#13 Lob Returns

A very clever Center Window diversion.

This is an ideal way to stop your opponents crushing the net.

From playing and studying doubles for 25 years, one thing has really stuck out to me over time. The smarter/better players on the doubles court are far more likely to have a solid return lob in their arsenal than the rest of the pack.

Hitting a lob return is a perfect defensive strategy that can instantly turn into wonderful offense for a returning team. It effectively turns the tables on who has control of the point, particularly regarding the Center Window.

Why Hit It?

The number one reason to hit a lob return is to counter aggressive play by the Server’s Partner, particularly in the Center Window area. Remember, if you don’t own the Center Window in a match, stop playing there immediately. Taking the battle somewhere else is where this excellent play gains life.

Where To Hit It.

Just like normal lobs, it is such a great weapon when you can direct it over your opponent’s high backhand volley side. This means that even if they get it, they can’t do anything offensive with it. So against a right hander, down the line in the deuce court works perfectly, and more to the middle in the Ad Court.

How To Hit It.

Since you will be doing it off an aggressive serve, it is important to absorb the power of the serve in your hand and not squeeze the grip too tight. It’s definitely best to hit it with a Continental grip off both the forehand and backhand side, and not so high that the Server’s Partner has got time to run back and get it. While normal lobs in a rally are often high in nature, the lob return is hit lower over the Server’s Partners head, so that the element of time is on the returner’s side.

Add this specialty shot in these situations:

  • Server’s Partner Swarming – Sometimes you are going to come up against an opponent who is extremely good at the net. This play is like a wrecking ball to their great hands and feet at the front of the court.
  • Opponents Own The Net – When both opponents end up at the net and are having a lot of success with the tactic. You need to get them off the net before they have a chance to get set up there. This is the perfect play to diffuse the situation before it begins.
  • Monkey Wrench – This tactic is a great way to create a totally different look with the flow of points. It’s the ultimate surprise that can really freak out the serving team.
  • Server’s Partner Too Close – Some players like to park themselves as close as possible to the net to begin a point, ultimately trying to get away with dumping short volleys. This play will derail their best laid plans.

It is also important to understand that overdoing this tactic will probably end up as a losing proposition in most circumstances. It is rarely used as a primary strategy, as most players have at least a decent overhead.

Where should you move to once the lob has been successfully executed? Glad you asked…

The One Shot Rally “I” Formation

This is pure magic. After the returner has hit a successful lob return, the returning team most times should move to an “I” formation for one shot to counter both the short lob and the deep lob that is most likely to be hit back. The one shot rally “I” formation can also be run in a very similar situation any time in the rally where a lob is hit, and it puts the opposing team on defense running back to retrieve the ball.

Returner’s Position

The returner will typically go right to the middle of “No Man’s Land” to cover the deep lob. Almost always, the returner does not want this ball to bounce, as it equalizes the control of the point. They want to take the deep lob in the air and hit to a target area to keep the opponent’s on defense.

Returners Partner’s Position

The Returner’s Partner will move to the middle of the service boxes to take control of the entire front of the court. They will take all short lobs and leave the deep ones for their partner. Once that shot has been hit, they then want to select a side that best benefits their team.

Strategy Drill

1. Playing Drill 

Objective – To get players more comfortable using this secondary tactic. It is almost never practiced. That’s a mistake.

  • Play a set.
  • The returning team must include one lob return per game.
  • You can do it off a 1st serve or a 2nd serve.
  • The returning team gets two points if they win a point that starts with a lob return.

Variations – The returning team can’t let the next ball bounce that comes back from the lob return. This encourages the returning team to successfully run the “I” formation for one shot. Letting the ball bounce lets the opposing team back into the point

2. Feeding Drill

Objective – To help players find the right touch, including power, height and depth, with this specialty shot.

  • Serve to the returner.
  • Create a target area down the line in both the deuce and ad court.
  • Have the returner practice lob returns down the line to the target areas off both first and second serves.

Variations – Have the returner successfully make 10 to the deuce court and then the same to the ad court. They then have to make consecutive good lob returns that progressively increase as the player gets better at the drill.

Go Do This

 This is a perfect strategy to run against a net player that stands very close to the net.

 It’s also a perfect play against an opponent who is owning the Center Window.

 Don’t hit it too high, which gives the serving team a chance to hit it in the air.

 Using it once a set can be very effective.

 You must practice this play in order to have confidence to use it in a match. Make time in practice for it.