Here’s the scenario:
You’re in the one-up, one back formation, and you’re at the net. Your opponent launches a lob in your direction. Who should cover it, you or your partner?
The answer is YOU!
You’ve no doubt heard the popular myth that when delivered a lob, whoever is at the net should immediately move to the other side of the court, and whoever is at the baseline must return the lob. This is only partly true. If you are lobbed at the net, your partner at the baseline should cover the lob ONLY if she realizes you can’t reach it.
Just because it’s a lob, doesn’t mean it’s going automatically to clip the baseline. The fact is that many lobs are rather shallow, so the first reaction of the player being lobbed at the net should be to turn and move back (if necessary), keeping the ball in sight at all times, and make an attempt to hit an overhead. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have watched my teammates play a match, and a lob went up and the net player screamed, “Yours!” as she scuttled to the other side of the court, forcing her opponent to quickly cross over and rush in to the service line in just enough time to get the ball back into play – just one or two steps back from where the net player had been standing. One or two steps – that’s all!
The next time a lob comes your way, condition yourself to attack! Do NOT immediately cross to the other side and force your partner to cover the lob. Immediately gauge how high and how fast the ball is traveling, and THEN decide whether or not to move back to take the overhead or to cross over. And be sure and use verbal communication like, “Yours!” or “Mine!”, or “Switch!” so that you and your partner are on the same page. The player at the baseline can also call the ball, as she has a better view of the ball dropping. For example, if she sees that the lob is high and will probably drop before or at the service line, she should say (loudly), “Yours!” to her partner at net (if that person hasn’t already started moving into position).
Crossing over is a bad habit that many players have developed, but it can be broken! Grab a bucket of balls and practice hitting overheads with a teammate lobbing you at the net, and see just how many you can actually get without the pressure of being in a match. The more you do this, the easier it will be to recognize the lobs that are truly yours to return, and get them back.
If you found this post helpful, don’t keep it all to yourself – share it with your tennis friends :-)