How to Hit (and return) a Great Lob Serve
As a player begins to get the hang of racquetball, they will realize that hitting the ball as hard as they can all the time will only get them so far. Most wiley players know that if you only give your opponent one kind of shot to hit, they will start to hit it more often than not.
In order to keep your opponent on their toes and maintain control of the court, it’s imperative that you master the lob serve.
In the same way, a major league pitcher can get strikeouts with accurate, off-speed pitches like curveballs and change-ups. A racquetball player can lull an opponent into a sense of security with powerful drive serves and then yank that sense away by taking some mustard off the ball with a well-timed lob.
Why Do Lobs Work?
To break down why lob serves are such a valuable tool to have in your arsenal, we must first ask, “what is a lob in racquetball?”
Because racquetball is played on an enclosed court instead of on opposite sides of a net, a racquetball lob is slightly different from one in tennis. A tennis lob has a high arc coming off the racquet. In contrast, a racquetball lob has a high arc coming off the front wall.
The risk that comes with a lob shot or a lob serve is that the high arc and relatively slow pace of the ball allows your opponent more time to prepare their return volley. However, an accurate lob can trap your opponent in a back corner, forcing them into a weak return or even a ceiling shot.
And the other significant benefit to hitting a lob is that when your opponent moves to address the ball, you have plenty of time to take up a position in center court. Controlling center court forces your opponent to move more than you and to move around you—allowing you to play a more proactive game while they are forced to respond to you.
Why Use a Lob Serve?
During a rally, even if you’ve established a dominant court position, you can’t always take the shots you want to take. You have to handle the shots that are coming in from your opponent. But when you hold the serve, you set the tone.
Remember: for a serve to be legal in racquetball, the only criteria that must be met are that the ball bounces in the serving area, hits the front wall first, and doesn’t bounce on the ground until after it passes the short line.
So you can look at where your opponent has set themselves up with your peripheral vision and lob the serve to the most disadvantageous spot on the court for them.
Are they standing further back to prepare for a drive serve? Lob the ball, so it lands right behind the short line. Are they playing forward? Make them run back to the corner to deal with your serve.
No matter where your opponent starts on the court, you can force them into a move that they don’t want to make and take control of the court for yourself.
How Do You Hit a Great Lob Serve?
To hit a great lob serve, you first want to get into a good serving position—feet a little more than shoulder-width apart and knees bent. A consistent stance before you serve will help mask what you’re about to do.
When it comes to actually hitting the ball, accuracy is key. A lob serve doesn’t just mean you are hitting your serve less powerfully. You need to be able to direct the ball where you want it to go. Without accuracy, a lob is just serving a shot up to your opponent on a plate.
So how do you keep your serve accurate? Avoid flicking your wrist to hit the ball. You may get a slow, high arc off hitting the ball that way, but you won’t be able to control the accuracy of your serve.
What you want to do is keep your wrist stiff as you swing through the ball. It’s a much more controlled approach and will allow you to aim your serve better. It also allows you to change up your angles.
No rule says a lob serve must only have one angle of approach. You can lob a Z-serve. And you can shake things up by using a half-lob serve. It will seriously improve your racquetball strategy.
What is a Half Lob Serve?
A half-lob racquetball serve is a serve that is hit with more drive than a regular lob but not as much power as a drive serve. A half lob serve racquetball doesn’t have as high of an arc off the front wall as a lob serve.
The half lob is kind of like a reverse change-up in baseball. While a pitcher throwing a change-up uses the same throwing mechanics as they would use for a fastball, the change-up comes across the plate slowly. A half lob uses the same mechanics as a lob serve but comes faster and at a lower angle than a lob.
It’s one more way to keep your opponent guessing. And like lob serves and drive serves, half lobs can be hit to the opponent’s forehand, backhand, or hit as a Z-serve. Whatever it takes to maintain your control of serve and control of the court.
How Do You Return a Lob Serve?
If you’re on the receiving end of a lob serve, it’s important to know how to deal with it. One of the challenges of returning a lob is that you have more time to anticipate your shot.
That doesn’t seem like a bad thing, does it? But when you have time to think, you have time to over-think. The more you play, the more you’ll be prepared to respond to a lob.
With experience, you start to get a feel for how the ball moves on the court. You can recognize angles, and you’ll have a sense of where the walls are. When you see a lob coming in at a great angle for a kill shot, you can take that shot.
If your opponent places their serve in a spot that makes a driven shot too difficult to make, don’t force it. Remember, you do not need to win the game with every shot you make. Your opponent used a lob to move you out of position. You can do the same to them.
A high, arcing shot will make your opponent move to respond, allowing you to take up center court and control the rally. Of course, all of this is easier said than done. It takes practice to be able to recognize and counter a well-placed lob from your opponent.
Expand Your Toolbox
The lob serve, and half lob serve are valuable tools for any player to bring out during a match. They can throw off an opponent’s rhythm and help you maintain control of a game. But just as an over-reliance on drive serves can hurt your game, you don’t want to exclusively use the lob.
Work on incorporating it into your practice games and see if you can surprise people with it. How accurate can you get? How much can you control the pace and angle of your half lob?
The more you use these tools, the better you become at surprising your opponent with them.