need to hit winners or forcing shots to earn most points. However, being able to hit winners is not sufficient because to do so you must first create an opportunity (making the opponent hit a short ball so that you can next finish with an approach shot, angle shot, or volley) by moving them around with deep top spin shots. I think the value of consistently hitting deep top spin is often underappreciated.