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The Lob – When, Where, and Why
It's all about winning isn't it?
Years ago in a press interview at the SAP (then Sybase) Open, when asked what it felt like to play perfect tennis, Pete Sampras (with considerable modesty) replied, “About once a month it does feel that way, but only when my shots and my decisions are perfect.” And for us mortals, I would translate as follows, that for each and every shot, Pete was making decisions about placement, speed, and spin. Or put another, on each shot Pete was making decisions about the degree of offense or defense he should attempt.
Coaching many of our USTA teams, I watch our players hone their approach shots, move to the net, and try to finish with a volley. Certainly, on the other side of the net the opponents, who are under attack, should drive the ball low or lob. But the question I ask them, and now you the reader, is, “When should the defender drive the ball and when should the defender lob?” I believe the answer lies in the depth of the approach shot. Simply put, if the opponent approaches with a deep and difficult ball, then the best reply, at any level of skill, is the lob. If the opponent approaches with something not deep or difficult, then the best reply is the drive. Unfortunately, I do not see this simply strategy adhered to, much less understood, across the recreational league fields of play.
And this also dovetails with the previous newsletter on doubles partnering. If I am at the net, my partner is at the baseline, and the opponents approach crosscourt to my partner, I would prefer to know when my partner would be lobbing, for in that scenario I would take a few steps back. And equally, I would prefer to know when my partner would be driving the ball, for in that scenario I would hold my ground ready and waiting to take steps forward if indeed their drive was low.
But the problem is that if the baseliner has no guidelines or “rules” about when to drive and when to lob, his partner has no reasonable way to position accordingly. This does not mean lob all the time, nor does it mean drive all the time. It means, decide, and base that decision on the quality of the opponent’s approach.
And just as the serve and volley may have become a lost art, we don’t see all that much lobbing in the professional game, so this shot is not effectively showcased. But think back some 20 years, to the American champion Jimmy Connors. The classic highlight reel shows him retrieving overheads from Paul Harhius, with four consecutive lobs punctuated by a running down the line backhand pass and the double fist pump for the crowd. Lobs work, Jimmy knew it, do you?
So let’s envision you on the baseline, playing doubles, in a crosscourt exchange. Your shot is short, they move forward, and drive the ball deep and quite close to the baseline. No time to run back, you are more or less trapped by this ball. Now what?
Click photo: John McEnroe knew when and where to
lob, do you? Notice the abreviated backswing.
The answer is finesse. The answer is a short stroke both on the backswing and the follow through. The answer is feel, not power. The answer is a lob. No need for topspin. No need for a well placed ball back to the opponent’s baseline. Simply put the ball up. After all, UP does in fact mean UP.
Difficulties arise when we panic. Somehow the deep approach elicits a rushed backswing, and any speed at the start of this motion results in speed throughout. The secret is to practice a calm slow response in this situation. More or less a half volley with a pronounced UP bump. Let me say it again, for truly this shot does work wonders in emergencies, a half volley with a pronounced UP bump.
The pros always seem to have plenty of time to produce their strokes, yet contrary to what we have always heard about getting the racquet back, it appears they do the opposite. Steffi Graf was among the first to use this racquet forward approach and it helped revolutionize the game. You don’t hear TV analysts talk about how fast a player gets the racquet back anymore, that is not the way the game is played at the pro level and you shouldn't play that way either. Doug King
Doug Eng makes an in depth study of the baseline tactics and results of six of the top WTA players. He analyzes the risk versus rewards of strokes from various positions on the court in what amounts to a primer of how to play the modern baseline game. The analysis is of the top pros but there is a lot to learn here for the club player too.
There is no doubt that for a player to improve strength they must train at intensities high enough to elicit a strength response (principle of overload) but Paul Gold sees a better way to increase muscular and nervous system loading, the use of single leg exercises. These not only produce great strength gains but also increased stability and balance and without the risk of back and joint injury.
Dmitry Tursunov may be the best player you've never heard of. He turned pro in 2000 but two serious back injuries Impeded his progress. With that behind him, he has risen as high as number 32 in the world and with his talent, big serve, and huge groundies there is every reason to believe he may be able to climb even higher. Check out Dmitry Tursunov's game, exclusively on TennisOne. New this issue - Dmitry Tursunov's Backhands.
Current professional tour coach, Heath Waters and wife, top 100 and former no. 33 in the world ranked tour player, Lindsay Lee-Waters, are proud to release the first predominantly all streaming video based e-learning tennis instructional website at www.virtualtennisacademy.com
Subscribers will receive personal video tennis instruction directly from Heath and Lindsay as well as mental coaching, sports performance training, and much, more from a hand chosen team of experts currently working with professional tennis players on tour. Now anyone in the world, no matter what level, can receive the same world class training the world's best tennis players receive right from the convenience of their own home.
For more than twenty years Pat Etcheberry has been providing athletes from around the world with the winning edge. We call this the Etcheberry Experience, and players with an Etcheberry experience have hoisted Championship Trophies at over one hundred major championships, including 28 Australian Opens, 18 Wimbledons, 22 UP Opens, 22 French Opens and 15 Olympic medals.
And now it's your turn! This is your chance to experience the same drills, exercises and words of tennis wisdom that Pat gave to Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jennifer Capriati, Martina Hingis, Jim Courier, Justine Henin-Hardenne, and others, that helped launch them on their incredible careers. For the first time, Pat Etcheberry shares his training secrets in a series of DVDs for players of all ages, their coaches, and trainers.
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