When and How To Play a Lob in Tennis
As a tennis shot, the lob is both underrated and underused.
And I'm not talking about moonball tactics that you quite often see at the 12-and-under level.
I'm talking about using the lob as an effective means of winning points against opponents who like to come to the net.
For example, you're playing some guy who comes in on everything. As the match goes on, he gets better and better at reading your passing shots. He angles a few volleys for winners; you lose a little confidence in your passing shots; and all of a sudden you're in deep trouble.
Now, if you'd used the lob a couple of times early in the match, you may have lost the points . . . but you also may have kept your opponent back a little, thus creating more gaps into which you could have hit your passing shots.
Alternatively, it can often be very effective if you hold off playing a lob until you sense your opponent thinking that you're not going to use the shot.
When you see a guy with his nose over your side of the net, you can be pretty sure he's forgotten about the possibility of being lobbed. A couple of reminders on big points is guaranteed to make him think twice about closing in too far the next time he comes in.
As for the shot itself, the lob is really a forehand or backhand groundstroke with more height. You can use it as either an offensive shot or a defensive shot. Usually, an offensive lob is played with heavy topspin, whereas a defensive lob is played either flat or with slice.
To hit an aggressive topspin lob, set up as if you're going to play a passing shot hit with pace. Even the look on your face should signal to your opponent that you intend hitting the next ball hard. Ideally, you want him to close in just as you start your forward swing.
To hit an offensive lob with vicious topspin, come up sharply from underneath the ball using tremendous racquet speed. Aim for the right height rather than thinking about where you want the ball to land.
For a less aggressive lob, shorten your backswing and more or less guide the ball over your opponents head. Once again focus on height rather than length.
If you're a one hander off the backhand side, hitting a vicious topspin lob will pose a problem to all but highly advanced players. It's a very difficult shot, requiring years of practice. Two handed backhand topspin lobs are easier to play, as you have double the wrist strength available to you.
Players with sliced backhands usually lob well. It's no coincidence that Ken Rosewall, who had the best backhand slice of all time, also possessed the most accurate backhand lob in tennis history. Having played Ken myself - both in matches and in practice - I can tell you first hand that the most surprising thing about his lob was when it didn't land either just inside or on the baseline.
On the odd occasion when you were able to smash one of his lobs, bear in mind that trying to do that with a racquet head of less than 70 sq. in. was far more difficult than it is with today's rackets. Ken had an uncanny knack of being able to lob at a height just inches above a player's maximum reach, and then land it on the baseline, which, on a grass court, would mean a "poof" of white chalk and an awkward bounce.
- Use the sun (or lights in an indoor court) to your advantage when using the lob.
- At all times, know which way the wind is blowing. Use the warm up to test the wind, and look for things like blowing flags that will indicate wind direction. Sometimes, the wind can be blowing in a different direction at 20' above ground than it is at ground level.
- Don't show your opponent your full repertoire of lobs in the warm up. Make them short and easy . . . you may very well catch him a little unprepared for a difficult smash early on in the match.
- Don't neglect to practice your lob.
- Use a very high "straight up and down" lob when at full stretch wide on the baseline. In this situation, there is often zero chance of hitting a winner. Far better to attempt to buy time to recover, and then work your way back into the point.
- When running down a lob yourself, run to the side of the ball so that you don't get stuck trying to hit a ball that's straight in front of you (that is, when you're facing away from the net). When you turn to hit the shot you need to be able to hit the ball away from your body, just like a regular groundstroke.
For more comments on the lob you'll find them at these recommended sites . . .
eHow - The Lob
Professional Tennis Instruction - The Lob