The Dreaded Moonball

In all of sports, is there a shot more reviled than the moonball? Granted, I’m not an expert, or even well-versed, in other sports, but I still feel pretty comfortable with that broad assertion.

For sake of clarity, I’ll define the moonball as a topspin lob hit when the opponent is at the baseline. If someone is at the net and you lob over him, I’d just call that a lob.

When a professional player initiates a moonball, you can hear a murmur rise in the crowd. It’s as if each spectator is leaning over to his neighbor, saying, “I paid good money to watch this?!”

Former world number one Caroline Wozniacki regularly employed the moonball, though she seems to use it more sparingly these days. She was a fairly controversial number one, not just because she’d never won a Grand Slam tournament, but also because of her defensive, moonball-heavy playing style.

You’ll find moonball disdain at the club level, too. Sometimes a player will come off the court griping that her victorious opponent only hit moonballs. Invariably, there’s a derisive tone to this complaint, as if the loss doesn’t really count.

In some ways, I can understand the feeling. When you can smoke the ball, it’s frustrating to lose to someone who lofts it. Our gut tells us that the player who hits harder should win.

In reality, of course, strategy matters as much as power, and the moonball is often a smart play. Along with a few volleys, the moonball changed the course of the women’s French Open final. Down a set and a break, Halep mixed up the pace, throwing in the big looping moonball to drive Stephens off the baseline. A few games of that strategy sufficed to swing the momentum in Halep’s favor, and she proceeded to run away with the match.

Adding a moonball to your arsenal can help you

  • Disrupt the rhythm of an opponent who’s in the groove
  • Buy time to get back in position when you’re pulled wide
  • Slow down the pace when you’re beginning to tire
  • Push your opponent back so you can close and put away an easy volley or overhead

Obviously, a weak moonball, lacking depth and spin, won’t help you. For advice on hitting an effective moonball, I turned to Tom Damkowitch, head pro at Boston Sports Club in Newton, Massachusetts. His advice:

  • The more topspin you can impart to the ball, the better, as your opponent will have a higher bouncing ball to handle.
  • If you don’t hit with topspin, use your regular stroke, but aim up.
  • Keep your ball deep–the deeper, the better!
  • It may be easier to hit the moonball with an open stance on your forehand side.
  • Targeting the moonball to your opponent’s backhand often makes for a great approach shot.
  • If your opponent hits a moonball to you, a moonball back is your easiest and safest return.

Adding a few moonballs to my game probably won’t get me a French Open trophy or a number one ranking. But it could be the extra tactic I need to win a few more matches.

What about you? Do you love or hate the moonball? 

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