If Manuel Orantes can use the lob to beat Jimmy Connors, you can use it to frustrate your weekend opponent. The lob is probably the least understood and most underestiumated shot in tennis. Playing without a lob is like playing golf without a sandwedge.

A lob can get you out of more predicaments than a cabinet reshuffle -- if you get it over your opponent's head. Imagine you're lifting a tray of drinks with your racket instead of the palm of your hand. Elevate the racket from knee level all the way over your head.

This is how to hit a high arching or defensive lob. This is the one to use in an emergency -- when your opponent has driven you off the court and you need time to recover position.

The other, more difficult and more exciting shot is the offensive lob, which is like Harold Solomon's "moonball" ground-strokes. Unlike the defensive lob, it has plenty of forward momentum; once it clears your adversary's outstretched racket, it should reach the back fence before he can run it down.If your opponent tends to drape himself over the net like a gorilla, surprise him with a timely offensive lob.

A short or weak lob will usually result in your opponent hitting an overhead smash. The overhead is a relatively simple shot, an abbreviated service motion with added choreography (Rod Laver once compared it to hammering a nail high on a wall). But making a connection with a rapidly descending spheroid can be like trying to find a light switch in the dark.

You have to be prepared to hit an overhead. As soon as you see a lob going up, turn sideways to the net and immediately take your racket back into the "backscratcher" position. Keep the ball in front of you all the time; it may help to point at it with your free hand the way Arthur Ashe does. Then take a full swing at the height of your reach -- not at shoulder level. Follow through and move forward again to meet the next return.

A good deep lob will forcce you to back-pedal furiously. If you have to go airborne to meet the ball, imagine yourself climbing a ladder at the last instant. Don't temporize on your overhead -- decide beforehand where you want to place the ball, then hit it hard, flat and deep.

Q -- Where should I place my lobs?

A -- Deep and into the corners (except sometimes down the middle in doubles); whenever possible, lob to your opponents backhand side, since very few people have a backhand overhead smash.

Q -- Since the pros usually return even the best lobs, why should an amateur lob so much?

A -- The pros use the lob to keep their opponents away from the net, while you can use it to elicit overhead errors and to tire out your opponent.

Q -- How should I respond to an opponent who lobs me every time I go to the net?

A -- Work on your overhead smash.

Q -- When should I let a lob bounce before hitting it?

A -- It's very hard to connect properly with a very high lob, even close to the net. Back up a bit, let the ball bounce, then hit the bounce as though it were your service toss.