Using the Topspin Lob
Because “specialty shots” have a reputation of requiring tremendous skill and practice, less-competitive players often do not attempt to learn some shots that aren’t that difficult to master.
With today’s technologically superior racquets and improved strings, hitting specialty shots like the topspin lob is much easier than it was in the days of heavier, wooden racquets.
During singles play, the lob can be used defensively to buy a player who is in trouble time, or to keep an attacking player off the net. It can also be used defensively as the final shot in a combination of shots used to wrong foot or freeze an opponent at the net.
In doubles, the lob is used primarily to keep opponents off the net, and to allow the lobbing team to take the net.
After you have taught your players the technical skills necessary for hitting the topspin lob (see this month’s skill-building drill), it will be necessary to teach them when to use it.
Following are several situations which are well-suited for the use of the topspin lob.
When facing a serve and volleyer, the baseline player can use the topspin lob with devastating effect if he uses it as the final shot in a two-shot combination. Following the tactics described in the Passing Shot drill, the baseline player does not try to pass the net player who comes in behind an approach shot on the first ball. The baseline player takes the offensive away from the attacker by hitting a short ball to one side of the court, which the volleyer must volley up, and defensively. The net player must then stand his ground, recover to the center of the court, make a move to the opposite side of the court or cover the lob. No player can do this.
Depending on how close in the net player is after the baseline player’s short ball, how deep he volleys the short ball back, and on which side of the court he is, the baseliner now has an excellent opportunity to either pass or hit a deep lob to a player who is moving forward and laterally.
A deep lob can also be used to buy time for a player who has been pulled off the court. The lob can also be used simply to break up the rhythm of a steady groundstroker. Moonballs, popular in the 1970’s, can be an effective weapon against the “backboard” player.
Finally, the lob may also be an effective weapon on a sunny day, if used to temporarily blind an opponent.
It is widely accepted that the team that is able to control the net in doubles will usually win the match. The lob, therefore, is a necessary shot in doubles.
It can be used against a player who serves and volleys to keep her off the net. It can also be used against a net player who frequently poaches. Using the lob to return serve is not only tactically desirable against certain teams, but can also cause frustration and loss of concentration by teams repeatedly facing this tactic.
The lob can also be used to force two players to switch sides of the court, as players most often must switch when lobbed, with the person who is lobbed moving laterally to allow her partner to take the lob.
Players who have mastered both depth and accuracy of the topspin lob will even find that lobbing a serve and volleyer, who has been brought in close with a short, crosscourt return, is an extremely effective weapon, since the server’s partner will find it almost impossible to cover a lob hit crosscourt (due to her proximity to the net).
Another timely use of the lob is against an Australian or I formation.
Quite often, a returner is taken by surprise when the I formation is used the first time during a match. As a rule of thumb, the returner should consider a crosscourt lob. First, because you are not sure whether the net player will stay or poach, a lob immediately takes that player out of the point. If the net player is poaching, the server is pinned back. If the net player stays, the server, who is approaching crosscourt, must now retreat to the opposite side of the court to cover the lob. Depending on which side of the court the returner is playing, 50 percent of the time, a deep, crosscourt lob will require the server to shift their weight back and hit a defensive backhand from the baseline.
As with groundstrokes, players on one side of the court have more room (more feet to work with) if they hit crosscourt. Because of depth needed for a successful lob, the more room a player has to work with, the better.
The more topspin put on a tennis ball, the more it will be pulled down into the court, thereby raising the likelihood that it will not be hit long. Topspin lobs, especially on windy days, are much higher percentage than lobs hit with slice.
While opening the racquet face and leaning back prior hitting the lob seem to help many players get their lobs in, these techniques also telegraph the shot to opponents. Make sure your players practice disguising their lobs during practices in order to add the final element (surprise) which is often the difference between simply an offensive lob and an outright winner.