#14 Lobbing

The lob is a major weapon in doubles. 

The lob is your agent of chaos. Use it wisely.

You can do things conventionally, and then again, you can do the complete opposite. The lob is a fantastic weapon that is absolutely reviled by those who get punished by it. It is an essential part of doubles that is used by teams to keep opponents off the net, and to play a style of doubles that throws a real curve ball into a match.

At a club level, you will have no doubt heard someone say disparagingly about an opponent, “Oh, they are just a lobber.” The message here is not a flattering one, like the opponent has some kind of weird tropical disease. Don’t be fooled – the only reason the player is saying that is that they have not yet figured out how to overcome that style of play.

The lob is an amazing weapon that is used as a disruptive force in a doubles match at all levels of the game.

2013 Miami Rd 16: Granollers/Lopez def. Bopanna/Ram 6-4, 7-6(5)

Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez are an extremely accomplished doubles team who finished ranked seven in the world in 2014. The main reason these guys are so good is there incredible use of the lob.

Back in Miami in 2013, I was coaching Rajeev Ram and he had teamed up with Rohan Bopanna for the event. They defeated Eric Butorac and Paul Hanley 7-6 (8), 6-4 in the opening round and then found themselves up against the two Spaniards.

Right from the beginning of the match, this proved to be a completely unconventional doubles match – and the more weird it got, the more it favored Granollers and Lopez, because they were the ones dictating that.

They are such a tough team to play against, mainly because they have perfected the art of the lob. Rohan and Rajeev were trying to play the typical serve & volley style of play, coming forward and doing all they could to control the Center Window.

Not Marcel and Marc. I clearly remember several rallies where the Spaniards were throwing up lob after lob after lob, standing well back in the court easily running down every overhead until eventually an overhead was missed.

It is almost impossible to put away overheads against them, and very easy to miss the overhead as their lobs are so consistently high and deep.

It is not a stretch at all to say the best warm-up to play Marcel and Marc is to go and hit a couple of hours of overheads!

Ultimately, the Spaniards squeaked by in a very tight match and the disruptive force of their lobbing was absolutely the key to victory. They have learnt that while they may not be the best team in the world at controlling the Center Window, they are the best team in the world at playing above it.

Why Lob?

You lob for a variety of reasons including taking advantage of bad movement, bad overheads, bad teamwork and the ability to then take over the front of the court. A main reason why you lob is that you don’t own control of the Center Window so you move the battle above it – and once you have caused enough chaos, can then come back and retake the Center Window.

Target the High Backhand Volley

Before you go to the lob, identify where the high backhand volleys are on the court and target those with your lob. The difference is night and day with what the opponent can do offensive with a normal overhead or a high backhand volley.

High Lobs

In general, players at all levels of the game do not lob high enough. They hit it with the intention of just making it over the opponent’s stretched rackets and more often than not it does not make it. Think of it like this – the toughest overhead to hit is one that is deep but also one that is hit high and the ball is dropping straight down fast. Many more overheads are missed because the ball is dropping fast and the player misjudges the shot.

 Offensive Lobs

These lobs are hit with a lower arc over the opponents heads, and will run more after the bounce. These are a great idea against a player who has closed really tight to the net as you have a lot of room to land the ball behind them.

Defensive Lobs

These are typically hit on the run, out wide and probably also down low. Definitely use a continental grip and extend the follow through of the shot up above your head to gain maximum height.

Topspin Lobs 

A great idea against hard closing opponents. Lots of topsin on this shot helps get the ball up quickly, and down quickly, and will often go for a winner.

The Wind

As a general rule, it is much easier to lob into the wind because the wind stops the ball flying out the back of the court. You can hit it with more authority and also let the wind stop the ball and make it harder to hit an effective overhead. When lobbing with the wind, aim a lot shorter and let the wind take the ball deep.

Practice It

I absolutely have players work on lobs in their private lessons. It is a very important defensive element of the game, and if the player has a good lob, then the opponents will think twice coming to the net to attack them. It does not take a lot of time – maybe 10-15 minutes – but if you don’t develop this specialty shot in practice you are hardly going to see it used effectively in a match.

Don’t Overuse It

There is a dark side to lobbing – way overusing it. When you get a chance to crush a forehand low through the middle of the court or lob, nearly every time you should choose to crush it. Rarely, if ever, will the lob transform from a secondary tactic into a primary tactic. Going to the lob instead of driving the ball and closing the net is not something that you are going to win with over time. Use it as a mix, use it as a surprise, and use it to move the battle. Remember, the opponent is going to hit an overhead off your lob, which is an extremely offensive weapon. Don’t let them feast on your overhead.

Countering The Lob

Let’s say you are playing a team and they are great lobbers. Maybe that’s all they have got. It is so simple to counter their strategy – bring them to the net. Often times, I hit a dropshot as a return of serve to bring the opponent directly to the net out of their comfort zone. It’s easy to lob from the baseline, so don’t let your opponent play their. It’s a lot tougher to lob from “No Man’s Land” and very difficult to lob from around the service line, so simply bring your opponent to those areas of the court.

Strategy Drills

1. Playing Drill

Objective – To incorporate the lob more into matches, learning when and how to do it most effectively.

  • Play a set
  • Any time a lob is hit in a match and the team hitting it wins the point, they gain two points.
  • Identify the different types of lobs and discuss the main reasons why the point was won or lost.

Variations – Make the lob a two point play all around. So if the lobbing team loses the point, then the opposing team gains two points.

2. Feeding Drill

Objective – To help players find the right shape (height and depth) of the lob, both offensively and defensively.

  • Put a line half way between the service line and the baseline line.
  • Defensive – Start the player in the middle of the court and feed it tough and wide. The player must make 10 with the forehand and then alternate to the backhand side.
  • Offensive – this requires less movement and an easier preparation. Hit 10 forehand topspin lob winners and then do 10 off the backhand.

Variations – Hit a defensive lob and then an offensive lob to the deep part of the court. Modify the scoring system to penalize short, low lobs.

Go Do This

Lobbing is the real deal. It’s a critical element of the doubles game.

You must practice it – both offensive and defensive lob. Great lobs win matches.

In general, hit the lobs higher than you normally hit them. It makes for a much tougher overhead.

When you don’t own the Center Window, definitely start lobbing a lot more to take the battle higher.

The best teams in the world use the lob to push their opponents back.

 Target your opponents high backhand volley. Much tougher to be offensive with this shot.