We’ve all seen those crazy lob rallies. A player is defending for their life, far away from the table, popping the ball up high in the air, only to have it smashed back at them.
It sure does look impressive and although it might appear a little ridiculous and counter-intuitive to the untrained eye, lobbing is a great form of defence when you are forced away from the table. And it is much easier to learn than you would think!
I remember trying out lobs for the first time. I wasn’t great by any means, but I was surprised by the fact that most of my lobs were landing on the table.
For intermediate players and above, lobs are certainly performable. It just takes a bit of time and adjustment to find your range. I expect after 15 minutes most intermediate and above players should be able to perform lobs with a fair degree of success.
But then comes the difficult part, your pesky opponent. It’s no good just getting the ball on your opponent’s side of the table, you need to limit their attacking options. To lob “like a pro” there are four key components you need to get right.
Step 1: Find the Best Lobbing Height
The first condition is the height of your lob. You have a little wiggle room with this one but just recognise that (generally speaking) the higher the feed, the harder it is for your opponent to smash.
The high lob
Some players lob very high. As a general rule, I would recommend lobbing high enough so that the bounce of the ball exceeds one and a half times the height of your opponent. This means they have to wait for the ball to fall before smashing, or take it on the way up.
It’s not too difficult to lob this high and any lower would make smashing considerably easier for them.
In the photo above, it looks like the ball has peaked at roughly head height. This give Zhang Jike a much easier smash!
The low lob
Some players will actually lob very low: below head height. This is called “fishing” and is usually not recommended but fits in with some player’s style. You might see aggressive loopers lob low when they are far away from the table. These players will be advanced and have a good understanding of their opponent’s attacking options.
This kind of lob is usually performed when out of position during a looping rally. Lobbing so low limits your opponent’s smashing potential and promotes power loops. These players will seek to resume looping at the first opportunity they see.
With a bit of testing, you will find your optimal lobbing height. Just be aware of the point where the increase in height doesn’t see a return on investment.
Step 2: Lob Deep on Your Opponent’s Side
Undoubtedly the most important aspect of lobbing is the length. Get this wrong and you will pay the price.
The aim when lobbing is to always try and make the ball land as deep on your opponent’s side of the table
as you can. The closer the ball lands to the net, the closer they can stay to the table and the more of an angle they have to smash into.
Feeding the ball really deep into your opponent’s side is difficult and will take a fair bit of time to master. Whilst it is great if you can get lobs to land within a few inches of the edge of the table, it is not essential. And if you actively seek this depth you will probably have too many balls go over the end. We don’t want that!
Instead, imagine the depth of your opponent’s side of the table split in four. Just aim for the furthermost quarter. That should result in the most lobbing success.
Step 3: Topspin, Topspin, Topspin!
Spin is sometimes a neglected aspect of lobbing, but it’s crucial if you want to lob like a pro.
Nearly all lobs should have a bit of topspin. Topspin kicks the ball forward, off the table. This greatly pushes back the position where your opponent contacts the ball. And as we know, the further away from the table you are, the less of an angle you have to play a smash.
Ideally, you want to put as much topspin on your lobs as you can. One way to increase your spin is to lob higher. This is why many professionals lob so high. Just watch their strokes, they are imparting very heavy levels of topspin. Take this clip of Xu Xin lobbing, for example. Monstrous levels of topspin!
I would also highly recommend introducing a bit of sidespin into the mix when you become comfortable with standard topspin lobs. Sidespin adds an additional level of uncertainty, forces your opponent to move, and will unquestionably win you more points.
Step 4: Recognise Opportunities
Whilst lobbing is an inherently defensive shot it will often provide you with opportunities to counterattack.
If you perform a particularly tricky lob, your opponent may take their finger off the trigger and play a much safer, slower smash. You must recognize these attacking opportunities and act upon them immediately. After all, you might not get another chance to get back into the rally.
Patience is a necessity. Do not act on opportunities that are not there, you will lose out most of the time. The best way to encourage these opportunities to appear is to just lob well with consistency.
Always be on your toes in the ready position, poised to dart in at a moment’s notice. It’s easy to drift very far away from the table whilst lobbing as it gives you more reaction time. But generally speaking, the further away you are, the harder it is to act upon your opponent’s mistakes as these will often fall shorter.
So, those are my four steps to lobbing like a pro. For those of us who don’t chop, lobbing is the best form of defence when you are away from the table. Anyone can learn it, and it will make you a much more complete player.
And I can’t lie, it’s a tonne of fun!