Ready, Set, Lob ?

When was the last time you put up a lob? And why is it that every time my club pro mentions that 3-letter word in our weekly clinic, I hear groans all around me? Why is it that the lob is the derelict of all tennis shots?

Underrated, underused and certainly under appreciated. Yet how many times have we watched the pros hit that little known shot to win a point and we stand up clapping at such an exciting and well played shot? And often I hear, "What a shot, I wish I could hit that."

Well "that" is a lob. And yes, you can hit it – and be successful. Let's face it, we're not going to be hitting moon balls like we see at the 10-and-under level. We're talking about using the lob as an effective means of winning points against opponents that like to play at the net.

We've all had those matches where our opponent constantly comes into the net. I had a match last Thursday where my opponent – let's call him Joe – came in on everything. As the match went on, the guy just keeps getting better and better at reading my shots. I can't pass him. He's volleying at the net like Johnny Mac, hitting angled winners left and right. My confidence tanks, along with my game, and I lose the match. Now thinking back, if I had used a couple lobs early in the match, I might have kept Joe from moving into the net so often.  It might have made him think twice about coming in, and given my passing shots a chance. Keeping Joe back nearer the baseline could have given me the opportunity to use my steady ground strokes to keep me in the game. Oh well, if only.

Really, though, lobbing is a shot that can really help you in a match.  It's a strategy, not a last resort. A good lob can keep you in a point, but can also allow you to hit an offensive shot and take control of the net. I remember watching Chris Evert, an obsessive baseliner, use the lob on her opponents with such ease and accuracy. Michael Chang, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi all had great lob shots.  I think one of the best players to use the lob as part of his regular game plan was Lleyton Hewitt.  Kim Clijsters and Caroline Wozniacki utilize the lob in their game.  If these players are using it, why aren't we?

The lob is really an extension of a forehand or backhand groundstroke, just with a little more height.  The lob can either be an offensive or a defensive shot. An offensive lob is usually hit with heavy topspin, and a defensive lob is hit flat or with slice.

The offensive lob makes you the aggressor. On the forehand, you move to hit the ball as if you're setting up to hit a hard passing shot with pace; this will draw in your opponent closer to the net. Once you start your forward swing, you come up sharply under the ball with plenty of racquet speed. This action will cause heavy topspin on the ball while you aim the ball upwards over the head of your opponent. Being able to hit a topspin lob is a valuable asset to your tennis game. Topspin lobs will buy you time in a point and allow you to get to the middle of the court more easily; but a topspin lob also bounces high and many times your opponent will have a harder time hitting it back. You should also think more about the height of the ball and less about where the ball will land. You can also hit a less aggressive lob just by shortening your backswing and guiding the ball over your opponent's head. Again, focus on the height you give the ball.

Players with a two-handed backhand can easily come over the ball to hit a nice topspin lob. If you're a one-hander, this is a little more difficult to achieve. But if you have a nice slice on your backhand, your backhand lob should also fall into place.

Hitting a good lob is the first order of business. Just getting the ball over your opponent's head may give you the point, so hitting a heavy topspin or slice lob may not even be necessary. Things to remember when hitting a lob are keeping your wrist firm; open the racquet frame (up); then push through and up on the ball. Even if you learn to hit a lob without topspin, as long as the shot goes over your opponent's head and lands between the service line and the baseline, it is a good lob.

A defensive lob is used when you get into trouble on the court; usually you have been taken wide off the court by your opponent's shot and you need to get back into position. The best place to aim a defensive lob is as close to your opponent's baseline as possible. Lobbing diagonally across the court is an excellent strategy because you will be hitting into the longest area of the court, giving yourself a better chance to keep the ball in bounds.

Lots of players, especially in doubles, only use the lob when they get into trouble. How about this strategy in doubles using a lob:  You are returning serve in the deuce court. You throw up a lob over the net person's head. The server now has to move cross court to hit a running backhand (if he/she is right-handed). If the server gets to the ball, you or your partner now have the advantage of a weaker ball coming back over the net, resulting in a put away volley or groundstroke. Your lob initiated some confusion on your opponent's side, putting them on the defensive and you in control of the point. All that, with just a little lob.

What about a rally with a baseliner that lobs the ball every time you hit it back? There's one of these players at every club – no names please! But they do frustrate us, don't they? You just want to yell at them ... "hit the dang ball!"  First, you need to calm down. Second, you need patience. Watch the racquet swing path of his/her lob and the angle of the racquet face as the ball hits the strings to get a feel for where the ball is heading. Next, move in and attack! Now you don't have to smash the ball into the next court. Hit an overhead with a smooth easy motion, angling your shot towards the alley or the open area of court – and towards your opponent's backhand.

When playing these infamous lobbers, try to move them around by making them run to the ball. Most lobbers like the baseline not the net, so use your drop shot to bring them into uncomfortable territory.

Also, remember that a lobber likes a ball hit slowly, near their waist, and close to them. Hit the ball low and deep, or wide and short.

Now, you probably have read more than you want to about the lob. However, it is a very important piece in the puzzling game of tennis.  Embrace the lob. Give it a chance. Next time you hit with a friend, take five minutes and hit a few lobs. Build up your lob confidence and accuracy, and you might just find an additional tactic to help you earn another "W" in the win column.

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