The Lefty-Righty Matchup
by Han Xiao
Many players have specific styles that they are weak against or feel like they are weak against. This may be a result of not practicing against this style, or it may be because they have lost to this type of style in the past. Some of the common styles intermediate players have trouble against are choppers and other “junk rubber” players, players who have very heavy spin or great speed, and lefties.
Today, we’ll focus specifically on lefties and some of the tactics that can make us more successful against them. Practicing these tactics will help us be more confident when facing lefties even if we don’t get consistent practice against them. Lefties can also use these tactics to help against right handed players, but lefties are generally more used to playing against right handed players than vice versa.
It’s interesting to note that tactics in the lefty-righty matchup have really evolved along with the rest of the game. Older tactics between lefties and righties mainly included attacking from the forehand side into the opponent’s wide backhand corner, and going to the opponent’s wide forehand once in a while to stop them from stepping around prematurely. This has changed primarily due to stronger backhand play, players being stronger counter loopers off the opponent’s first attack, and a few other factors. We’re going to focus on more modern tactics in this matchup that almost everyone can employ.
1. The most important and most basic tactic is that in a lefty-righty matchup, it is much easier to attack the wide forehand corner of the opponent from the backhand side due to the angle that you have. This should be exploited whenever possible, using a loop, a pick hit, or even an aggressive push or block. Putting the opponent on the run or off balance can give you a huge edge in the point.
2. When receiving serve, assuming the opponent is serving from his/her backhand corner as usual, stand a little more towards the middle of the table than usual and stand more parallel to the table than you would otherwise. There are a few reasons for this. First of all, it can be easier to see the contact of the ball by the opponent this way rather than being blocked by the opponent’s body. Second of all, the opponent has more of an angle to your wide forehand and less of an angle to your wide backhand, and a standard pendulum serve will curve even farther to your forehand side. This will give you a much better receiving angle. Be sure not to get beat by deep serves, especially to both corners.
3. On your serve, try some serves that commonly give the opponent trouble in this matchup. This includes: short heavy side spin pendulum serves to the forehand, short flat serves to the middle of the table, deep dead serves into the opponent’s backhand corner, and deep side spin pendulum serves breaking into the middle of the opponent’s body. These aren’t all guaranteed to work, but feeling out the opponent with some of these serves early on can tell you if there are some serves your opponent has a lot of trouble with.
4. If you can’t be aggressive with a shot, don’t necessarily try to force the ball into the opponent’s backhand corner. Instead, play with some spin to the opponent’s middle if possible. Not only is targeting the middle already a good tactic, it’s especially effective in a lefty-righty matchup. It’s a less risky shot than for example trying to hit a backhand down the line when under pressure, and also cuts down on the opponent’s angles. Like we talked about in tactic #1, attacking the opponent’s wide forehand from the backhand side is very effective, so we want to also limit the opponent’s opportunities to apply this tactic against us.
5. Once you have the initiative, make sure to focus on the spin and placement of your attacks more so than the speed. Attacking in this matchup can be risky sometimes if you hit the wrong spot, even more than usual due to the different angles that are available, especially from the backhand side. Attacking to a waiting opponent’s forehand in this matchup can also result in a counterattack crosscourt into your wide backhand. Make sure that you can attack not only to the wide forehand, but also into the opponent’s body as well as wide to the backhand. When attacking wide to the backhand, try to place the ball so that it cuts the table and travels outside the corner of the table, rather than hitting right to the backhand side. It is much more difficult to defend the wide backhand for most players when they have to move outside the corner of the table.
In order to see some of these tactics in action, here’s a recent match between Hugo Calderano of Brazil and Marcos Freitas of Portugal, with Freitas being the lefty in the matchup. This is a good illustration of some of these modern tactics since both players have relatively strong backhand play, with Calderano especially favoring the backhand for aggressive plays both in the rally and on serve return. Try to pay special attention to the serve and receive of both players, as well as the placement of their shots in different situations. Then, practice some of these tactics the next time you find yourself in a lefty-righty matchup.
Kuwait Open 2015 Highlights: Marcos Freitas Vs Hugo Calderano (Round Of 32)