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Monday, April 3, 2017

Anticipating the Lob

Tendencies are read through body language...

A good lob hit by your opponents can be difficult, if not impossible, to return. Learning the techniques to get in the proper position is the first step to defend the lob. We covered that in Defensive Lob Positioning. The second step is to get a jump on your positioning by learning to anticipate when the lob is going to be hit. That is the subject of today's post and is based on a Mark Rennesson video called Anticipate the Lob.

Mark discusses two body language indicators that make the lob a probable return. The first indicator is paddle position. The angle of the paddle face when it strikes the ball will determine the direction the ball will take. As the paddle becomes more "open", i.e., more parallel to the playing surface, the higher the ball will be directed. A lob will be hit with a more open paddle face than used for a driving shot.

For almost all players, the paddle position is established well before the actual contact occurs. This is because it is very difficult to change the paddle angle mid-swing. Therefore, a player can anticipate a lob is coming when the paddle face is open as the opponent sets his position as shown below.

Note that Mark is showing a lob from baseline. There is a difference when the opponent is playing at the NVZ line, especially in the dink game.  In Hitting the Offensive LobI wrote about the deception of hitting an offensive lob with a swing that starts identical to a dink. When executed properly, it is very difficult to anticipate whether a dink or a lob is coming.

The second body language indicator that Mark discusses is the foot on which the body weight rests during the swing. A hit with the body weight on the back foot indicates a defensive shot that is more likely be a lob. A hit with the body weight on the front foot indicates a more balanced shot that gives the opponent more choices. It does not necessarily indicate a driving shot but a lob cannot be anticipated from this position. The back-foot position is shown below.

The difference between the back-foot and the front-foot positions is shown below.

The player's position relative to where the ball bounces helps to determine where his body weight will be. If you or your partner hit a short return in front of the opponent, his weight will be forward and he will be better able to make an offensive return. A deeper return from you or your partner will force the opponent to retreat and make a lob more likely. Therefore, your return can also serve as an indicator of your opponent's lob probability.

Mark's video does not mention other defensive positions but opponents can find a lob to be the best shot in other situations:
  • When players are moving away from the net, i.e., toward the baseline or angled away from the sidelines, their momentum does not allow for an offensive shot.
  • When a team member - either the returner or his partner - is way out of position, the team needs to buy time and a lob may be used.
Below is Mark's video. Using the techniques he describes will help in defending lobs. Be aware that these indicators only increase the likelihood of a lob. A different shot cannot be ruled out.

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