Returning the Wallpaper Lob Serve
The wallpaper or wall hugger lob serve is used more and more in competitive play and it’s even used when serving to the forehand of the receiver because it’s so difficult to separate the ball from the wall when it hugs the wall on its way to the backcourt. The best way to defeat the wall hugging lob serve is to be aggressive with your movement and the tactics you use to return the serve. Here’s how.
1. First, quickly move to the sidewall and turn and face, meaning turn sideways and face the sidewall.
2. This turning sideways gets you out of a front wall facing position. By turning to face, your contact zone is much larger than it would be when swinging from an open stance. Also, by moving within a step of the wall, you’re closer to the sidewall so you won’t have to take a last second step to the wall and then rush your swing thru the ball.
3. Be deep, but not too deep. From about 35′ back, make a quick read on the ball. Ask yourself these questions:
a) Is the lob serve going to come off the back wall?
b) If you read the ball popping off the back wall, do you read the ball popping off the sidewall after hitting the back corner? Or does the ball look like it’ll pop off the back wall and still hug the sidewall? In any case, your best back wall setup shooting technique will be called upon.
c) If you read a possible wall hugger after the ball bounces and rises up (and you also read that it’s not going to be a back wall setup), is the serve able to be cutoff earlier before it gets really tight into the sidewall by making contact after the bounce and as it rises up and right as the serve passes the dashed line?
4. If you read the ball isn’t going to pop off the back wall, quickly decide if you can move in and intercept the ball early before it begins to hug the wall. If you anticipate you can get to the ball before it wallpapers the wall, hustle in with a trail foot crossover first step. This may be a quasi on the run shot; so focus hard on the ball and slow down your forward momentum as you flow the racquet head thru the ball. Early return choices include:
a) An overhead high to low shot is possible, but really hard to do if the ball is very close to the sidewall and the ball is also quickly bouncing up high; but, if there’s a little daylight, it’s doable. Mash the overhead crosscourt using the far sidewall to deaden the shot and keep your overhead pass off the back wall;
b) A delicately hit crosscourt ceiling targeting a spot deeper on the ceiling is one better option;
c) Another option is to crank a high, hard Z diagonally into the far front corner; and
d) It’ll be difficult to go down the line with your ceiling. But, if you’re avoiding the other side of the court due to the doubles opponent there or your singles competitor’s stroke from there, for return option 4 pick out a ceiling target just a little out from the sidewall that’ll drop the ceiling ball in the backcourt about 5-6′ off the same sidewall and you’ll avoid catching the sidewall when going for a tighter DTL ceiling ball.
5 – If you read the serve is going to hug tight to the wall from its first bounce on, an early cutoff isn’t a good move. That kind of cutoff would require taking the hugger right after its bounce, and that’s way too tough to do, on the rise. Wait. When you read the ball can’t be cutoff and it’s not going to pop off the back wall, you’re in the classic pickle of, “What do you do with a wall hugger serve?”.
First, drop back to within a few feet of the back wall. Then watch the ball carefully and read the ball’s dropping angle into the back corner. When you see the ball’s down angle, HERE’S THE HUGGER RETURN MAGIC. Place your racquet frame right up against the sidewall with the strings pointed up at the front court ceiling. Then, as the ball drops, do ‘the slide’ by sliding the racquet along the wall and up through the ball. The idea is to scrape up a DTL ceiling while shooting for a slightly deeper ceiling target than you’d use for a touch, slice ceiling. Follow-through after contact up toward your ceiling target. Then follow your shot in by moving along the wall with the ball.
If instead of ‘the slide’, you try to pluck the ball right off the sidewall by sacrificing your racquet frame, you’ll find it extremely hard to pluck it off. When swinging to pluck it off, many times you’ll skip your shot which in turn will boost the server’s wall hugger lobbing confidence. Make the post scraping run along the wall so you can quickly move into center to get in defensive position because your shot might not be perfect. And you’re in the rally, so D-up.
6. If you read the ball can’t be cutoff and it’s going to pop off the back wall, (let it and) get back even deeper. Move back and prepare to move off the back wall with the ball. Keep your feet alive. Ideally the wall hugger back wall ball will hit the corner and then separate from the sidewall slightly popping out to give you more of a classic back wall setup. Sometimes though the ball won’t pop out and it’ll stay glued to the sidewall.
a) Serve pops out — If the serve does pop off the back and also pop out from the sidewall, it’s still a tough return because of that late angle change but it’s far easier than the slide. Plan A is a crosscourt pass. Select a howitzer pass that’s not a killshot because you have to adjust late to a ball popping out at you, so controlling a short shot is a big stretch. A wide angle pass (WAP) is a less likely angle because the competitor can legally block that angle while (they should be) allowing the V pass across the court to the far, back corner. Plan B is a pass along that same sidewall, if you can get behind the ball and shoot straight while avoiding catching the sidewall either on the way in and definitely on the way out. Also factor in not overhitting the DTL and leaving your shot up as a back wall setup. Plan C is a very deep target on the sidewall and going for a splat while using touch or less than 100% of your power in your swing to leave the ball short in the front court.
b) Serve hugs sidewall both in and out — If the wall hugger pops off the back wall but still hugs the sidewall, you have the classic problem a wall hugger presents, with one big wrinkle. As the ball pops off, you must quickly get your racquet behind the ball. Stick your racquet to the wall and do the slide along the wall. Make sure to lift your return going for a DTL ceiling. Were you to try to pluck the ball off the sidewall with a quick swing, your odds of being successful would be very low. Be in control and calmly lift to the ceiling. Hurrying may cause errors. As the ball pops off the back wall, just slide the racquet along the wall thru the ball and lift. Know that the ball is already going forward, so just redirect it up. Then follow your shot forward and move into center and watch the competitor play fetch.
Returning Wallpaper Ceilings
One other point about THE SLIDE is that the same technique works when returning a ceiling ball that’s a wall hugger, too. Get back deep very early. Read. If you see the ceiling is gonna wallpaper the wall and drop in the corner, turn sideways. Get your frame against the wall and slide it up thru the ball as it drops down toward you. Exaggerate your follow-through and follow your shot and curve your run into center. To drill wallpaper ceiling returns, feed yourself DTL ceilings. When one hugs the wall do the slide. Then asses your result, adjust, and repeat.