The Cross-Court Lob is probably the most underestimated weapon in USTA doubles today. I'd argue that it's the best utility shot a doubles team can have, and yet, most doubles matches will go by with hardly one or two cross-court lobs hit at all. Here are a few reasons why the Cross-Court Lob needs to be in your toolbox before you step out for your next doubles match.
The biggest and best reason why the Cross-Court Lob works is because it has the ability to change the dynamic of the point. In tennis, you have offensive positions, defensive positions and neutral positions. Doubles tennis is no different than singles in that respect and most times the team that can recognize what position they are currently in will have positive results.
In doubles, it can be said that when both players are at the net that their team is in an offensive position, while if both players are back, it can be said that the team is in a defensive position. There are not a great deal of options available to a team that is in a defensive position in doubles. You can drill the ball hard and hope the team at the net misses the put-away. You can try to go down the alley and hope the team at the net will let it go thinking it will go out (this also assumes your shot will stay in).
Lastly, aside from a lob, you can try to go down the middle and hope that the team at the net will get confused and they'll give up the point on an unforced error. A lob though is a dynamic point changer, in that if successful (meaning they cannot hit an overhead) it will push the team at the net off of the net. This changes things so that now you have an opportunity to either neutralize their advantage or put yourself and your team in an offensive position by coming to the net yourself.
Why cross court? Because it's a longer distance.
A big reason as to why most approach shots are hit straight, or better yet, down the line, is that it is a shorter distance than going cross-court. Taking a shot that gets to its destination sooner takes time away from your opponent. Cross-court is the opposite. The Cross-Court Lob is such a great shot because it's a longer distance, therefore making it far much safer to play. I cannot count the number of times I've hit a straight lob over someone's head to see it bounce an inch outside the baseline. If I had taken that lob cross-court, it would have fallen far in. By taking the lob cross-court, it allows us to hit it higher over the net as well (avoiding an ugly overhead return), while being confident that the ball will still stay in play.
Another reason to take the lob cross-court is because it throws your opponent off balance—literally! Most players will feel comfortable backwards and forwards, and most players will feel comfortable moving sideways left and right, but most players are not comfortable moving diagonally backwards and forwards while tracking a ball in the air. There is a very simple reason for this and that is that it throws off your equilibrium. While tracking a ball in the air, your court awareness is severely hampered by the fact that you don't have the usual things to relate your position to. Rallying a ball is easy since you can see where you are relative to the net, the lines, even the other players. While tracking a lob in the air, if you are moving back, you can judge how far back you are by remembering where you were, and the same applies moving left and right. When moving both backwards and sideways (diagonally) your court awareness suffers since tracking is now being guesstimated in an extra dimension. Hitting the lob cross-court will literally throw most players off balance.
Lastly, the cross-court lob is an excellent weapon of choice in doubles because you are hitting to the extremities of the court. By using the absolute corners of the court as a target, not only are you increasing your chances of keeping your lob in (by hitting it a longer distance), but you are opening the court up and making one player (namely the player not hitting your lob) cover more court than they feel comfortable doing.
The cross-court lob is applicable in several situations. Most notably, if you find yourself at the baseline with the opposing team at net, the cross-court lob can neutralize their advantage and even, at times, put you in an offensive position.
The cross-court lob is also good for those pesky serve and volley players who cannot help but come in after their serve. Even in a situation where both teams are playing the baseline or just in a neutral position, playing a lob cross-court can help give you the time to come to net and position yourself for an overhead or volley winner.
To sum things up, because you are hitting the ball across a longer distance, you will find more success in keeping the ball in. Hitting the lob cross-court will also facilitate being able to hit it higher over the net so that your opponents have a more difficult time hitting an overhead, rather, they will prefer to run back and play it as a groundstroke. Tracking a ball in the air while moving diagonally is a tough task for a player at any level and so you'll find greater success in making the lob difficult to play back.
Finally, hitting the lob cross-court will open the court up for easier play. With so many reasons to hit the cross-court lob, I sincerely hope that you'll consider adding it to your arsenal before your next doubles match.
Miguel Cervantes III
<p>Miguel Cervantes III teaches at Carefree Racquet Club and privately outdoors. Miguel specializes in teaching beginners, training juniors and coaching doubles. He may be reached by e-mail at <a href="mailto:UnderstandingTennis@gmail.com">UnderstandingTennis@gmail.com</a>.</p>