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 weaker 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. (Another advantage is that by lobbing, you learn to move to and react to hard-hit balls – which is just one step away from counterlooping.)
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 not only forces errors on his part, but gives you time to react to his smashes which, due to air resistance, slow down quickly.
A lob, done properly, is basically a very high loop. A good looper can often learn to lob well very quickly because the strokes are similar. When lobbing, first get to where the ball is going as fast as you can. With experience, you can anticipate the direction of the smash by watching the opponent's stroke. On both forehand and backhand you should be turned at least slightly sideways, just as you would for looping. Drive the ball mostly upward, dissipating the ball’s speed by sending it upwards. Sink the ball into the sponge at an angle so you can spin it, like looping, with both topspin and sidespin. Use your legs and upper body in a sweeping motion, as when looping. (Perhaps go to Youtube and search for “table tennis lobbing” and watch how the top players do it.)
When a ball is smashed straight at you try to turn sideways somewhat, 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 of returning the ball. A good lob should land deep on the table. Good height and depth make the ball bounce deep. You can also do a lower lob, which is called fishing.
Putting spin on your lob can be difficult since you have very little time. It takes practice. Learn to mix topspin and sidespin, making the ball jump as well as break sideways when it hits the table. The idea is to force your opponent into a mistake. When lobbing, you should always be looking for a chance to counter-attack to get back into the point. A sudden counter-drive, chop, or loop return will often change the rally in your favor. Counter-smash or loop if you see a chance, especially on the forehand side where you have a bigger hitting zone. If your opponent doesn’t force you to lob, don’t.
Placement of lobs is also important. Some players are slow on their feet and will make mistakes if forced to move side to side too much, even off 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 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.
So . . . get lobbing!!! You'll win a few points and have a lot of fun.