I am good at facing a backhand on a pickleball court. I can then return with my forehand, which is a stronger shot. I played a left-handed player the other day.
It was quite a shock to have to re-think how to use my best shot. This was when they switched the game and then returned my back hand with a cracking forehand. I realized that left-handed pickleball players do have an advantage.
A lot of it is to do with their relative uniqueness as players.
Do left-handed pickleball players have an advantage?
There are two aspects of playing a left-handed pickleball player. First, facing them as an opponent. Second, playing in a doubles team with them.
A left-hander is generally at an advantage over a right-hander. This is because it means some rethinking and new strategizing for the right-hander. It’s also because left-handers are very unlikely to play against other left-handers.
This means that playing an opposite-handed opponent is nothing new. They don’t need to re-strategize. Put a left-hander against a left-hander and the advantage will be less.
Facing a left-handed player
One of the advantages of playing pickleball left-handed is the element of surprise. A left-handed player can change the direction of the ball much more quickly than a right-handed player. This is because the right-handed player’s expectations are what they are familiar with.
Likelihood of facing a left-handed player
Most players are right-handed. About 10% of the general population is left-handed. It stands to reason, then, that about 10% of pickleball players are likely to be left-handed. This means that 90 % of the time a right-handed player should be playing against a right-handed player.
Left-handers will also face right-handers about 90% of the time.
Playing the cross-court shot
If a right-handed player hits a cross-court shot in pickleball from the left of the court, 90% of the time the return is a forehand. Similarly, if you hit cross-court with a backhand, your opponent will hit a backhand back. If you hit a shot straight down the line and not cross-court, your opponent will have to change shots.
This can be confusing and allow you to win a point. It’s much easier to change the direction of a shot with a backhand. You may need to run around the ball to do this.
You may also want to change direction to force your opponent to change their footing.
Left-handed players switching direction
For a left-handed player, a forehand is hit from the left-hand side of the court. This is the opposite of what a right-hand player would expect. If you hit a cross-court forehand at your left-handed opponent, they reply with a backhand.
They can change the direction of the ball, which gives them an advantage. They will catch you on the back foot (so to speak) and you are likely to mis-hit, or miss, the ball.
Playing with a left-handed player
When a right-handed pickleball player starts playing with a left-handed player, it can be confusing. This is because they expect their partner to play their forehand to the right-hand side of the court. A left-handed player plays it from the left.
This is a right-handed player’s natural position for playing a backhand. In a left-handed / right-handed doubles team, both players will play forehands from the center of the court, or both will play them from the outside. This is the opposite to a right-handed combination.
Taking advantage of the players’ reach
It is advantageous for doubles pickleball to have a left-handed / right-handed combination. With this combination, the players are positioned so that either the two forehands or two backhands are in the middle of the court. In pickleball, it is advantageous to cover the center of the court.
This is where the power lies. You also have a wider stretch with a forehand. Both players will both be able to stand towards the sides of the court.
This means they can reach the middle shots quite easily, but also over the wider shots.
Another advantage of a left-handed / right-handed partnership is that you can use ‘stacking.’ This is the technique where both players stand on one side of the court for serving and receiving. After returning a serve, the players quickly shift over to their preferred side.
This keeps both forehands in the center for the return. It allows players then to play on the most strategic side.
Facing a left-handed combination
In a right-handed doubles pickleball partnership, one player has to cover the outside of the court on their forehand and one on their backhand. This means the ‘forehand player’ can play cross-court strongly. The ‘backhand player’ can switch direction easily.
It also means the ‘backhand player’ has the stronger coverage of the middle of the court. In a partnership with two left-handed players, the same applies. It is relevant to opposite sides of the court from their opponents.
Again, this can be confusing for right-handed opponents. They expect to hit to the forehand, whereas it is to the backhand of the left-handed opponent. The ‘lefties’ can change direction of the ball quickly, which is to their advantage.
Changing the spin
We are all used to the spin a player can put on a pickleball. It means the ball bounces and then moves to the side, or even away from you. Mostly, we don’t anticipate the spin and wait for the ball to come directly to us.
This can mean it bounces out of our reach and we lose the point. If you do anticipate the spin, you’ll be used to the direction the ball will bounce from a right-handed player. A left-handed player hits the ball in the opposite way a right-handed player does.
This means the ball bounces in a different direction when it is spun. This is a distinct advantage for left-handed players.
Left-handed players have the edge
The conclusion we can reach is that, overall, left-handed players have an advantage over right-handed players. This is a lot to do with the relative scarcity of left-handed players. In singles, a right-hander facing a left-hander must read the play quickly and adjust their own positioning.
It is the same in doubles when a right-handed couple faces a mixed-handed couple. The left-hand / right-hand couple can use the ‘lefty advantage’ to control the game.