Over the years playing tennis, I haven’t faced that many left handed players. However, on the rare occasions when I’ve played them in singles, I certainly have to adapt my tactics and think about where I’m placing my shots, particularly on the serve.
In this article, let’s take a look at whether left handed tennis players are actually better tennis players overall, some of the advantages they have over right handed players, as well as some tips for beating them.
Are left handed tennis players better? As of 2020 there are 15 left handed tennis players in the top 100 on the men’s side, and 12 on the women’s side. It is widely accepted that around 10% of the world’s population are left handed, so looking at the tennis rankings it does give them a slight advantage. But what about tournament victories and at grand slams? Let’s look at all this in more detail.
How do you beat a lefty at tennis?
One of the biggest reasons why it’s tough to play lefties is that it’s so easy to fall into a pattern where they are attacking your weakness; the backhand, with their strength; the forehand. In a cross court rally from the ad side, they can push you back and pounce on any ball which is short on their side of the court.
So you have to find a way to hit to their weaker side; the backhand, whenever possible. This may mean going down the line if you’re stuck in a cross court rally with them attacking your backhand, but give yourself plenty of margin inside the line and height over the net so you’re not taking any chances. Experiment with mixing up the depth to their backhand side too. You can try a short slice, or a high moonball to pin them back in the court. See which they find more uncomfortable.
Also, if you have an effective slice serve, you can target their weaker side when you’re serving from the deuce side. Force them out wide, get a weaker return and put the ball away for a winner. Here are some other tips for playing left handed tennis players:
Are left handed tennis players better?
Looking at the history of tennis, there is a strong case to suggest that left handed players have been more successful than right handed ones over the years.
Looking at Wimbledon from 1968-2018 (since the Open Era began), 23 titles have been won by left handed players out of 102 singles tournaments. Assuming 10% of the population are left handed, you’d expect them to only have won 10 titles.
Looking at the US Open since 1881, 28 titles have been won by left handers in men’s singles out of 139, which is also more than you’d expect.
What advantages do left handed players have?
The main advantage left handed players have is that they present a different challenge to right handed players. If 90% of all tennis players are right handed, they are going to be used to playing these opponents, using various patterns and plays. However, playing a lefty is a different proposition. They are going to be a lot more comfortable playing a righty, than a righty playing a lefty.
However, perhaps the biggest advantage left handed players have is on the serve. On the ad side they can serve out wide to most players’ backhands, which is generally the weaker side. Not only that, the scoring system actually favours serving from the ad side in key moments to win a game.
The serving advantage might be the reason why left handed players have fared better than average over the years in grand slams. At Wimbledon in particular, which traditionally suits a serve and volley game, left handed players can serve out wide on the ad side and pick off weaker returns to close out the point.
Who are some famous left handed tennis players (past and present)?
Here is a list of some decorated left handed tennis players over the years, both past and present:
Arguably the greatest left handed tennis player of all time in the men’s game, Rafael Nadal has won 20 grand slam titles to date. He could well have won more by now if it weren’t for some injuries which have held him back. Despite not having a huge first serve, Rafa is actually ranked as the 17th best server of all time. Moreover, he has the most effective second serve in history, winning 57.4% of points to date. Very tough to break the Nadal serve!
Denis Shapovalov is currently the second highest ranked left handed player on the ATP Tour after Nadal. He’s improved a lot over the past year and at just 21 years old, he certainly has the potential to win some tournaments in the future. He currently has 1 title to his name, a victory in Stockholm.
I remember watching Ivanesevic’s lethal serve at Wimbledon many years ago. He hit so many aces, picking up a lot of free points during his service game. And who could forget the famous victory at Wimbledon when he entered as a wildcard in 2001. Ivanesevic also is the second best server of all time in terms of points won on the first serve; an impressive 82.5%.
A true entertainer and still going strong at 61 years young, McEnroe continues to show his tennis skills and his competitive nature at various exhibition matches throughout the year. We all know he has a fiery temper, but doesn’t that make it more interesting to watch? McEnroe had an unusual serving style, with a very side on angle to the baseline. However, it was incredibly effective, partly because he could disguise his serve placement so well. McEnroe had a solid overall game, but his serve undoubtedly helped him win 77 career singles titles and 7 grand slam titles.
Rod Laver won an impressive 11 grand slam titles and is considered one of the all time greats. Perhaps his greatest achievement is winning all 4 grand slams in a calendar year, twice. No other player on the women’s or men’s side has equalled this feat.
Jimmy Connors was a tennis great in his heyday and had a great rivalry with McEnroe and Borg. He won 109 titles during his career, which is the highest achieved on the ATP tour. He also won 8 grand slams.
Some say Monica Seles was the most talented female tennis player ever. When she burst onto the scene as a teenager, she was unstoppable, becoming the youngest player to win at Roland Garros at just 16 years old. Seles won 9 grand slams in total, and 7 of those when she was still at the early stages of her career. If it wasn’t for the horrific stabbing incident in Hamburg in 1993, she would probably have won a lot more, and posed a real challenge to the dominance of Steffi Graf in the 1990s.
Petra Kvitova possesses an effective serve and a powerful forehand. She’s won Wimbledon twice and has 27 career singles titles on the WTA tour.
Without doubt the greatest left handed female tennis player of all time, Navratilova won 167 career singles titles in her career. No other tennis player on either the men’s or women’s side has come close to this total. She was a superb volleyer, and playing on grass really suited her game. Navratilova won 7 grand slam titles at Wimbledon and 16 overall.
Who is the best left handed tennis player of all time?
On the men’s side, it has to be Rafael Nadal with 20 grand slam titles and 86 career singles titles. Furthermore, he is certainly the best ever tennis player on clay as he seems to dominate the French Open year after year.
On the women’s side, it’s hard to look past Martina Navratilova. She won 16 grand slams and the most career singles titles in history. I’m not sure if any tennis player will ever achieve so many singles titles in a career. Martina was also a fine doubles player.
What percentage of tennis players are left handed?
As I mentioned above, around 10% of the world’s population are left handed. That means on average for every ten tennis players, nine are right handed and only one is left handed.
In a study conducted by Florian Loffing, he found out that in table tennis, 26% of the top male players are left handed, which is way above the global average of 10%. His research also looked at badminton, tennis, squash, cricket and baseball.
The Netherlands has a rate of 13.23%, with the US closely in second with 13.10%. However, way down the list is China with a rate of just 3.50%. This is in part because children are encouraged to use their right hand during their school years. Source: https://www.statista.com/chart/20708/rate-of-left-handedness-in-selected-countries