December 8, 2022
THIRD SHOT LOB—WHAAAAT?
By Alice Tym
First it was a third shot drop. Everyone had to have one. Players dropped the third shot into the kitchen regardless. Good players looked down their noses at players who could not gently guide a soft drop into the Non-Volley Zone (NVZ). Bangers were vilified. Where was their soft shot?
Then came the third shot drive, fifth shot drop. Take the third shot ball early and try to catch the approaching opponent with a hard shot before he got to the NVZ line and got set up. Bangers loved it, but then came that fifth shot drop. Players had more options. Also during this time, players improved overall. More tennis players came to the game, coaching became more available, and more players began to drill and work on their games. New players brought new styles and new shots.
Suddenly, the “rules” were not so fixed. And somebody lobbed! Lobs worked to keep players from crowding the NVZ line and smacking volleys away for winners. In the early years, lobs were often defensive. They were a last resort in a tough exchange. Then came the offensive topspin lob that sent the NVZ line-huggers scrambling. Topspin lobs hit and kicked back beyond the baseline, giving the lobber and partner plenty of time to take over the NVZ line themselves. The offensive lob gained acceptance because it was not a “sissy” shot; it was aggressive.
Enter the third shot lob.
The server drives a serve, the receiver drives the return and rushes to the NVZ line to join his partner at the net, expecting a third shot drop or a drive. He closes in tight. Now the server and partner have to stay back and let the ball bounce. They are in a defensive position and the opponents are good enough to take advantage of their position of control. The server and partner can choose to have one or the other rush to the net (the person hitting the ball has to let it bounce), but then they leave a hole in the middle. Usually, they choose to advance together depending on the quality of the third shot drop or drive. Regardless, they are in a defensive position.
At the USAP Nationals in Indian Wells, California, in November, I saw good players repeatedly lobbing the third shot to take away the strong NVZ line offensive stance of their returning opponents. The deep lob forced at least one player back to the baseline, allowing both players on the serving/third shot side to move up to the NVZ line. Obviously, you do not want to hit a short lob. You want to hit a high, deep lob. It can be offensive topspin or defensive slice, but its purpose is to gain position rather than win the point outright.
On television we see the tennis players playing singles driving groundstrokes side to side to open up the court laterally for winners. Because the pickleball court is so much smaller, those hard drives are easier to counter in pickleball, particularly in doubles. Position in pickleball means more than power. It is not so much about blowing someone off the court as it is being king of the mountain. Being at the net gives you greater options and the ability to hit those options earlier. It is difficult to drive your way to the net when the other team is already at the net. It is possible, however, especially if they hit short. But, if you are on the baseline and they are at the net, you have very few good options.
It is time to try a third shot lob. Think “position” not “winner.” Make your opponents scramble. Open up the court vertically. Add a new dimension to your game. We think short (dink) and long (drive). We think side to side (angles). Add the upper reaches of the court to your repertoire. When you play outside, using the vertical dimension can also add the sun and the wind as factors your opponents may not enjoy. But, most of all, the third shot lob is worth developing because everyone else is getting better and more versatile. You have to step up or you will fall behind. •
Alice Tym was ranked 13th in the world for tennis in the ‘60s. She’s been named USPTA Coach of the Year and is a USPTA Master Professional. As a 4.5 pickleball player, she won gold in Huntsman, NSGA Nationals, US Open, and USA Pickleball events around the country. Alice is an IPTPA member, SSIPA founding board member, Bainbridge Cup Originator and gold medalist in Spain, Italy, and Germany.