Originally Posted by Wuppy
The only winners I hit off him were ones where I put it in the corners. Unfortuantely at 3.5 I'm not good enough to consistently hit corners and probably half the points I lost were hitting the ball slightly wide or long.
I find myself losing to this type of player a LOT. Obviously I need consistency but it seems like if you want to beat a pusher you really need to be better than he is by 0.5 or so. Two 3.5s going at it, one who's aggressive but not consistent and the other who is consistent but not aggressive.. the non-aggressive guy will win on the other's UEs.
Your biggest issue lies in your head, not in your hands. A good offensive player is first and foremost a smart guy and that can work, even at the lower levels of the game. I thought you'd knew it, but you define a player as offensive when his game plan -- or at least playing style if he doesn't have any sort of plan -- revolves mainly around hitting above average quality shot with some consistency. In short, he just needs to reliably hit a little better than the usual player of his playing level; he's basically called offensive because he tries to optimize his winning chances mainly by lowering his opponent's efficiency and because his best playing abilities lies in hitting quality shots relative to his playing level. Note what's the important part: lowering his opponent's efficiency.
If you can't draw weak replies, affect his ball placement, force him into certain playing patterns he tries to avoid, or get him out of position, you're not being offensive properly -- i.e. something's wrong!
So, let's change a little how you understand tennis so that you try something else the following time. Tennis is about your feet, not your hands; you should be thinking about figuring out a way to get one step ahead of your opponent during every rally. You need to be in good position when your opponent isn't fully recovered -- the next shot you will strike typically leads to a poor reply, a mistake or downright winner, but even if the last two are preferable, the first one will do the job any day. That's what you should be trying to do. Varying trajectories, forcing your opponent to adapt to greater differences in contact point and footwork is a good idea, but that's accessory to your main goal: getting ahead of him in positioning. You use these tactics just so you can help yourself move the ball better -- tennis isn't just about striking the ball and your opponent showed it to you in the last two sets.
Now, as for Federer, his 100mph forehand is a wonderful shot for sure, but it's not what makes the point. What makes the point is everything that went on before he got to go airborne and demolish the ball: often, it's a combination of hard hitting and of a knifing slice that forces a reply that isn't as well struck as usual... Regardless of how he does it, what's important in the whole rally isn't really what shot he used, but why he used it. A slice for instance does quite a few things: it typically forces a lower contact point; you give your opponent less pace to work with; it lengthens the court to be covered vertically (you bring him forward). But, in itself, it's not always useful. As you get better, players are better able to attack them and as it allows them inside the court, it creates for them an offensive option (with equal striking power, they cut on time due to the shorter distance). However, if you hit a bigger shot or a loopy one and then switch for a good slice, you now force adaptation and it's this part which is the least well mastered at the amateur level.