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Playing Lefties

Q. "Left-handed players seem to be the most difficult to play against. The spin on their serves seems to cause returns to go in every direction, except the direction you want. I have tried to let it bounce and hit it late and early – it's no help.

Even the strategy to play against them is much different. I tried to play as though I was playing someone with a fantastic backhand – no help. I have the shots, but lefties are a strange sort. Any suggestions?"

From Kenny S., Highland Park, IL:

I would first say to relax. You may be over-thinking when you get out there with a left-hander. Play your game. On the serve, you know it is going to spin the other way, so expect that. I do like to hit more to their backhands, but play your game and have the mind of a winner.

From Eric R., Santa Rosa, CA:

You mention good, strategic alternatives in your question about lefties. The problem mostly resides in your head and in a lack of perseverance in applying those alternatives.

If you are dreading that lefty serve, then you are your own worst enemy. Stay positive, and practice, practice, practice.

First, search out a practice partner of the lefty persuasion. Next, practice taking his shots on the rise, since spin takes greater effect if you let it rise away from the bounce. Instead, step in and attack it. Backhand slice when taken on the rise is usually the most reliable way to neutralize a lefty kick serve.

The reason many people share your fears is simple. There are so many fewer lefties that you have not adjusted mentally and physically.

Remember, Federer got a lefty practice partner to help him in his quest vs. Nadal. Do the same, and you will gain more confidence.

From Coach Poppie, Palm Bay, FL:

Yes, the south-paw slice spins opposite of the right-handers, and old guys crop instead of slice – etc., etc., etc. So what?

To play well:

* Before the first point is played, before you return one ball in a warm-up or practice, know what hand the opposite player is. First, it makes rallying easier and more fun and helps you find their weaknesses.

* Recognize the movement of the opponent’s racquet. Once the racquet is in motion, the likelihood of that player changing courses is nil.

* Understand spin cause and effect. Poor slice sets up, great slice stays low. Both need attacking action.

* Prepare early. Set your racquet just before the ball is struck, before is passes the net and certainly before the bounce. Your brain takes about 50 milliseconds to recognize what is happening. The ball sits on the string 4 milliseconds, yet most players stand there and question what their brain has already decided. It is not algebra.

* Have fast feet and slow hands. Start adjusting your position the moment you see the ball leave the opponent’s racquet. Keep making little “Jimmy Connors” steps until you are in your best position as often as possible to strike the ball with smooth control motion. Clean through the ball. (This puts your control to the ball)

* Get proactive instead of reactive. Predetermine what you are going to do, and just do it. Take the game to them.

As a lefty, I watch right-handers not even recognize that they are playing a lefty till they miss a bunch or somebody tells them.

Hope this helps. Good luck.

From Greg B., Renton, WA:

How do you get better playing lefties? The quick answer is: Play lefties more often.

I've had the fortune of playing a lefty as my regular partner every week for the past five years. What I've found is that my own backhand has evolved as a weapon, as opposed to a liability with most players. Now when people play against me for the first time, they see that I've got a big forehand... so, naturally, they try playing to my backhand, thinking that it might be weak. They quickly find out they've made a big mistake.

I guess my best advice, if you want to play better against lefties, is to not be afraid to develop your backhand, as that is what you will likely need more when playing against a lefty. Get comfortable with it. I used to run around to my forehand at times, but now I am so confident with my backhand that I sometimes find myself running around to take the backhand, which really throws people off.

I don't have any magical answers that will instantly make you successful against lefties. It's just going to take a lot of practice. Now when I see my opponent is a lefty, I feel even more confident because they're probably thinking they can just pick on my backhand. Then they give me a nice juicy spin serve to my backhand... and I just rip it!!

Good luck!!

From Dick B., Morrisville, VT:

Returning against a left-handed players starts with a step to your left, as the ball will come off the court to your left. You will have to make a bigger adjustment based on the server’s speed, spin, etc. During play, the same adjustment should be made. However, if they slice the ball, the return must be made with a faster racquet speed through the ball.

From Hashim B., Jersey City, NJ:

My best suggestion against your lefty problems is to shift to the left and over-play your backhand. Lefties are used to getting balls in their forehand sweet spot because a righty's backhand crosscourt, in most cases (rec. & club players), is a weaker, maintain-the-point-type shot.

By over-playing your backhand, it offers several options:

1. Better positioning that allows you to run around your backhand and hit the stronger forehand set-up shot

2. The lefty will play the open court, down-the-line winner, but you're expecting that, so unless they paint the line, you jump all over the anticipated forehand opportunity

3. The lefty serve naturally moves towards your backhand, but if you have shifted left, you're already in place when the serve pulls you wide and you want that lefty kick serve into the forehand power groove.

On top of shifting left, "chip and charge" with a slice deep to their backhand. Low slice makes most players (lefties and righties) hit higher return shots, so your chance for volley put-aways should increase.

Common practice I encourage to ALL players, ALL the time: ERP, ERP, ERP (EARLY RACQUET PREPARATION). Put your dancing feet on (move on the balls of your feet), establish one or two goals specific to the situation (get my first serve in, hit deep to the corners) and say them out loud, as often as needed, as a reminder.

From John L., Chicago, IL:

I'm a 3.5/4.0 player, and I have struggled with that a lot in the past and finally am starting to get a handle on lefties.

First, don't play them like someone with a fantastic backhand. Look at it more as playing against someone with a weak forehand (only if their backhand is the weaker shot, of course). Hit that fantastic cross-court forehand of yours hard and deep from the deuce court, and you'll be seriously challenging a lefty backhand!

This is the time that your training on trying to work on a right-handed backhand can totally relax. Hit those cross-court forehands from the deuce court!

On receiving serve, there is a tip I picked up from Tennis magazine that really helped that says you should adjust your position to the left a bit when preparing for the left-hander's serve. On the deuce court, a lefty is a lot more likely to come down the 'T' (center line) on their serve than on the ad court (like right-handers are on the ad court). So move a couple of steps toward the center of the court on the deuce side. This even applies on the ad side because their serve will tend to really go strong at your backhand, so try moving even into the alley a bit to challenge that serve.

And stay focused! Sometimes I don't even realize that my opponent is a left-hander until he's about to begin the match after the warm up! Try to assess that early when you play, and warm up hitting to his forehand or his backhand right away!

I hope that helps some.

From Jason G., Timonium, MD:

As a lefty myself, I am always looking for ways to exploit the fact that in a cross-court rally I can send my strong forehand to a righty’s backhand. I use deep, topspin shots to force a weak ball or to catch my opponent moving back, at which point I come in and look for an easy volley.

Also, the slice serve works tremendously to pull righties out wide on the ad court. My suggestions are to always take the ball early on the backhand side because that will be my bread and butter for pulling you off court on both groundstrokes and the slice serve.

Be careful to watch the ball to an exaggerated degree on the serve, as this will aid in adjusting to the spin quickly and eventually allow you to place your return like you would against any other.

If you have a weak backhand, don’t let me exploit it in a cross-court rally. Hit an approach or drop shot to take me out of my comfort zone, and let me know that I can’t win easy points on that side. As well as my slice serve works to pull you off court on the ad side, so does yours on the deuce side.

Remember these things, and you’ll beat your club lefties in no time.

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