How to Beat a Lobber in Tennis — (aka, the Pusher, Counterpuncher, Moonballer)
The dreaded lobber. We've all been there. We start the warm-up with our opponent and the ball comes looping back with no pace, no top spin, and no control. "No problem. It's just the warm-up," you think to yourself.
The match starts and every shot he hits is a lob--every effing one! Your inner tennis spirit screams to the heavens. You're about to face the nemesis of the recreational tennis player: the lobber.
I'm not just going to show you how to beat the lobber, I'm going to show you how to crush the lobber.
Skill Level: intermediate (3.5 - 4.0)
Format: Singles Tennis
Author: I'm a recreational tennis player. I complete at the 4.0 level in Florida, USA, and do fairly well. I'm not a tennis professional. Enjoy the read, and by all means, leave a comment if you try the strategy.
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Use strategy to beat the tennis pusher
First let's clear something up: The term "lobber" in tennis is interchangeable with pusher, moonballer, defensive baseliner and counter-puncher. This article is not intended in any way to belittle the strategy or the people who employ it; simply to deconstruct it, highlight its weaknesses, and teach people how to beat it (sorry if you're a pusher!).
SUMMARY OBJECTIVE: Disrupt the lobber. Take time away from the lobber by taking the ball out of the air. Wait for a weak reply. Put away the volley for a winner.
"The net?! But my volley is terrible ..." the typical baseliner thinks to himself. "No!"
I know. You probably think your volley game sucks. And it might. Too bad. This strategy requires that you hit volleys--lots and lots of volleys. But you know what? It works. There are a few basic components we need to discuss and then you'll have it down.
- No man's land.
- Shot tolerance.
- Putting it all together.
Figure (a): Court Positions
1.) Don't play the net versus a lobber. Play no man's land.
Conventional wisdom says that getting caught in no man's land is bad. When facing a lobber, I basically want you to play every rally from no man's land.
Don't play the net! Other articles out there tell you to play the net. They're wrong. You finish the point at the net, but you play the rallies in no man's land.
Look at Figure (a) above. The lobber is most comfortable when his opponent is in either position: baseline or net. If you're at the baseline he knows his moonball is gonna backspin fifteen feet over the net, then parachute back to the baseline, jump off the court and over your head, and you're going to try your best to hit a ground stroke. While all that was happening the lobber had enough time to recover from his shot, wipe his brow, and send a text to his wife. "Oh look," he thinks. "My opponent just hit the ball back." Repeat.
When you're at the net that's when the pusher shines. That's the only time he gets to rack up the winners on his stat sheet. "Why?" you ask. Because when you're at the net his normal shot is going to sail right over your head for a clean lob winner--even if it's not that good of a lob.
This is what flummoxes us rec-level players. Lob winners (also known as the most frustrating winner in tennis). We think, "I can't grind a win from the baseline, that will take three hours and I still might lose, and I can't come to the net because he lobs me every time. So what do I do?"
You play no man's land. While in no-man's land ...
- Drops are easy to run down.
- Lobs can't go over your head.
- You may get a short ball for an easy winner / approach winner
The key tactic to playing in no-man's land: Taking the lob out of the air. That's right: volley the ball.
Usually the lobber's consistent shot is more of a moonball than a true lob. So if you're standing in no man's land you're in the perfect position to hit a volley. It won't be a put away volley, but it will be decent. This will return the ball to the lobber significantly faster than had you let it bounce and hit a groundstroke. Look at figure (b) below.
2.) Observe shot tolerance and probability
The pusher rarely has an excellent tennis shot (aka, a weapon). His admirable attribute are usually foot speed / retrieving, and keeping the ball in play. But, with keen observation you will still be able to identify a stronger wing.
In my experience, the lobbers better wing is usually his backhand. This probably has something to do with the predominant strategy in singles: dictate play with the forehand, which usually means, hit a forehand to your opponent's backhand until you get a weak reply and then hit a winner. So the lobber has a massive amount of experience grinding out hundreds of backhands in a match.
They might be more likely to make an error with their forehand, but you still have to observe. The pusher usually has "one" other shot they can play besides the moonball. It's typically the slice (usually a forehand slice!) or the accidental drop-shot (a failed slice that lands in play). Find out which wing is more likely to use the variety and keep that in mind. The counter puncher with that one extra shot can be crippling if you're pinned three feet behind the baseline.
3.) putting together the strategy to beat the lobber
Now that we've looked at the lobber, his strengths and weakness; no man's land and why you should be there; and shot tolerance; let's put together a point structure strategy to beat the pusher and walk away with the win.
An ideal point on the serve looks like this (look at figure (c))
- Place your serve
- Hit a forehand ground stroke to your opponent's weaker wing
- Advance into no-man's land
- Volley the moonball into the open court
- Adjust your position slightly
- Continue to volley the moonballs into the open court until you spot "the weak reply."
- As soon as you get the weak reply, rush the net and hit a put-away volley. Or, if the weak reply is so bad that it bounces in front of you, hit a forehand winner.
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Common pitfalls to executing this anti-lobber strategy:
(a) Your opponent will hit some lob winners. Just deal with it. Sometime you will see a weak reply, leave no man's land, rush the net, hit what you think is a volley winner, but he will run it down and hit an infuriatingly awesome backhand-on-the-run-lob to the back corner and win the point. Don't let this frustrate you. It's okay if he gets eight, nine, or ten lob winners if you get 40 volley or groundstroke winners.
(b) You will miss volleys and overheads. This is recreational tennis. You're going to make errors. As long as you're hitting more volley winners than errors, just keep hitting volleys. Also, you will have to hit the smash for this strategy to work. If you don't have a great smash, that's okay. Don't try to put the smash away, just hit a moderate overhead and that will apply serious pressure to the lobber.
(c) You don't have a reliable volley. This is a problem. If you're executing the strategy but you're missing tons of volleys and dropping games quick, you're in trouble. If you miss a few here and there, no biggie: stick with the strategy, but; if you've dropped a few games without hitting a single volley winner, then you will probably lose the match. If you struggle to beat pushers from the baseline, and you want to use this strategy, go out and practice your volleys for a few hours.
This strategy highlights one of the lobber's biggest weaknesses: they have no passing shot. If you employ this strategy, and don't unforced error yourself out of the game, the lobber actually cannot beat you. No man's land is a wonderful position to play, but only if you know your opponent cannot hit a top sin shot. The topspin pusher is a different beast altogether.
Playing volleys will put the pusher under extreme pressure and take him out of his comfort zone. He'll have no time to plan his shots and eventually feed you a weak ball. If you hit winners you will demoralize him and he will be left thinking, "There is just nothing I can do to win a point."
Employ this strategy effectively and you'll start defeating low level pushers 6-2 6-2, easy-mode.
Love the game!
© 2013 Time Spiral