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Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Lob

The lob is a high and deep shot over the opponents’ heads. It is a specialty shot that should be only used as a change of pace offensive shot or a recovery defensive shot. It is very easy to make a mistake with a lob and leave it short, resulting in an overhead smash from your opponent, or hit it long, resulting in a fault. A good lob requires lots of practice.

The swing for a lob is low to high with the paddle face angled to establish the desired trajectory of the ball. The paddle face must not be too flat or the ball will be high and short. The paddle face must not be too steep or the lob will be too low and more like a groundstroke. Much like Goldilocks’ taste for porridge, the paddle face must be just right.

While the lob is very similar to a topspin forehand or backhand (see Spin) in that the stroke starts low and ends high, a lob swing must start much lower below the ball. An exaggerated low to high arc is needed in order to create a steep upward direction at the point of contact. The goal is to “carry” the ball over your opponent. At the point of contact the face of the paddle should be pointing upward at the angle you are trying to hit. The follow through should continue at that same angle and the swing should end with the paddle above your shoulder at the finish.

Learning to a lob can be a process. If you are not successful initially, the following steps might be of assistance. 
  1. You and a practice partner should each start at 3/4 court and hit the ball back and forth with soft groundstrokes from forehand to forehand. 
  2. Gradually start to swing from a lower position beneath the ball and swing upward, trying to hit the ball higher but still bounce in front of your practice partner. 
  3. As the ball gets higher, hit it slightly harder so it still lands close to 3/4 court. Continue doing this drill until you can hit the ball back and forth at approximately 3/4 court at a height that is at least 2 times your height. 
  4. After mastering step 3, start gradually moving deeper into the court while hitting harder and higher. If it stops working, then move closer and hit slower and lower for a while. Eventually success will come with practice. 
The following video from Mark Rennesson called Lobbing Technique details the technique for a basic lob.

Some players use a lob as a big part of their game. As stated above, I don’t believe it should be any more than a change of pace or recovery shot. The lob can be effective as an offensive shot when in a dink game at the kitchen line. After a series of short dinks players tend to get settled in and a lob can surprise them. If it is a big enough surprise, even a bad lob can be effective. But a good lob will send opponents scrambling toward the baseline to make a defensive shot that may lead to an easy end to the rally for the good guys. In my opinion, an offensive lob should not be used behind the mid-court area. The following diagram shows areas where I believe offensive lobs should be used.

However, lobs can work from other areas of the court, even if the only goal to allow recovery from an awkward position. An opponents’ shot will often force players to run away from the court, either past the sideline or baseline. The player's momentum will not allow him to return to the court let alone be in a proper ready position. A defensive lob that is high and deep gives players additional time to recover to a better position. Due to the awkwardness of the shot, it will likely be far from perfect, so both players should be ready for a strong return from their opponents. But, keeping the ball in play - while maximizing recovery time - is a good strategy when faced with a scrambling shot. The following diagram shows the primary areas where defensive lobs should be used but they can be used any time additional recovery time is needed.

One last note about lobbing.  The lob should be aimed at the opponents' backhand sides.  A successful lob will have them hitting a difficult running backhand.  Even a poor lob to the backhand will give you a better chance to make a play on the return.

Finally, a short video called How to Hit a Lob from Deb Harrison is shown below that explains the lob. The second part of the video discusses a topspin lob, an even more specialized shot. Try it at your own risk.

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