Being left-handed is absolutely an advantage in Table Tennis.
Only 10-12% of the population is left-handed. However, as of writing this article, 27% of the top 100 players in the male’s ITTF rankings are left-handed.
If we look back in time, we’ll find out that this has always been the case. There has always been a greater percentage of world-class left-handed players than the global percentage of left-handed people.
We’re going to explain the 4 main reasons why left-handed players have an advantage in table tennis.
The main advantage left-handed table tennis players have is that they feel comfortable when playing against right-handed players.
For us right-handed players, playing a lefty means that we have to change the way we play.
Most players have to go into “playing against a lefty” mode. We have to think twice about lots of things.
For example, I will often push cross-court with my backhand, that is, to a right-handed player’s backhand. This will force my opponent to open up with their backhands or push the ball back.
If I were to push cross-court against a left-handed player, I’d feed him a long backspin ball straight to their forehand, which is a much stronger wing for the vast majority of players.
The same happens when blocking. Right-handed players have a habit of blocking cross-court with their backhands, but that’d leave an easy chance for a left-handed opponent, a medium-speed ball to their forehands.
Lefties are used to playing against righties since they play against us all the time. When they face a righty, they know exactly what to do.
Right-handed players, on the other hand, get very little practice against left-handers. Many times, the only thing we can do when playing lefties is to try and improvise on the fly.
Added to all this, us right-handers also have to get used to the left-handed player’s style. Not only do we have to think twice about our placement, but we also have to think about our opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.
One time, I kept telling a clubmate of mine that he had a huge advantage because he was left-handed, so he asked me how it feels to play a lefty as a right-hander.
I asked him, how does it feel to play a lefty to you? He answered that it felt very weird.
You can ask left-handed players and even they will tell you that it feels strange to play a fellow lefty.
For lefties, playing against another lefty is the same as a match where two right-handed players face each other: most shots are played cross-court, forehand to forehand, and backhand to backhand.
For us righties, this seems very natural, play cross court, and your opponent will play the same stroke you just played.
However, lefties have naturalized the fact that if they play a backhand cross-court they’ll aim at their opponent’s forehand.
The game structure that’s natural to righties is weird for lefties, and vice versa.
In 90% of the matches lefties play they will have the upper hand since they know how to play against righties perfectly and right-handers do not.
In the 10% remaining, they’ll find it weird to play a lefty, but the other lefty will struggle as well.
Because lefties play against righties all the time, they prepare their tactics to counter right-handers, whereas right-handers also prepare their tactics for right-handers.
Leftys will serve, receive, and prepare plays effortlessly, while righties will have less experience and tactical knowledge coming into the match.
Left-handed players will know how to play a backhand ‘down the line’ rally better than right-handed players and they will also know how to pinpoint their wide forehands.
They don’t even have to think twice about it, it just comes naturally to them because that’s what they do all the time.
Conversely, playing a backhand to backhand rally down the line feels very unnatural for us righties.
Most times, righties will play a cross-court backhand without even thinking about it, and sometimes, will decide to switch it up and play down the line.
However, against lefties, we have to play with the opposite mentality, since we have to play down the line, and if we want to catch our opponents off guard, we have to play cross-court.
Many times, the right-handed player will play backhands cross-court in excess because we tend to play cross-court, granting lefties lots of easy chances to attack with their forehands.
Another reason why left-handed players have an advantage over right-handed players is spin.
Left-handed players produce the opposite sidespin as right-handed players when playing forehands and backhands.
If left-handed players play a top/sidespin forehand loop cross-court, the ball will bounce and kick towards a rightie’s backhand side, which negates any possible counterattack.
A lefty’s serves are also a lot more difficult to return.
Not only do they serve from the opposite corner, but their serves will have the opposite spin.
A pendulum serve by a lefty carries the spin of a reverse pendulum serve by a righty and vice versa.
It’s quite hard to get used to this effect since the ball will always carry the opposite sidespin than right-handed players are trained against.
It’s a smart idea for left-handed players to practice heavy sidespin serves with either backspin or topspin and aim toward both corners or the elbow.
These serves are super difficult to get used to for a right-handed player.
Something very difficult for right-handed players to get used to is the different angles at which the ball comes to them.
This is because most players will hit their backhand shots in front of their bodies and they will wait a bit longer to hit shots on their forehand side (almost in line with their body).
The vast majority of players, both right-handed and left-handed, play their backhand shots on the rise (blocks) or on top of the bounce (loops).
On the forehand wing, they will usually try to loop, and most players will hit their forehand loops on top of the bounce or a fraction after the top of the bounce.
Backhand strokes are usually played a bit earlier and with less power, whereas forehand strokes are usually played a bit later and with more power.
When playing a lefty, the timing is the same, but on the opposite corners than we’re used to.
Sometimes, I’d play a forehand loop cross-court against a lefty and wonder why it’s come back so fast. It’s because my opponent caught the ball early with a backhand block.
Another angle that really bothers most right-handed players is when lefties play to our elbow.
If a right-handed player plays a backhand block to our elbow, the ball will come from our right side to our left side, ending in our elbow.
However, when a left-handed player plays a backhand block to our elbow, the ball will come from our left side and move just a bit toward the right.
I find it very difficult to deal with backhand blocks to my elbow since the ball comes back faster than I expect and it’s a lot harder to recognize when the ball is going to my elbow when it’s coming from my left.
Backhand blocks come from the opposite direction so it’s quite hard to get used to.
The last thing that I find quite strange about playing lefties is when they pivot with their forehands since they pivot from the opposite corner.
Lots of times lefties will pivot and play cross-court.
This is a deadly shot against right-handed players because it targets our wide forehands and it’s very hard for us to get there in time.
If you pivot and play cross-court as a lefty against a righty, chances are you’ll win the point.
As a right-handed player, the ball will come at different angles and speeds to what you’re used to, so try to pay attention in your warm-up and throughout the match to any adjustments you need to make.
Alvaro’s been playing Table Tennis since he was 15 and is now ranked within the top 100 in his native Argentina. He loves to compete in provincial tournaments and is always looking for ways to improve. Alvaro made his favourite memories with a racket in hand, and he joined the RacketInsight team to share his passion with other players!