The Nick Lob

Practice using the Nick Lob serve

Both the sideways and vertical angles plus touch define the quality of your nick lob. First, the goal of your nick lob is to avoid having the ball be returnable until it’s at least 35′ back in the backcourt. That allows you time to extricate yourself from the back of the service box before the ball glances off the sidewall at your target about 7′ feet from the back wall. That’s just inside the last 8′ X 4′ sideways stacked panel on the sidewall. And your target height on the sidewall is the width of 2 sideways panels or 8′ high or higher. That way the ball can’t be returned by the receiver at least until it grazes off the wall.

Your front wall target for the serve is 12′ or even higher on the front wall. A trick to learn to produce that 12′ height is to turn and face the back wall and stand between the short line and the dashed line, and, with your forehand lob motion, loft the ball up and hit the back wall above the regulation 12′ high glass. It’ll be obvious when the lob is too low. You’ll train yourself to find that 12′ high or higher target and you’ll learn your muscle memory and it’ll be memorable.

The thing you learn other than the loft up is what part of the “box” works best for you to serve, including: central in the service box, off center away from the targeted sidewall or closer along that sidewall, although closer is generally less popular, as it’s a tougher angle to find for most because it’s smaller requiring more precision. Also, you choose whether your position is near the front of the box, at the back of the box or more central, whichever one works best for you. After the height into your target wall, the angle from racquet to ball contact up and sideways into the front wall is very important to get the ball to your target deep on the sidewall with accuracy.

The trick there is some quick geometry. As an example, if you make contact at the very center of the box 10′ from either sidewall, your front wall target is just a little less than 5′ off the sidewall targeted. If you aren’t less than 5′ or you hit closer to the middle of the front wall, the ball won’t hit the sidewall. There it’d probably be attacked right out of midair by many receivers because it’ll also be bouncing past the dashed line. If the wall target is closer or about 4′ from the sidewall earlier sidewall contact will cause the ball to veer out into the center right toward the thankful receiver and you’ll have to give up the center (or jump over their return) to not block the straight in and V cross-court angles required by the rules. So that shows you the need for accuracy. When your ball toss is not in the direct center of the box, just adjust and do the math to find a little over halfway to the target sidewall as your target from contact for your target angle to the front wall. Now you know the basic angles of 12′ high plus a little over halfway toward your sidewall from where you make contact, as you serve a nick lob. Most use a forehand lob motion and serve back behind themselves into the sidewall behind them. It is possible to serve into the wall in front of you, but it’s a delicate motion requiring lots of reps and a rhythmic, flowing motion. 

The other key aspect of a nick lob (other than the angles) is making sure you use feel or touch to loft the ball up to your target from a chest high ball bounce. Make  contact using a shoulder only motion with a laid back, locked wrist and a partially bent arm. The legs should be bent and the movement forward into your set front foot and front leg adds balance and momentum to your motion. The motion is a soft lift up to pinpoint your front wall target with an exaggerated upwards and across your body arm motion. Avoid springing or trampolining the ball off your string bed because it’s so hard to duplicate just that right amount of spring. The swing is more mechanical. It needs to be a very regimented, though smooth sweeping lift so that it’s repeatable because you’re looking for identical results each and every time you lift a nick lob. The nick lob is a drilling dream. The more you practice your nick lob, the more success you’ll realize in match play. You want to generate a weak return. You want the serve to graze off the sidewall, bounce and angle to bounce again right up against the back wall very much like the bounce of a High Z shot. On the other side of the ball when receiving a nick, a swing volley cutoff of the ball right as it drops off the sidewall and before the served ball could bounce will put some real pressure on the server because it would be very unexpected.

Normally the return move is to slide over to the sidewall and slip behind the ball as it’s dropping to lift it to the ceiling after the first bounce to neutralize the nick lob. If the nick drops off the sidewall with some extra momentum, it may bounce and rise up to contact the back wall and pop off for a setup more out in the middle of the backcourt where an inside out pass along the sidewall nick lobbed to the back corner should be a wide open angle. If the ball bounces off far enough and it’s an easy shot, the return could be a straight in kill-shot or a near corner kill-shot in the front corner up ahead. So that’s why you practice the nick lob, its angles and the touch to lift it and place it very high and softly on the sidewall so that it grazes off deep, bounces and takes its second bounce right up against the back wall without contacting the back wall. As server, after lofting up the lob, quickly move back and get as close to the dashed line as possible. From coverage, read what sort of return the receiver is attempting, such as a ceiling ball, an overhead, an off the back wall shot or earlier than all of those cutoff shot as the ball drops off the sidewall. There, just behind the dashed line or straddling it, you can cover most any nick lob return. If the receiver’s return is weak, attackable or defensive, like a ceiling ball, your nick lob was a good one. If they get to shoot your nick lob offensively, it’s back to the practice court to work on your nick lob placement.