After You Lob?

Left: traditional moves. Right: recommended moves.

You are playing doubles and successfully lob over the opposing net man’s head; so that he lets his baseline partner cross over to take the ball and he switches sides.  But, what do you and your partner do?

An “A-ha moment”

In the March/April issue of Tennis magazine, Gigi Fernandez has a great piece on the right and wrong moves players make after they lob.  I thought I knew most everything about court positioning and movement (not that I DO all the right moves); but this was a good revelation to me.

Wrong Moves

Gigi writes that most of us make the wrong move of either staying on the baseline or “coasting in” to about the service line, while our partner moves closer to the net.  She says this makes you vulnerable to either the ball hit down the line at your feet or a cross-court lob over your partner’s head, which you then have to chase down.

Right Moves

She says, to get the correct staggered position (since the ball is on YOUR side of the court), you should move quickly to be INSIDE the service box … while your partner moves slightly back to cover the lob over your or his head.

Or, Switch Sides

If age or mobility prevent you from doing this, she says an alternative would be for your net partner to “pinch the middle” (Joe McAleer’s words), while you cross over and take his position at the opposite service line to cover the lob possibility.

A new concept for me.  How about for you?

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9 thoughts on “After You Lob?

  1. I think at that point you have the advantage. They are most of the time now on defense. Your partner should be positioned in the center of his side just inside service line. You should be coming in but maybe one step behind the service line but as Joe says pinching the middle. You are both good for a volley or overhead smash.If they hit a winner from that spot just clap and say nice shot!

    Phil, so you disagree with Gigi? thanks. george

  2. Positioning after the lob is to me completely based upon 1) knowing your opponents tendency (to either drive the ball or lob back a lob) and 2) reading his racquet preparation as he prepares to swing.
    If the tendency and the racquet preparation indicate a lob coming, neither partner should be in front of the service line. If drive indicated, go hard to the net at an appropriate angle and then split step to be aggressive on volleying the drive.
    To be consistent and aggressive, being in position to not have to back up much if a lob is coming and closing under control to the net if drive is coming puts you in best position. Standing on the baseline and watching the opponents move is the cardinal sin.
    As always, moving decisively before your opponent strikes the ball much better than static positioning in doubles.

    Winder, good thoughts. i question whether us seniors can react quickly enough to the opponent’s racquet prep. thanks, george

  3. Meet the lob with a lob, play two back. Let the player with the better overhead put
    it away for an easy winner, providing you have a dominating overhead. I look
    forward to getting lobbed.

    Anthony, you opt for defense, which could work (but I like offense). Thanks, george

  4. George

    I think Gigi’s positioning is consistent with the basic”staggered formation’ for doubles whereby there are two positions – “terminator” and “crosscourt”. The terminator is directly across from the ball and the crosscourt is cross court from the ball. The crosscourt player is further back from the net than the terminator. Crosscourt’s job is to keep the ball crosscourt, stay patient and set up the terminator for the point ending volley (as well as covering deep crosscourt lobs). Any time the crosscourt player chooses to lob in a straight line he has opted to become the terminator and therefore is tighter to the net with his partner now assuming the crosscourt role and further back from the net.

    Ted, exactly!george

  5. Hi George,

    May I offer an opinion for discussion in another week? It concerns the opposing team that has just been lobbed in the diagram .

    I agree with Gigi and with Ted (I don’t ever remember disagreeing with Ted 🙂

    But I don’t think much of this diagram, given the response of “D” when lobbed. He has had a ball go over his head and crossed parallel to the net to cover his partner’s vacated side. His partner has run to cover (most likely with a backhand, given this diagram) what we can assume is a fairly difficult high-bouncing lob. By staying at the net position as he crosses, “D” is forcing his partner to have to hit a very good shot. Anything less will most likely put “D” in a bad position.

    I suggest that “D” should start back when the ball is lobbed to see if he has a play on the ball; cross diagonally toward the baseline when it was apparent his partner has the better play; and, having assessed his partner’s situation and the new position of his opponents, decide whether he would like to continue back to a very defensive position or move forward toward the net.

    I’m eager to hear all your thoughts.
    John Fournier

    John, i couldn’t agree with you MORE! Too many times the net man of the team that was lobbed is woefully out of position and gives the opponents a wide alley down the middle to hit their next shot. thanks, george

  6. I think Gigi is 100% correct in her advice. While there are many other ways to play doubles, if you want to win consistently I don’t think you can do much better than to listen to a doubles player who has wins over the likes of Navratilova and Hingis.

    The essence of what Gigi is saying here is that the lobbing team should not avoid coming to the net after the lob but they should come in to the net with a staggered formation where one player is slightly closer to the net than the other. The player who is closer to the net then presumptively takes the volley on the next shot (assuming the ball is hit as a drive and is within his reach, which he maximizes by following some other advice from Gigi that George has not published in which she explains how to better poach) and the player who is staggered a bit back but still within the service box takes the lob if that is what the opposing team hits after being lobbed themselves. Of course, it is a bit more nuanced than the above, but this captures the essence of Gigi’s advice.

    I should also mention that I know this because Gigi has put out an instructional video series on how to play doubles with the online tennis instructor, Will Hamilton, who runs the site Fuzzy Yellow Balls, and I have that series. It is available for download (for a fee, of course) to anyone who wants to hear Gigi’s secrets of the doubles game. I find the video series quite useful and informative. I recommend it to anyone.

    Without getting into too much more detail, because that is what ordering the video series is for, Gigi’s whole mantra is that, of the various different doubles formations that can be played, the formation where a team strives to take over the net with one player staggered a bit in front of the other player but both players are basically in the service box and the opposing team is stuck with one player up at the net and one player pinned back at the baseline is optimal for the team closer to the net. Gigi calls that situation the “Holy Grail.” Her advice in Tennis Magazine regarding what to do after hitting the lob is but one aspect of that overall concept. She provides many illustrations in the video series of how adhering to this staggered positioning at the net allows the more aggressive team to win many more points than the more defensive team.

    Go get the video to see what I mean.

    Marty, great advice! thanks, george

  7. we all agree that most of the time, the team that takes the net, usually
    will win (all things being equal). this being said, senior players, as
    they age, find that quick movements can be challenging (we joke
    that the net has gotten further away than it was when we were
    younger). hitting a running defensive lob from the baseline makes
    it almost impossible to rush the net. if the lob is hit good enough, it
    becomes an opportunity for your partner, who is already at the net,
    to position himself on his side of the court, and look to aggressively
    poach. the player who retrieved the lob moves back to the center of the
    court on the baseline. we sort of go into an “I” formation.
    if on the other hand, if we hit an offensive lob and can easily move to
    the net, we obviously both should move forward.
    as usual, doubles is all about positioning.

    Joe, you are close to Gigi’s advice; but different enough (then again, that is you!). thanks, george

  8. If I may also editorialize a bit, it always frustrates me when I am playing doubles with anybody who fails to appreciate the different positions available to players on the court beyond merely: (1) one up and one back, (2) both players parallel to each other on the baseline, or (3) both players parallel to each other at net. I hear excuses all the time from friends who are otherwise really good players that they don’t have a good volley so they try to stay away from the net at all costs, they are afraid of being lobbed and are too old or not fast enough to run down balls over their heads so that is why they stay on the baseline all the time and in any situation, etc.

    I say hog wash to all of these excuses. In my opinion, there is no excuse whatsoever for not playing proper formational doubles, no matter what your age, sex, stroke quality, NTRP level, etc. You just need to better understand that doubles is NOT a game where an individual player gets to stand and position himself wherever he wants, like we do in singles. Rather, it is a game where TWO players must coordinate between themselves and in relation to each other to find the optimal formation in any given point scenario to maximize the chance of their winning the point AS A TEAM. This does not mean that the team must, or even should, play up at the net in all situations. There is a time and place for positioning anywhere on the court. But generally speaking, controlling the net means controlling the point in doubles and, therefore, a team should usually try to take over the net whenever it can. Gigi’s point is that many missteps can be avoided by using the staggered formation when seizing the net instead of just having the players be parallel to the net on the same plane.

    To illustrate: I sometimes play doubles with guys who are in their 80s and who have very good doubles games. Some have high national rankings. Some are just longstanding players who, over time, have learned the art of playing high level doubles. Even though they cannot move nearly as fast as they once could have and their reaction times have slowed considerably, these guys are rarely caught out of position on the doubles court and they always seem to be in the right place to hit the ball for optimal effect. How do they do this? They don’t stay camped out at the baseline. They strive to take over the net at every opportunity. And they instinctively stagger themselves as Gigi Fernandez suggests when they do come to the net.

    Marty, and a lot of what those senior players do is based on their knowledge of “the next likely stroke” and anticipation of that placement. thanks, george

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