By Larry Hodges
Smashing a lob is much more difficult than it looks. There are several reasons for this. The height of a lob makes the ball bounce mostly upwards, something you aren’t used to hitting. If it bounces higher than your head, hitting it can be awkward. When it hits the table, it jumps up quickly, making it difficult to hit unless you wait on it. But if you wait on it, it will bounce away from the table, so that you may have to hit it as far as ten feet from the table, about fifteen feet from your target. And if it has spin, it will force you into additional errors. So what should you do?
When you see a lob coming, the first thing to do is to read the spin. If it has topspin, it will jump at you from the table, so don’t get too close. If it has sidespin, it will jump sideways, so move to that side. You should also read the depth, and back up some for a deep one.
You should hit a lob a little above eye level, either as it goes up, or as it comes down. If you are tall, this gives you an advantage. You should practice taking lob shots as they drop – at least until you are consistent. If a lob lands short, you should take it while it is rising unless it is so short it will not bounce back far. This way, you can get such a good angle on the ball that it will be impossible for your opponent to cover both angles. So off of a short lob, always go for a winner.
Many players make the mistake of going for an outright winner even off the best lobs. It is low percentage to try to smash a good lob for a winner against a good lobber. Instead, keep smashing hard, but place the ball, usually to the backhand. This way, your opponent has no choice but to lob again. What you want to do is to force a weak lob, preferable a short one, but also one with less spin, and put that one away. Often a smash to the middle will force a weak lob. But, be careful, you don’t want to let your opponent counter-hit, so usually avoid his forehand side, until you go for a winner.
There are many advanced techniques for hitting a lob. It is a good idea against all lobs (for rightys) to raise the right shoulder. This gives you a better angle on the ball. A good way to do this is to start with your weight on your right foot, then, as you transfer your weight forward, lift your right leg off the ground, raising your right shoulder in the process. Make sure you put all your weight into all smashes.
Another way of smashing a lob is to jump in the air, so as to contact the ball high in the air. Although this can make you look foolish if you make a mistake, and is considered a poor method by many. It has been perfected by many top players in the world, including the Seemiller brothers. To do it, you back up from the table, take short running start, and jump in the air, sideways to the table, with your right leg leaving the ground first. As you smash the ball, you do a scissors kick – that is, your right leg goes backwards, your left leg goes forward. This helps you thrust full into the shot. By jumping into the air, you get a better angle on the ball, and contact the ball closer to the table, but it may hurt your timing.
Many advanced players like to smash lobs right off the bounce. This takes great timing, but once perfected, your smash becomes almost unreturnable. Only an advanced player should try this.
A bad habit many players have is killing with chop or sidespin. Off a short ball, such shots can be effective, but they are pointless, since a short ball is just as easily put away flat. Off a deep ball, such shots, especially a chop kill, will hurt your consistency. There is some cause for some sidespin kills, since the sidespin may make the ball break so much that your opponent may not be able to reach it.
You should avoid drop shots off lobs unless you think it will be an outright winner. If your opponent gets to it, you’ve let him back into the point. Since it is hard to drop shot a deep lob effectively and a short ball is easy to put away, a drop shot is usually a low percentage shot.