You're on the dead run in pursuit of a very possibly out of reach ball. You know early on you're not going to be able to get this ball where you want it.
In short, you have no offensive or even neutral shot, and attempting one would be delusional. So what to do?
Photo by Shaun Ondak
Jak Beardsworth demonstrates the defensive lob.
Lobbing, defensive lobbing, is a last ditch effort to stay in the point for one more shot. It's buying time to recover court position and challenge an opponent to close the point out with a not-so-easy overhead in the air or off the bounce - definitely not a gimme.
In the accompanying image I have barely caught up to the ball and am coming up underneath it with an open racket face. Striking it softly, almost "carrying" it, with a very low to very high stroking path, will get this ball on a welcome steep upward trajectory.
The goal is to get a the defensive lob a minimum of 40 feet up - higher is better - with touchdown in the middle of no-man's land, preferably cross court where the court is forgivingly 4-and-a-half feet longer on the diagonal.
How many opponents relish the sight of this response to their near winner? I'm thinking very, very few.
Keep in mind that the motor skill component of ball striking mechanics is highly influenced by pre-shot visualization. What you "see" - your intended shot flight plan in your mind's eye - is then more readily realized by triggering the appropriate neurological pathways to your existing "hard-drive" racket skills. The mind-body connection at work.
If it is doubles you're mostly playing, and you do have the ball right where you like it, then definitely and aggressively go for your shot. That's the essence of the game.
Other options include, when in good position, offensively lobbing over a net player crowding the net, or one who is adept at poaching. Mixing in the occasional lob will keep them honest and off balance, and, hopefully, keep you on top of the point.
Versus these same net opponents you also can attack their position by going right at them when you get that inviting, short second serve. Don't forget the fake hand-wave apology if they're wrongly offended.
Lobbing is a necessary defensive measure, and as noted, can be an effective offensive tactic as well, but it should never be the mainstay of anyone's game.
In an old Nike ad campaign, "Ask Mac," one responder wrote, "I love to lob. Sometimes even when my opponent is on the baseline, I lob. Or when I'm returning serve, I'll lob. I can't help it. I know I shouldn't lob all the time. What should I do?" McEnroe responded, "If they arrested people for being annoying on the tennis court, you'd be looking at doing 15 to life."
Jak Beardsworth, USPTA, author of More Than Just the Strokes, is based at the Crowne Plaza-Lake Placid Club for adult and junior lessons. Email him at JB1tennis@comcast.net, call 941-626-0097 or visit www.JakBeardsworthTennis.com.