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LOB BASICS IN DOUBLES TENNIS
By TennisTom 2011
Why You Absolutely Need to Learn To Lob Well In Doubles
Successful lobbing is something of an art and is an acquired skill. It should be in your stroke repertoire, particularly at a 2.5 to 3.5 playing level. (See rating scale at the end of this instructional.) In the doubles game, controlling the net is a key to winning matches. If your team can take control of the net by forcing the other team back off the net with accurate lobbing, your team can gain control of the net. Knowing when and how to lob is a very effective. Do not mistakenly think that lobbing is a gutless maneuver. Even the best professional doubles players in the world use lobs for tactical advantage. See Scenario 1 below for specific details.
The Scepter of Anxiety. Many learning players are afraid to close in toward the net behind their lob, even if they have hit an excellent one, because they are afraid that the opponent will lob the ball back over their head if they come in, or they are anxious about their volley skills. Don’t let these fears defeat your tactical plan. If your opponents tend to lob, you will need to approach to a spot 2 or 3 feet behind your service line to return their shot. If they hit a weak shot then you will have an opportunity to win the point by whichever method you are best at – either a controlled overhead or a volley. If you are not good at these two shots, practice overheads and volleys until the aardvarks come home.
The Two Primary Situations When a Lob Is Used
Scenario 1, the Tactical Lob: If you and your partner have a serviceable (reliable) overhead and volley, here is a simple procedure for winning points during a game -- except on game points against you. This scenario is a strategic plan for your team to win a point. You want to lob over their net player to force their baseline player to run across his/her baseline in order to retrieve your lob. This tactical lob is designed to give your team a court position advantage in the developing point. Since it is more difficult for a player to run a ball down and hit it on the move, the baseline player running to retrieve your shot is at a disadvantage. Once you have determined from your baseline position that your lob is going to clear the opponent net player’s reach, you should close in to just behind your service line. At the same time your net-partner should retreat a few feet back to just behind his or her service line. Obviously a good lob puts pressure on your opponent to make a good return.
Scenario 2, the Defensive Lob: This situation occurs when you have to run back defensively to get the opponent’s shot, or if you are trying to return a aggressive serve. In this case you will need to hit a really high lob in order to give you and your partner time to get into a defensive formation. This may mean that you and your partner will position yourselves side by side behind your baseline if your partner who is playing at the net has time to retreat. This side by side formation behind the baseline, called both-back, is your best defensive move in such an emergency. As you should realize, it is very difficult to make winners from the baseline, so you will want to get out of your emergency formation at your first reasonable opportunity.
Another Scenario, the Pointless Lob: This situation arises with players who have never progressed beyond early learning stages continue to lob. These players are stuck in first gear. Excessive, senseless high lobbing is, well, um, senseless.
THE FOUR BASIC METHODS OF HITTING A LOB
Method 1. THE FLAT LOB. This first method is the most used type of lob and is hit from the back court or from behind the baseline. The technique of hitting this lob is to open your racket face upward and hit the oncoming ball with a low-to-high swing. You do not need to swing hard to clear the net person. This lob has little or no spin to it.
Method 2. THE BACKSPIN (SLICE) LOB. The second method of hitting a lob is with slice of backspin, This involves almost no swing and can be used when the oncoming ball has lots of pace on it. It’s particularly helpful when returning a hard paced serve or groundstroke. If you can control your shot. aim your slice lobs over their net player’s backhand (usually their weaker) side. The amount of spin you hit is not important.
Method 3. THE TOPSPIN LOB. The third method of hitting a lob is with topspin (forward spin) and is almost always hit from the backcourt or from behind the baseline. The topspin lob is an advanced shot and many higher level players have still not perfected it. If you have a natural low-to-high topspin groundstroke, then it may be worth your while spending the necessary hours to become consistent with it. The keys to a successful topspin lob are a steep low-to-high swing, right much arm speed, and good timing. A Western grip is alternatively used. If you are playing at a 3.0 or lower level, you may want to avoid this method, however if this shot is a “natural” for you, keep on keeping on. This lob, which has lots of spin, is often a winner if it lands in.
Method 4. THE LOB VOLLEY. The fourth method of hitting a lob is a lob volley. It involves returning a volley at the net which clears the net opponent’s overhead reach. This is a specialty shot and is a rather risky, advanced skill shot. Very few players are good at it. If you do try this lob, you will only need to block the ball upward over their net player(s). You may want to forget it for now. The amount of lob volley spin is irrelevant.
General information concerning all lobs: If your lob is too high then you have lost some of its effectiveness because you are giving your opponents plenty of time to retrieve it. Of course if it is too low, then you may be eating a tennis ball sandwich. Like any strategic sequence in doubles, it takes practice to get good at it. To become more proficient at lob maneuvers it is a great idea to practice them in drills and while playing practice games. The latter type of practice replicates actual doubles play and is fun while you learn. “Fun practice” is not an oxymoron!
DETAILS CONCERNING LOBS & TACTICAL COURT POSITIONING
You are at the net & your partner lobs over the opponent net person.
If your partner lobs successfully over the opponent net person’s reach, their baseline opponent will have to run across his backcourt to retrieve the lob. The best side to aim for is their net player’s non-dominant side so if your lob is too low he will have to hit a high backhand at best. The high backhand is most player’s weakest shot.
No matter which side your partner’s lob is to, your adjustment is to move laterally toward the serving box center line to a spot 4 or so feet from the center line.
The Logic: Your being in this spot will reduce the number of feet their baseline opponent has to safely hit a groundstroke into open court to your partner, and it virtually eliminates the retriever’s ability to hit between you and your partner. If the lob is anywhere near the alley, he cannot safely hit by you towards your alley because the angle is so great. Moving to this spot also increases your ability to intercept his return by poaching.
What if their baseline player lobs? You can know if their baseline is going to try to lob over your head by watching his racket. The giveaway is that he will open the face of his racket upward and usually swing upward in order to lob. If you see a lob coming you should immediately retreat to a spot about 3 to 4 feet behind your side’s service line.
The Logic: If the opponent hits a short lob you are in a good position to hit an overhead towards the center of their court. i.e. between them. If the opponent hits a deep lob that you cannot reach, then you should say “Yours,” and your baseline player will be able to cover it. In this case you should move laterally towards the open court away from the centerline in order to cover your half of the court.
You should be able to decide in a few seconds which type of shot -- either a groundstroke, a lob, or an overhead -- your opponent baseliner is going to hit. All of these repositioning movements that you make are done quickly. From the above descriptions you can see why you and your partner should be constantly changing your tactical court positions. I call this proactive repositioning.
DEALING WITH HIGH BOUNCING LOBS IN DOUBLES
Tactics by TennisTom 2011
You may have run into an opponent who loves to lob you repeatedly. Here are four methods to deal with an opponent who loves to lob you until you finally miss a return. The inveterate lob queen / king may be doing this because the lob is their primary way of playing safe tennis and/or winning points. This type of player lobs so often that they get pretty good at it. It’s almost never a good idea to get into a lobbing duel with them.
You have several options to deal with such baseline players, but your least effective return is to hit a lob or regular groundstroke right back to them at their baseline.
THE FOUR BEST OPTIONS FOR RETURNING LOBS
As long as you are in control of your shot, which means that you are not rushed or out of balance, you have four suitable options that are better than returning a lob or regular groundstroke back to them at their baseline:
Tactic 1: If the opponent’s lob is going to bounce high, you can come in close enough to get under their lob after it has bounced and hit an overhead back at them.
If you have a serviceable overhead then you have the advantage. (Serviceable means that you can usually hit your overhead in the court.) In this case, your best target is between the two opponents, which is your safest target. If you hit your overhead between the two of them, you can follow your shot in to your service line or just behind it, and wait for a weak return.
The Logic: As the bouncing lob is always slow (except for the rare topspin lob) it is just as easy to hit an overhead than a hitting a serve because you have the entire court to get your shot in. A controlled overhead, even hit with moderate pace, moves faster than most groundstrokes. It also daunts opponents when they see you hitting an overhead. Also you can use spin when hitting you overhead for control. If your overhead is reliable, you win more points this way, and you take away the lobbers ability to outwait you. Lobbers tend to be quite good at lobbing, and his tactic of returning lobs with an overhead is a rewarding one. In essence, you are using an assertive stroke rather than a neutral one.
BTW, it’s almost never a good idea to attempt to hit a winning overhead down the alley unless you “own” the shot, which means that you can hit their alley while on the move 7 or 8 times out of 10 (i.e. 70 to 80 percent of the time).
Tactic 2: You can hit a medium high return lob over their net player, a good option.
You do this in order to force their baseline player to run across to the other side of the baseline in order to retrieve your lob. IF you follow your lob in to your service line, this is a strategic lob designed to give your team an advantage in the point. Since it is more difficult for a player to run a ball down and hit it rather than hitting it from a static position, the baseline player running for your shot is at a disadvantage. Once you have determined that your lob is going to clear the opponent net player’s reach, you should close in to your service line. At the same time your net player should retreat a few feet back to the service line, or a couple of feet behind it. In this scenario this puts both you and your partner in an optimal court position. When your lob is a good one and you close in, you put extra pressure on them to make a good return.
Tactic 3: If you can hit a short groundstroke slice, you can slice the ball back low.
You want to clear the net with ample room but still place your ball short so that the lobber has to run up to retrieve your low bouncing ball. A good slice has lots of backspin, so the ball stays low to the court when it bounces, which means that your ball doesn’t “set up” for the lobber to make an easy return. If the opposing lobber is able to get to your short shot, hit your return shot either to the lobber’s backhand (weaker) side, or between the opponents, again trying to gain an advantage.
Tactic 4: If you have the necessary skill – a big IF - you can hit a soft angled drop shot which will take baseline lobbers out of their comfort zone.
If your drop shot is a good one, you can come in to your service line for an aggressive court position. A decent drop shot is a “touch” shot, which means that it is hit softly with backspin (slice) just over the net. If you do not have a good drop shot, this shot is the most difficult of the four options, particularly because you are returning the opponent’s shot from near your baseline. So don’t try it unless you’ve practiced both your backhand drop[ shot and your forehand drop shot for hours.
All four of these options can be practiced with your teammates. With your teammates cooperation, you can either do this as a drill, or you can play points. Tell your partner what you are practicing, explaining exactly what you are doing and the logic behind it. You will need to ask your teammate opponents to hit you lots of high lobs. If they can’t hit good lobs, then obviously they need to practice them. Also, if they hit short lobs, this gives you a chance to practice your overheads, and it gives them a change to improve their defensive skills. I call this a “win-win” situation, because everyone is learning while they are improving their tennis skills.
Te review, your four lob-return options are:
1. Lob over their net player;
2. Hit an overhead;
3. Hit a slice; and
4. Hit a drop shot.
Experiment with the four methods, and do whichever you find gets you the most points.
Tennis doubles is not only about shot production or pace. It is, or should be, a game of great strategy, which means that you have to THINK. If you continue to practice certain responses in certain situations you will eventually cease to need to think much and you can play more or less automatically. This element of strategy makes tennis doubles one of the greatest games on earth.
Summarizing, at the 3.0 and 3.5 playing levels, lobbing and tactical court repositioning is underused as a strategy to win points. I can virtually guarantee that if you use the pointers in this instructional regularly you will win more points. Just hope that your opponents do not know and use the same strategies.
[10-L0B BASICS IN DOUBLES TENNIS by TennisTom] [Rev 6-17-11]