It’s a Lob!
Like the drop shot, the lob is misunderstood and underused in both singles and doubles. The lob can be hit in various ways to accomplish both offensive and defensive objectives. In this section we will explain the many facets of the lob and show you how to integrate it more successfully into your game.
The lob tends to get a bad rap. Many power players tend to think of it as a sissy shot. The most dominant players in the world, however, understand that the lob and its variations are important ingredients of a complete game. The lob is a specialty shot like the angle, drop shot, and high looper.
To have a complete game, you must be able to use both power shots and touch shots. By possessing a combination of power and finesse, you can force your opponent to defend in all four directions - left, right, up, and back. When you draw your opponent in tight to the net, the lob or the lob-volley allows you to attack the open backcourt to win the point. You will need to hit the lob at times, so don’t allow hitting it to unnerve you. If you treat it like a regular ground stroke, you’ll find more success.
Who Do You Lob?
You will often confront opponents who stay back on the baseline and never advance to the net. One of the best strategies you can use against these players is to set up a situation that forces the opponent to come in. Short, defensive ground strokes, dinks, and especially drop shots can pull the opponent out of his or her comfort zone to the net. The opponent’s skill level at the net will determine your success with the lob or passing shots. If the opponent is weak at the net, you can exploit his or her position tirelessly.
Even players who choose to come in and are effective with the volley and overhead should be lobbed on occasion. The lob creates another opportunity to beat your opponent and improve the effectiveness of your passing shots. Allowing opponents to advance to the net on their terms may make it difficult for you. So a good strategy against net players who come in at the first opportunity is to bring them in intentionally so that they are at the net on your terms.
Pushed Deep? Send a Lob
When your opponent’s approach forces you deeper into the backcourt, it is advisable to lob rather than hit a passing shot. The lob will allow you time to reposition and continue the point. Besides, your passing shots are more susceptible to being picked off because they have to travel an extra 8 to 10 feet because of your position on the court.
Opponent’s Position on the Court
What ultimately determines when you should lob and when you should pass has much to do with how well positioned your opponent is. If your opponent closes tight to the net as a habit, you can lob until the opponent gains respect for it and adjusts position.
When you lob occasionally, your opponent will begin to adjust position to prepare for the possibility of the lob. The opponent then becomes vulnerable to your passing shot.
Alternating between the crosscourt pass and the down-the-line pass forces your opponent to move left or right. Using the lob will force a move back. Using all three shots forces your opponent to adopt a more neutral position at the net, increasing the effectiveness of your pass or lob.
Basic Lob Technique
- The simple low-to-high lob is hit relatively flat and is disguised as a regular ground stroke with a slightly open racket face, aiming 10 to 15 feet over the net and using less power.
- The underspin lob, which looks more like the slice or chip ground stroke, is the easiest lob to execute when in trouble. The underspin works well in the wind because it hangs in the air, making for a more difficult overhead.
- The topspin lob is executed with a low-to-high motion together with excessive racquet-head speed.
Combinations of the Lob
In singles the simplest combination using the lob is the drop shot-lob. In this combination your drop shot will bring your opponent in. With your opponent’s body motion coming forward to retrieve the drop shot, your lob is the perfect answer.
When set up effectively, the drop shot-lob combination can be used sporadically throughout a match with great success. Using this combination will make your opponent respect your drop shot, thereby forcing him or her into a position closer to the baseline, making your deep shots more forcing in nature.
The combination of drop shots and angles forces the opponent to move closer to the baseline. Now your deep, aggressive ground strokes become weapons.
As mentioned earlier, you must show capability of hitting all three shots and be willing to use them at the right times. You are constantly adjusting the opponent’s court position through the shots you’ve hit previously in points. The opponent who never sees you lob stops positioning to guard against it. You must use the lob to push the opposition back from the net to open up opportunities for you to pass.
As a Defensive Weapon
In a match you will occasionally be caught in a defensive situation and have few options. The lob can be the answer to keep you in the point, allowing you time to establish better court position and force your opponent to put you away with an overhead. If your opponent misses the overhead on a key point, it can be a big momentum breaker. So when you are in deep trouble, send up the lob and give your opponent a chance to humiliate himself or herself!
Under Adverse Conditions
When the weather begins to play a big role in a match, either through wind, sun position, or intermittent drizzle, your specialty shots can become more effective. A lob into the sun or into a crosswind can create a challenging overhead for your opponent. Make yourself aware of how to use the elements to advantage and note how conditions shift with each changeover.
A good doubles team uses angles, drop shots, and lobs to create opportunities to close out points. The lob is invaluable in doubles for backing a team off the net and creating openings for you to pass.
You will see the lob used much more frequently in doubles than in singles, ranging from lob return of serves to topspin lob winners.
To master the lob, you must be able to hit it in all situations - on your back foot, when off balance, or on the dead run. Developing this versatility takes time and practice, so make a point of practicing the lob under all conditions and circumstances.
The lob, useful at all levels of play, should be part of your game. Even if you have little success with it early in the match, the lob sends a message to your opponent that you are able to use it. You then have a better chance of passing because your opponent must always be concerned that your next shot will be a lob.
You may lose some points as the opponent painfully punishes your lob with overheads or a swinging volley. Do not let that discourage you from using the lob when the time is right. The more you practice and use lobs in match play, the more successful you will be at executing the stroke.
This is an excerpt from Bollettieri’s Tennis Handbook.