By Larry Hodges
In 1967, Nobuhiko Hasegawa shocked the table tennis world by not only winning the World Championships, but by using the lob as a primary weapon in doing so. Since then, the lob has become the most spectacular shot in table tennis for both players and fans. It has also become one of the least understood shots in the game.
Many players lob far too often. A lob is a defensive shot, but it is unlike all other defensive shots in that it invites the opponent to smash. Only against a much poorer player or a very poor lob-smasher will you score a majority of points while lobbing. Therefore, it is advisable to lob only when absolutely necessary, unless your opponent is very poor against the lob. The advantage of a lob is not that you will win most of the points with it, but that you may score a few points that you otherwise wouldn’t – and those points are often all it takes to win.
The theory of lobbing is essentially this: If you lob the ball high and deep, the ball will bounce very deep, and your opponent will have to smash the ball from a good distance from the table. This is not forces errors on his part, but gives you time to react to his smashes which, due to air resistance, slow down quickly.
A lob is basically a very high loop. A good looper can often learn to lob very well very quickly because the strokes are very similar. When lobbing, first get to where the ball is going as fast as you can. With experience, you can learn to anticipate the direction of the smash. Try to arrive in a sideways stance, even on the backhand. Taking a slow backswing, drive the ball mostly upward, dissipating the ball’s speed by sending it upwards. Try grazing the ball, as in a loop, to put topspin and sidespin on the ball. A good lob can require a lot of power, so try to use your legs and upper body in a sweeping motion, as in a loop.
When a ball is smashed straight at you try to turn sideways, taking it with either forehand or backhand, rather than standing square to the table and lobbing with the backhand, using only the arm. You may have to do this sometimes, but then the lob will have little spin. The three important aspects of a lob are its height (for control), depth, and spin. Depth is most important of all, since without it your opponent can smash at very wide angles, giving you no chance at all of returning the ball. A good lob should land within a foot of the endline. Good height and depth make the BAL bounce deep.
Putting spin on your lob can be very difficult, since you have very little time. It takes lots of practice, so the only way to develop it is to practice. Learn to mix topspins and sidespins, making the ball break violently when it hits the table. The idea is to force your opponent into a mistake. When lobbing, you should always be looking for a way to counter-attack, or to get back into the point. If you find a chance, a sudden counter-drive, chop, or loop return will usually change the rally in your favor. Counter-smash if you see a chance. Off a weak smash, counter attack. If your opponent doesn’t force you to lob, don’t.
Placement of lobs can also be very important. Some players are slow on their feet, and will make mistakes if forced to move too much, even off of a lob. If you lob best from one side, a deep, spinny lob to the side diagonally opposite will make it difficult for your opponent to smash to your weak side, down the line.
One final advantage of lobbing is that it tires your opponent. This can be a critical factor against anyone not in very good shape. When way behind, some top players actually lob intentionally to tire their opponents out for the next game. Also, after smashing a series of lobs to win a point, many players get careless on the next point, as well as a little out of breath.