I am a huge fan of the lob. It must be used by all players. The lob is such a great way to get yourself out of trouble. It gives you time to recover back to the ‘T’ when you have been under pressure, and if played well can turn defence into attack in one shot.
Very rarely have I seen a player who can really play this shot well. Nick Matthew and Ramy most definitely use the lob very well. They are able to, not only get themselves out of trouble at the front of the court by using it, but they can win points outright. They achieve greater height on their lobs than other players do, causing a more vertical drop in the back corner, causing the ball to bounce less off the back wall. As long as the pace is judged well and it doesn’t hit the back wall first, it is extremely hard to get your racket behind and round the ball to return it to the front wall.
Another aspect of the lob which I love – it shows you’re thinking. It’s easy to run fast and hit hard out of the front corners, it’s a more natural, automatic response. It’s very difficult to run fast, and then soften your hands at the last moment to slow the ball down. This not only takes great skill, but it takes thought. Thinking in squash is a good thing!
OK, how to actually play a perfect lob:
For me, the one key point you are trying to achieve is “hang time” (or “air time”). The main purpose is to give you time to recover to the ‘T’ when you’re under pressure. The longer the ball is in the air, the longer you have to return to the centre of the court before your opponent hits the ball. You need to remember this goal when you think how best to play it.
Too many people “hit” or “slice” their lob. This causes the ball to take a more direct route through the air to the back of the court, therefore causing it to be in the air for less time than is desirable, ergo. it gives you less time to recover before your opponent hits their shot. When playing a lob, I regularly see people hitting the front wall just above the service line, the ball continues to rise, but not much, possibly not clearing the reach of the opponent. Even if the shot does evade your opponent’s volley, unless the side wall is hit at exactly the right point where pace can come off the ball causing it to die in the back corner, the ball will bounce a little bit off the back wall, giving your opponent space to get their racket behind the ball to play a straight drive.
What I look for in the perfect lob is to caress / push up through the bottom of the ball, aiming up near the very top of the front wall, judging the pace to fly close to the ceiling. You’ll be surprised how soft you need to hit the ball, as this extra height will carry it to the back wall. This creates a much “loopier” trajectory, meaning the ball is in the air much, much longer (there’s your hang time!). Obviously this gives you more time to recover. This extra height will definitely fly over the reach of your opponent’s racket. The angle of the downward drop from such a height is steeper, meaning the ball will bounce back up in a straighter / more vertical line keeping it very close to the back wall, instead of horizontally which would come off the back wall further.
A cross-court lob played in this way will serve the number one purpose, giving you time to recover. Even if you over-hit the lob and it hits the back wall first, your opponent will get the ball back but you have by now recovered to the ‘T’ and are ‘back in the rally’, no longer under pressure (as you were the previous shot from their attacking front court shot). If judged well it can be an instant winner. When this happens it’s extremely frustrating for your opponent as they thought they had you in a position for them to win the point, so making it incredibly satisfying for you!
Softness + Height = “hang time” = Recovery