We’ll discuss how to play against left handed players and give a tactical blue print to win such a matchup.
If you are a first time reader of my blog you might want to read the previous articles in order to understand some conclusions, e.g. why you can apply more power on the forehand than the backhand. This enables us to keep the thoughts concise and we don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
1. Angle of play for serve and receive
Serving versus a righty should be familiar for everyone. He can cover most of the table with the backhand but it gets more difficult the further we play into his forehand side. Hence a short ball to a righties forehand side which bounces twice can be attacked with the least amount of power or demands huge footwork efforts. Every long serve can be attacked regularly.
Against a lefty a short “forehand” placement lets the lefty rip the ball into our wide forehand side. Luckily we get another safe harbor, this time the lefties short forehand. Fortuna is merciful with us and we benefit from the fact that our regular pendulum serve carries the type of spin, which is the hardest to receive with a forehand blade angle.
We basically get a free, Zhang Jike like “reverse pendulum” serve. Make sure the ball bounces twice or you invite your opponent for a hook loop and you might end up as Xu Xins opponent in a around the net feature as seen below. ( I know, Baum is a lefty aswell, this was not induced by a serve and it’s an exhibition point but you get the idea 😉 )
A good serve – 3rd ball attack combination would be a fast curving serve into the green area followed by a forehand or backhand loop into the lefties backhand. Since he can’t use a cross step in that direction, this should give most lefties a good amount of trouble. We obviously share the same strategic weakness, He Zhi Wen might ring a bell.
The receive position can be determined like the receive position versus a righty. At first, determine the angle of play ( green ). Then try to stand close to angle bisector line ( grey ) and stay more to the right or left of it depending on how much you want to use the forehand side.
A rule of thumb versus a lefty, try to stay in a way where you can tip the table edge with your backhand tip without twisting your upper body too much. We previously considered ourself lucky for the free good serve but as we can see, the opponent gets this type of serve aswell.
If this type of serve goes over the table simply loop it but pay attention to make a small step ( curved red arrow ) forward. Beside that, the same principles of spin evasion / usage hold and you can receive accordingly.
If you still have trouble with the receive aspect let me know below and describe your problem in detail.
2. Angle of play during the rally phase
Below you can see the typical ( not possible ) angle of play from lefties and righties. The variation where you can apply more power is displayed in red and the variation with less power in yellow.
Ordering the strokes by their possible power from high to low, we get the expected result of:
- forehand diagonal
- backhand diagonal
- backhand/forehand parallel.
This holds true for lefties and righties.
Let’s see how the results above can be applied. It’s obvious that both players want to apply maximum power onto every shot possible.
We start our thought experiment with the righty doing a diagonal forehand loop. According to our picture above the lefty has the two options of receiving with backhand(1) or forehand(2). At this point please remember that the maximum power you can apply from the forehand is always greater than the backhand power.
Case 1: Backhand receiving
The lefty can apply most power diagonally. However, by playing diagonally back the righty is able to play another strong diagonal forehand loop.
Given the superior power of the righties forehand against a lefties backhand we can speak of pinning the lefty down on his backhand with an advantage for the righty due to the applicable power.
The shot power is indicated as stated above (red=high power, yellow=less power). Please note that the diagonal backhand of the lefty is yellow here and not red as seen in the table above.
Thus the power was also weighted in relation to the incoming power as stated earlier ( more power on forehand than backhand).
At some point ( or even on the first ball ) the lefty will try to break free and plays a parallel ball.
However, he can’t apply to much power doing so and hence makes himself vulnerable to a strong ball into his wide forehand side.
Have a look at the picture below to imagine this situation.
From our righty perspective, this still looks promising since we have the stronger responses.
However, if the lefty is able to respond to 3 with a good diagonal forehand loop the situation changed into our worst nightmare.
Now he is able to use his stronger diagonal forehand into our (comparatively) weaker backhand side and can pin us down on our backhand.
What makes the situation more difficult to us then it was to him is experience.
A lefty is used to get strong sidespin into his backhand side from a righty while a righty rarely experiences really strong sidespin on backhand to backhand exchanges with another righty.
Hence we should make sure that the lefty can’t respond well to our backhand loop into his wide forehand. If we can’t achieve this we should favor a parallel shot direction.
From there the lefties backhand cycle starts again if he continues to use his backhand.
Side note: Forehand hook loops of a lefty
An infamous technique of most lefties is the forehand hook loop where the ball is hit in its descending phase with a huge amount of clockwise sidespin which curves into the righties body.
The above image should be read in the following way:
If you misjudge a righties loop, can can simply lean into the direction of the ball take a larger swinger radius and still hit it with reasonable power. If the miscalculation is bigger, you can add a jump into that direction while you backswing. Prior to landing your jump you hit the ball and you regain a balanced position. For even bigger miscalculations you can use the cross step technique.
Contrary, if you misjudge a lefties loop, you lose your balance since you have to shift all your weight to the left foot and need to swing close to the body with little force. For greater distances, you need to jump to the left while you backswing your blade, land and then do your forward swing. Compare this description with the case above.
Its gets even worse for large miscalculations since there is no footwork technique for covering large distances in a forehand stance to the left.
Hence, if a lefty starts hook looping, you might want to move a bit further to the left than you are used to beforehand to minimize this weakness.
The careful reader might have asked himself why we left out the option of playing a parallel forehand on the above cases.
As seen on the left, we got two options, playing straight(yellow) or curved(red) to point 3. The straight trajectory is considered weaker because the lefty can now start looping into our backhand with a hook or normal loop which we want to avoid.
A curved ball lets him face the same weird curving balls into his body. However, a lefty is probably used to this type of spin but its nevertheless worth a try against amateur players. The problem with the curved variation is the unclear return direction and the remaining/incoming spin.
If you go for the red variation, make sure to loop into the opponents body or a tad right of him so it poses the biggest possible threat to him.
Case 2: Forehand receiving
Summarizing case 1 we can conclude to pin the lefty on his backhand side from our forehand and return balls to our backhand parallel to his backhand aswell in most cases.
On higher playing levels, the lefty won’t let you do this all night long. He’ll step around on his backhand side to use his forehand and rip inside out loops which carry counter-clockwise spin.
Most semi professional lefties have quite good inside out forehands with reasonable power and placement variation which makes it hard for us to anticipate. A small silver lining is the fact that these topspin balls carry counter-clockwise spin which should be familiar to us and we can benefit from the thoughts of the side note.
If a lefty smells the chance to hit a direct winner, he might even loop traditionally with a straight trajectory(red) to our backhand. However, he’ll only do this if he believes we can’t make a good return, since any backhand block ( grey ) into his wide forehand overwhelms his possible regeneration/reaction time.
The same considerations as on case 1 lead to the conclusion of answering these balls with a placement into his backhand side. If possible we should use the forehand for such balls.
3. Fine tuning of the placement recommendation
We know that smallest angle of play is to be expected if we play to the tables middle line as seen below.
We now tweak this placement a little to achieve an even better result. By moving the placement a bit into his backhand side, he can use less forehand power and can’t profit equally from the given space if he uses the backhand side. Because the point is so special it deserves a stand alone picture without description and a moment of silence.
If you don’t believe the importance / dominance of this point, open your paypal account and pay me a 1 Euro equivalent every time this point is hit in the matches below. ( Campy description but I hope it gets the point across. 😉 )
4. Summary and complete game plan
- mostly short pendulum serve into his forehand zone->pop up->3rd ball attack
- faster serves of the same type with an all in 3rd ball attack into his backhand with your forehand or backhand
- from time to time long serves down the line to keep him guessing
- stand further to the right
- prepare to make a step forward incase the serve drifts away sideways on your forehand side
- if you see that the sidespin serve double bounces, rip it with a backhand loop or try to control it with a properly angled blade
- if the serve is long and drives away from your forehand, loop it into the opponents deep backhand or down the line, focus on a low trajectory
- lock the opponent on his backhand side with forehand loops, pay attention to hit the mentioned spot a bit left of the middle line and don’t go all in too early, most lefties have solid blocking skills on the backhand
- don’t use extreme angles if you aren’t sure to hit a winner or get a significant advantage – what goes around, comes around
- if he tries to break the pattern: enforce the same placement with every of your shots whether it’s forehand or backhand
- sudden! backhand shots into his long forehand are effective after a long phase of containment
- if he tries to move you into your backhand corner with slightly wandering block try suddenly changing into a backhand loop into his wide forehand or even an inside out loop to prevent that the same happens to you
- if he tries to loop forehand to forehand with you where he uses inside out loops, try cocking your wrist a bit back to cancel the sidespin but loop normally in general