First of all and although this seems self evident, let's describe what a lob is. The three types of lobs are basically a high serve, an offensive (not in a mean way!) or a defensive return that is in a long high arc aimed over, at or behind you to your baseline. Why should this be part of the game today and have game strategies changed recently? Are the professionals on tour with APP or PPA doing this? If they are, this would be a good indication as to whether this is a sound 2022 strategy for us to consider.
In competitive squash I was taught that a properly executed shot against the front wall from the very front of the court which arcs over your opponent (who may be standing too far forward expecting a drop ball) and lands softly in the back corner, can be a killer shot. Hard to do but very effective. Does this idea similarly resonate in Pickleball for the same reasons?
Let's look at the cons for lobbing first as the answers lay in the many truths wrapped in that old proverb passed down thru the ages - "it depends"! The biggest issue in my mind is just that - if you're playing against tall or "I love bashing" opponents and your lob is not high or long enough, you will be looking directly at a punishing overhead smash coming your way. Also judgement is key because you do want to get the ball as close to the opposite baseline as possible but not "out" and there's little margin for error.
And speaking of "out", if you are playing outdoors the wind may be as challenging as your opponents, especially if you are hitting with the wind - and you only have 22 feet over there to work with! The sun may be your friend with a high lob, but the wind is most often not. Also, some players like "Lobber Larry" over-use the lob making it an expected shot which results in easy returns and predictively negative outcomes. Surprise is the missing strategic element here.
So although perfecting lobs and when to use them is as hard as learning to dink effectively, don't give up on trying just yet!
More professionals are using lobs for multiple reasons to good effect so having covered some cons, these are the "pros". The lob can be a particularly effective shot in your offensive and defensive repertoire given the right combination of situations which we'll explore briefly here.
Of the three types of lobs covered in this blog, the lob serve is the easiest to describe. It is essentially when you decide based on game dynamics to mix up your serve. As highlighted in Myth Buster #5 "Just Get The Serve In?" i believe that offensive serves are best. The one exception to this is when you decide to mix it up and keep your opponents guessing. It's also important to somehow let your partner know when you are changing it up as a heavier return is most probable in this circumstance!
The most often used offensive lob situation is when all players are at their respective non-volley (kitchen) lines. Your opponents are fixated by the back and forth dinking going on, and perhaps leaning in as a result. Then you get a "dead" dink (one that is flat, no spin and easy to lift) and this is the time to "lift" a well-disguised arcing lob just over your opponent's backhand to their baseline. In general, offensive lobs should be avoided when you are at your own baseline as the probability of success is low. Lobs may be especially effective in rec play when one of your opponents is less mobile, but you'll find out that it's not a particularly popular move when you get to the bar or home later - trust me on this!
A defensive lob is executed in a similar manner but with a higher arc and in different situations. The goal here is not necessarily to win a point as is the case with an offensive lob. You may want to buy you and your partner more time to get back into a rally. You may be scrambling forward, your opponents are at or near the kitchen, and you are not sure if you can dink the ball with any accuracy. You may be returning their lob and a drop shot is not practical. And finally, a defensive lob may be the only rational return of a well-hit hard shot at your feet from an opponent closer to the kitchen, again as you are scrambling forward. Been there, done that and you know the rest!
A final proof point for responsible lobbing can be found in an AllPickleball posting of recent wins by pros (including World #1 Ben Johns) using the lob. In addition if you are still not convinced, have a look at the most recent pro event finals on You Tube and you'll be surprised at how often the lob is used now as opposed to even last year, to positive effect. These are Mens' and Women's Gold Medal match wins courtesy of lobs, so I rest my case - Get Your Lob On!!