You didn’t ask for it, and many people will try and convince you it’s a negative thing, but you’ve been given a gift! Now you’ve just got to figure out how best to use it. You’re left-handed of course, and in tennis terms, there are few bigger advantages you can have before you’ve even walked on the court.
I can’t remember the number of times I’ve rocked up against club players and they’ve said oh no, not you and your leftie serve again. This is music to my ears. I’ve taken a step towards victory and we haven’t even started the warm up yet.
Of course, the higher the level you play, the better equipped your opponents will be to deal with your “leftiness”, but even at the very very top, this is an invaluable advantage.
Why, you ask? Well, the fact is that every match I play as a leftie is unusual. Either I’m playing in a match featuring a leftie vs a rightie, or a leftie vs a leftie, but never have I ever played in a match between two righties.
So, every time I go on the court I am faced with the unusual. I have spent 20 years preparing for the unusual and honing my game to maximize my performance in either of these unusual matchups.
A rightie, on the other hand, spends most of their time playing in regular tennis matches between two right-handers. They are comfortable with the norm, and even if they enjoy playing against lefties, they hardly ever get the chance to practice against them.
This is an unbelievable advantage for a left-handed tennis player, but I often watch lefties who fail to capitalize on it.
Just look at Rafael Nadal. He might be one of the most talented tennis players of all time, but his game is firmly rooted in the advantages that playing left-handed give him. You would have to question whether Nadal would have had the same level of success employing his game as a right-handed player.
Luckily for him, myself, and hopefully you, that’s not something we will ever have to consider. We don’t have to waste any time contemplating how we would play in a conventional right-hander vs right-hander match, instead, we can focus almost solely on a rightie vs leftie matchup.
Using the great Nadal as my example, I’m going to talk you through some easy ways to increase your success on the tennis court simply by understanding the benefits of your “leftiness”.
Topspin Forehand Crosscourt
The serve seemed like an obvious point to start with for this article. It starts the point and undoubtedly gives lefties a little edge, but I decided that the forehand crosscourt was just too important not to put first.
Nadal is probably most famous for the incredible spin he puts on his forehand. Something he uses to get the ball to bounce high to his opponents backhand and drag them out of the court using big angles.
This is not just a coincidence. First of all, the forehand is the easiest shot for most people. It has the greatest spin and power potential and therefore is likely to be most people’s favorite shot. This is true of lefties as much as righties, but the huge advantage being a leftie is that your heavy topspin forehand is going to go crosscourt to your opponent’s weakest shot – their backhand.
For the majority of people, the most difficult shot to hit with power is a high backhand, or a backhand that is far from the body. It’s just an awkward shot and one that most people look to try and run around if possible.
The thing is, if you’re playing against a good leftie who hits with a ton of spin, you’re not going to be able to run around it, and that thing’s going to be kicking at you like a mule. As Nadal demonstrates, this leads to the perfect opportunity to attack from. Wait long enough and a short ball will come.
I can hear everyone shouting at this point that surely, if my strength goes to his weakness, then surely his strength is going to go to my weakness when he’s playing forehands to my backhand.
This is true, but it goes back to the fact that you practice every day playing against this unusual pattern of play, while the rightie seldom gets to see it. If you recognize this opportunity you can use it to your advantage all match long, and if your opponent is not well equipped to deal with it then there’s almost nothing he can do.
As a leftie, my favorite pattern of play is to plow a big forehand deep into my opponent’s backhand, then open the court up with a tight angle out wide before stepping into the court to crush the inevitable short ball that is coming my way.
I do it so often, I often wonder if it is my only tactic. Obviously, Nadal has a billion ways to beat players, but even he goes to this pattern over and over.
It’s not rocket science, but if you’re a leftie and you’re not doing it then you’ve got a lot of extra gains out there to be made.
Disclaimer: Occasionally you will play against an annoying kid like my little brother who has been playing against lefties all his life. Unfortunately, they’re very adept at “beast-moding” high backhands down the line for winners, so in this situation, you must skip to plan B.
The thing about a leftie serve is that often the worse it is, the more effective it is. That sounds very weird indeed, but I am convinced of it. I was playing in an ITF Junior event one time and I had been breezing through my service games hitting my leftie serve out wide, barely losing a point on serve in the first rounds.
I started warming up for the quarterfinals and I just had that feeling, I was hitting absolute bombs, my serve felt a dream. The only problem was, the better I hit it, the better the kid returned it.
As my coach pointed out after the game, the reason my serve was so effective in the early rounds was because I wasn’t hitting it hard. I just let it swing, and that’s what did the damage.
I promised you an analysis of Nadal’s game and now I’m boring you with stories of my tennis youth! I can only apologize!
You see Nadal use this tactic a lot though. You certainly wouldn’t say he has the best serve out there, but what he does do is use his left-handedness to set-up the point how he wants it. Not only is the leftie serve out wide to the deuce hard to return, but it almost guarantees you a forehand off the next shot.
When you’ve got a forehand like Nadal’s that almost guarantees you the point, and it can do the same for you. A player might hit a right-handed flat serve at 140mph and if the opponent gets decent contact on it the point can be 50/50. If you get the leftie serve firing though, you’re going to start the point at 60-40 at least.
Obviously, you need some variety on your serve to keep the opponent guessing, but this should really be your bread and butter serve. It’s got a high margin for error and is extremely successful.
Disclaimer: Sometimes you will come up against an annoying kid like my little brother who has been playing against lefties all the time, and he will return better off his backhand side than his forehand. He might even beast mode your leftie serve back down the line for a clean winner. In this case, you really do need that variety.
There is a little bit of a negative to this one. That horrible leftie serve out wide… well righties can do the same thing to us on the deuce side. The plus side is that hopefully, they don’t practice it as much, because it would normally go to a righty’s forehand.
The big advantage I find comes when you are facing a second serve. If you’re anything like me then you really want a forehand to attack, and being a leftie, you’ve got a better chance of getting that.
The reason is, righties play righties so much that they get a lot of practice at hitting second serves to a righty’s backhand, but you guessed it, that’s our forehand! I swear some righties can go an entire match and still not seem to realize it.
If you can start the point with a forehand, then you’ve got the perfect opportunity to put your whole leftie plan into action. Attack that second serve with plenty of spin, deep into your opponent’s backhand and suddenly you’re right on top in the point.
Of course, you will find plenty of right-handed players that are adept at picking out your backhand with their second serve, but if you can get just a few extra forehands at the right time then this can make a big difference.
Nadal will literally run a marathon if it means hitting a forehand over a backhand, and it’s all part of his leftie game plan. He knows that getting that big hit early in the point can make the difference between winning and losing.
No disclaimer here – Lawrence isn’t that good at picking out my backhand on his second serve.
Believe in your Leftie Self
Right handers may call us funny names and think that we live in a right-handed world, but the truth is the right-handedness of this world only makes us lefties more dangerous.
Sure, I can’t use a peeler or scissors, but if that means picking up free point after free point with my leftie serve then that’s a price I’m willing to pay.
One of the things that my coach never ever stopped talking about when I was young was using my left-handedness to my advantage, and it is something that has undoubtedly won me a lot of matches in my time.
As a passionate member of the left-handed club, it bugs me when I see lefties playing who don’t use their uniqueness to their advantage. If you take these simple steps, then you will see results.
Develop your weapons around your left-handedness, like Nadal, and you might just find yourself winning some more matches.