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The Lob

Q. I am a budding tennis fan who just recently got into the sport. I've always loved to watch professionals but now I play too. Almost every time my opponent comes to the net, I find the lob shot to be the most effective counter. I realize this is mostly because I lack the ability to rip passing shots like the pros on tour. However, even the best players have trouble with the pass and sometimes let their opponent change the course of a match because they are unable to hit these precise shots. Why don't more pro players use the lob? It is hardly ever used. Can you answer for me?

A. For an advanced player, especially a professional athlete, the overhead is a reasonably easy shot. The loft of the lob allows a quick player ample time to get underneath the ball and the height of the shot allows the player to hit down forcefully. Covering offensive lobs (which are typically hit with disguise and extreme topspin) are more difficult to defend against- but they are also more difficult shots to execute.

Of course against less experienced players, you are absolutely correct, the lob is a tantalizing weapon. Whenever you are forced into an awkward or defensive position, hitting the lob can/should be your saving grace.

Q. I play once a week with a group of ladies and one in particular gives most of us a hard time with her lobs. She lobs almost every shot when she is deep in the court including return of serve. What strategy is best to deal with these non-stop lobs?

A. There are two options:

1. Develop a strong overhead smash by practicing and, perhaps, by booking a lesson from a good local teaching professional.

2. Start much further back from the net than usual. This will change your lobbing opponent’s frame of reference, and likely encourage her to hit through the ball because of your modified court positioning.

Q. I play with a group of seniors about five days a week. Some of these guys are spin and cut shot experts where they bring you forward. The minute I come to net they lob. Today I counted seven lobs in one point. What can I do? Help!

A. Work on developing a better overhead. If you know that they are likely to lob during a point, then fudge back a little early so that you have more time to get into position. When you get a ball to hit, then really crack it. Even if you may miss, the demonstration of force might intimidate your opponent(s) into getting more cautious with their lobs.

The keys to hitting a good overhead are:

1. Turn sideways as soon you see that a lob is coming. It is easier to retreat this way and will allow you to swing forcefully down and then across your body.

2. Get both hands up right away. Your front hand might track the ball, and some players choose to point at the ball to help with this tracking. Keep the elbow of your hitting arm up and flexed at an angle, but away from your body.

3. Get underneath the ball as though it will land upon your forehead. Keep moving those feet even as the ball is descending to assure that you are in proper position.

Q. I play at a 4.5 level and recently I played a doubles match where our opponents consistently lobbed over my partner. I feel at this level that people must cover their own lobs much like they would during a singles match. My partner felt that I should be retrieving the lobs that were hit over him. What do you think?

A. I was always taught that in “advanced” doubles, you should cover all of the lobs hit over your head. Of course, this is only a guideline. There are plenty of situations when your partner might be off balance or have over-committed to moving forward. When this happens, cover for him. He should do the same for you as well.

Q. What is the best way to defend a lob? I'm playing on a women's doubles USTA League.

A. The easy answer is to develop a sound and reliable overhead smash. Frankly, when you have a strong overhead, you will begin to welcome lobs.

So, what are the keys to hitting a good overhead?

1. As soon as you recognize a lob has been hit, get back sideways. Too often players try moving for the ball while facing the net.

2. Get both hands up. The front hand might be used to track the ball and the hitting hand should be up (make sure the elbow is away from the body) and poised to swing.

3. Keep your head throughout the entire swing. Dropping the head is a common mistake, and a surefire way to dump the ball into the net or to mis-hit the shot.

4. Swing up and then snap down at the ball.

5. After executing the shot, recover quickly. Often the response to an overhead smash is a weak shot. Be prepared to seize the initiative if your opponent is forced to float the next ball back.

Q. My lobs are always going out of the court...what am I doing wrong?

A. You are hitting them too far! Or, maybe, the court you’re playing on is too short.

More seriously, if you are referring to playing defensive lobs, remember that you are on “defense” when you play this shot. Avoid trying to be too fine. Instead just loft the ball up nice and high, safely within the court, and challenge your opponent to hit a winning overhead smash. If you are talking about offensive lobs then you should try adding more topspin to these attempts. The topspin will help to “bring the ball down” for you.

Q. How can I prevent my opponents from using lobs to keep me from coming into the net? Is there a good strategy to use when lobbing becomes my opponent’s pattern of play in a doubles match? Is there an effective method for running back for a lob and judging where it will land if my back is to the ball?

A. The best prevention for annoying lobs is to develop a strong overhead! When your opponent recognizes that you have an explosive overhead smash, believe me, they will become more reluctant to send up lobs. So… develop a good overhead. The more you practice the shot, the better your “tracking skills” will become (that is, your ability to read where the ball will land just as it comes off your opponent’s racquet).

In the meantime if deep lobs in doubles are troubling you, then you might back up a little from the net so you can track them more easily. This can be a problem in that it becomes easier for your opponents to hit balls at your feet, but if moving back for lobs is a bigger concern then you’ll need to pick your poison.

If you are hitting overheads confidently and your opponents are still lobbing you effectively, then consider trying to keep your shots (particularly your volleys when at net) lower and shorter. It is easier for players to lob balls that are at least waist high; short, low balls are tricky, and it is much easier to “read” these shots off your opponent’s racquet. Lastly, if all else fails, lob ‘em back. Lobbers hate playing other lobbers. Take their best weapon and just lob it right back to them. Who knows? Maybe they’ll even call a truce to ALL lobs!

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