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There are many different types of lobbers in table tennis – lobbers who attack, lobbers who only defend, lobbers with pips, lobbers with inverted, lobbers who do mostly low fishing and lobbers who hit sky-high through the rafters. The tactics in this article refer to a right-handed lobber who uses inverted on both sides and doesn’t attack much; as soon as the point starts he immediately backs up fishing and lobbing. When I use the word fishing, I refer to a lower version of the lob often with more spin and depth. When I refer to lobbing, I refer to this very high version.
With this type of lobber, it is critically important to remember how your opponent wins most of his points ― from your errors. If he doesn’t attack, then he is just waiting for you to miss and he plans to just keep bringing the ball back. If you swing wildly for every ball, you will likely be inconsistent. If you just put the ball on the table, you likely won’t be threatening. So how can you be consistent and threatening? You can best accomplish this by being selective, being selective as to when you should hit hard and when to control the ball. Because your opponent doesn’t attack much, you can start with a long serve and get the rally going simply. If you are too tricky on the first few hits, you will likely make more mistakes than your consistent opponent. When receiving, just push or slow loop the serve to get the rally going ― there is absolutely no need to rip his serve going for a high risk inside out to the wide angle on the outside of the white line. Play safe, be selective and go for it at the right moment. Now that I have briefly mentioned the mindset, I would like to outline the specific table tennis tactics.
If you are in the perfect position to block, loop, push or drop-shot then you can play tactical. Your positioning is the most important aspect of playing a lobber. Because various lobs come to different depths, it is critically important that you adjust for every ball. Just because the ball is slow doesn’t mean that you are allowed to move slowly. Move quickly into position and you will have options to play tactically.
Using a powerful forehand smash will be your main tactic to beating the lobber. Adjust your positioning so that you have plenty of space and use your forehand on most high balls. If the lob hits near the net, smash down on the ball. If the lob hits closer to your end-line, then smash a bit more forward.
If your opponent is 15 feet back from the table, it may seem like he has plenty of time to retrieve every ball. Make sure that you also use the drop-shot to move him in, followed by a powerful smash to move him out. The most important element on the drop shot is to be selective. Choose a ball that hits near the net. Relax your grip. Contact the ball on the rise. At the point of contact, pull back slightly to absorb the energy on the ball. It is similar to the action of catching a water balloon, you pull back to absorb the energy.
When the lobber is near the table, you should smash at his body (the transition point). When he is further back, you should go for more angles. When close to the table, there is about 8 feet of lateral court to cover. When the lobber is 15 feet back, there is about 25 feet of lateral court to cover. If you smash to the wide backhand, then try to drop-shot to the short forehand. If you smash to the wide forehand, the try to drop-shot to the short backhand. I would typically recommend serving deep to the transition point. However, serving some short topspin serves followed by a deep attack to the transition point often works as well.
In order to play tactically against the lobber, you need to understand which ball to give a controlled smash, which ball to smash powerfully and which ball to drop-shot. The depth is one of the main factor. The deeper ball should be smashed with a control smash. The shorter one should be powerfully smashed down or dropped short. The spin is another major factor. The deep topspin lobs jump out and therefore require more control. The backspin, no spin, and sidespin lobs stay closer to the table and you should smash with more power on these shots. If you are watching your opponent’s table tennis racket, you should be able to tell the spin. If his racket is under the table, then watch the direction of his arm. If you can’t see the arm, then you will need to react when you see the trajectory of the ball. Keep in mind that lateral sidespin lobs (axis top and bottom) will react off your racket but won’t jump off the table as much. Deviation sidespin lobs (axis front and back) won’t react off your racket as much but will jump tremendously when they hit your side of the table.
You might be excited to play a lobber. Please resist the temptation to rush! Remember, even if you are winning, it is important to take your time and BREATHE! You are likely to get more fatigued than the lobber; the more time that you take between points the better you will do in games 3, 4 and 5.
It is vitally important that you practice smashing different types of balls – no spin, topspin, backspin and sidespin. Even if you can’t find a lobber, ask a friend to lob to you for three minutes so that you can practice smashing. Don’t overstrain yourself in warmup, just practice moving into position, working the point, being consistent, being selective, reading the spin, moving your opponent around and powering the ball at the right time.
By Samson Dubina, Professional Table Tennis Athlete and Coach