Who Covers the Lobs?

Sock and Pospisil Communicating
Sock and Pospisil Communicating
You are at the net and your doubles partner is serving. He hits his first serve, follows to the net, as you move tighter toward the net to be aggressive. But the returner hits a lob deep over your head… while you and your partner stare at each other, thinking the other will be covering it. Whose responsibility is it?

Aggressive Net Man

I was playing a doubles match with a very solid (5.0) teaching pro as my partner and he insisted “you cover all your own lobs.” But as you watch the successful tournament and pro teams like the Bryan Brothers, you see the net man is the aggressor and the server can frequently cut across the court (on his way to the net) and more easily cover the lob.

Communication is Key

During the point, you or your partner should QUICKLY yell, “Yours!” or “I got it”; so there is no confusion. But even before the match starts, you should iron out with your doubles partner who you think should cover the lobs the net man cannot reach in the air.

Slow Servers

In a post-match lunch discussion, Keith Butterfield pointed out a key factor is the speed and placement of the serve… he says, if the server hits a harder and/or well-placed serve, the net man can and should be aggressive – and the server can easily cut across the court to cover the lob on his way to the net.

But if the server has a slower serve and is charging hard to the net (like we say about some of our friends, “he is trying to get to the net before his own serve does!”), he cannot stop and get back to cover the lob over in the opposite court.

What do you think?

Who Beat a French Open Champ?

At the end of September, Dave Wendt and George Dalphon won the Virginia Senior Men’s Category II Championships held in Alexandria, VA, 7-6, 6-7, 6-1. They beat Fred McNair (who reached the World No. 1 doubles ranking in 1976, teaming up with Sherwood Stewart to capture the men’s doubles titles at French Open, the German Open and the Masters). Congrats!!

If you are not on my “new posting alert email list” and want to be (I promise, no other uses of your email address!), just drop me a note at George@seniortennisandfitness.com

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11 thoughts on “Who Covers the Lobs?

  1. Excellent comments by Keith and author George. Since I’m not always the one to try to get to the net before the ball, on my serve, I often say you stay up close and I’ll cover the lobs and I always want my partner to stay up and try and reflex volley any overheads if I accidentally hit a short lob:). It depends also on how well the players back up and can cover lobs, and a whole lot of other factors that would take me too long to write up:).

    Fred: one facet i didnt cover is when your partner serves and stays back (like you frequently do). I think in that case it is a no-brainer for that guy on the baseline to come across and cover the lob! thanks, george

  2. I don’t think there can be any hard or fast rule as to which player goes for the lob. It depends on several factors including the depth of the lob, the foot speed of each player how quickly the server is coming towards the net, etc.
    That is why communication between the players is so essential in each particular situation. Keith and I discussed this very topic prior to our many tournament doubles matches, but we occasionally had to vary our plans depending on the situation.

    Michael – sure, it is easy for Keith to say “yours” when his partner won a Gold medal in the senior olympics 100 yard dash! george

  3. I was taught that once the point is underway and both players are at the net, each player should cover his own lobs. If you’re so close to the net that you can’t cover a lob, you’re too close. Now, as for serving, I think it depends. If the net man is poaching – the server should take the lobs. If the net man is staying and the server is charging – the net man might need to cover the lob. If the server stays back and the net man is being aggressive – server takes the lob. Somewhere in between – it’s up for grabs. Communication is the key.

    Terry – who covers the lob when both are at the net is the subject of a whole other posting! george

  4. The best method to me is that the server always looks to cover the lob ; meaning that he initially moves toward the middle so that he can cover it if his partner can’t. The key is good communication where partner says mine/yours, got-it/take it! or something to let the server know what to do. If the partner doesn’t say anything , the server has to wait to know whether to take it or not which doesn’t allow him much time react and get the lob or to move in if partner takes it. At least if if the server knows it’s his / her responsibility then it always gets covered. A good tactic against lobbers is go ahead and plan a poach often then the server is there waiting for the lob to hopefully take it out of the air.

    Larry, i really like poaching as a defense against lobbers… it is using OFFENSE, rather than giving up the net and standing back too far. thanks, george

  5. Hi George, that’s why I prefer singles. Lol. My question is when he said cover all your own lobs , what’s the definition of your own , when you were at the net . Second thought the teams that play a lot together have probably came up with a solution to accentuate the positives of each player , those that are not so quick to get to lobs etc.

    OhioJack, i believe he meant anything that was on my side of the court. thanks, george

  6. First rule is whatever side of the court your on, right side, left side; your responsibility is from the net to the base line. First change for that coverage,comes by talking to your partner at the start of the match. Second , changes come by talking to your partner during the match until it’s completion. Be chatter bugs.

  7. George, my general rule is the same as others that, if a point is underway, each net man should normally cover all lobs that are over his head. However, I would caveat that with the observation that if one player is more up close to the net than the other, one runs faster than the other, one has a better overhead than the other, one back pedals better than the other, or the team simply has a standing procedure that one guy will take the overheads on lobs whenever he can, that general rule may be modified. Also, even in the absence of these situations, if one of the two partners yells out “mine,” that means that he feels, for whatever reason, he has a better play on the ball and the other and the other should act quickly to get out of his way but also in position to play the next ball in case the guy who yells “mine” doesn’t hit such a good overhead. The worst thing the other player can do in that situation is to contradict the player who has yelled “mine” and try to hit the ball himself, or get in the way. Even if the other player believes the player who yelled “mine” may have bitten off more than he can chew, he should defer to the player who wants the ball and support him in any way he can to assure that he does, in fact, reach and hit the ball. I have too often seen uncoordinated doubles players who literally strike rackets or even hit themselves in the head or arms when they both take a swipe at the same ball, without deferring to the one who has a better shot (normally the one who has a forehand) or who has called for the ball first.

    As for who covers when the lob goes over the net man’s head when his partner is serving, I think the situation is more dynamic and depends, a lot, on the relative strengths and weaknesses of the two players. I agree that on a softer serve it can be expected that there will be more lob returns and, generally, I also agree the server should cover most of these because his “cream puff” serves will have likely allowed the opposing players to hit deep lob returns, even offensive topspin lob returns if the serves are soft enough. But this assumes the net man has been so aggressive or has moved so much forward that it would he hard or difficult for him to cover a lob over his head. While that is probably true for most senior players, it is not universally the case. If the net man happens to have good footwork — and by that I mean he has mastered the art of turning sideways and cross stepping rapidly to move backward to hit an overhead off a deep lob, as well as possessing a scissors kick overhead– and if he has a strong overhead that he either hits hard or places well or both, then by all means he should cover a lob over his own head instead of forcing the net rushing server to deviate from his path to the net to cover it.

    After all, why would the net guy not want to take these overheads if he is able? Requiring the server to move back to the baseline on the opposite side from where he has just served to cover a lob over the net man’s head breaks up the goal of trying to get both players into the net as much and as quickly as possible. It also puts the server in a difficult position of having to hit a defensive shot from the baseline off the opponent’s lob (such as throwing up another lob), or else risk going for a low percentage shot (like trying to hit a hard groundstroke or a drive into a small space between the opposing team or into one of their alleys). In the first instance, what should have been an offensive point for the serving team has turned into a defensive point for them, thereby neutralizing the server’s advantage. In the second instance, the shot is so high risk that there is a significant danger of the server just missing the shot and giving the point away to the opposing team, especially if the lob goes over the net man’s head to his backhand side. Even if he were to try to run around the backhand and hit a forehand drive, which s not so easy to do when he is running back to the baseline after at first moving forward after his serve, he would also be put out of position by trying to hit the inside out or inside in forehand winner.

    By contrast, if the net man can hold his position and actually reach the lob to hit an overhead while the server continues to move into the net, the team has not given up its offensive position at all, but should be both right on top of the net after the overhead has been hit — ready to pounce on the next ball and win the point with a volley, assuming the net man’s overhead was not already a winner.

  8. All good stuff. No set rules just good communication with your partner. The
    subject also shows how important the lob is not only in any tennis game
    but especially in senior or super senior tennis. Another factor of course
    is if its a defensive lob or an offensive lob. Two men at the next an offensive
    lob with topspin is a winner. Then its just compliment the lobber time.
    All the best on your week with the legends. Say hello to all my Ohio friends!!

  9. George, I agree with Dick Richard’s point of view, which traditional coaches have always emphasized to doubles players that each player is responsible for his/her side of the court. Having said this however, we must use communication in doubles play and that is why we yell “switch” as we move to the opposite side.

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