Service, Receive and 3rd ball against the Left-hander
Rowden Fullen (2003)
The forehand serve normally used from the backhand corner can be effective against left-handed players, but it is necessary to think a little more about placement. Left-handers are usually strong in the middle and from their forehand corner for example. You can often however obtain an advantage by serving long, straight to their backhand or short to the middle or at a wide angle to their forehand. Another manoeuvre can be to use the same serve but from the middle and aim to achieve a wide angle both to the opponent’s backhand and forehand as in A).
The backhand, reverse or axe serves can be of importance too as they allow you to spin the ball out and away from the left-hander’s back-hand, or conversely into the bat arm elbow and either long or short B). The backhand serve can be used from the middle and the axe serve even from the forehand corner. The reverse spin serve (from the backhand) is particularly useful as many players have some difficulty in opening up against an inswinging serve with the forehand.
Serve return and the 3rd ball are critical against left-handed players. They are usually strong on the forehand side and if you allow them to get their strength in, then they can make life extremely difficult. Their topspin often incorporates an element of sidespin and as the ball then spins away to the backhand this constitutes an atypical situation. By this we mean it is not something most right-handers train against and as a result they have difficulty in adapting to it.
A good tactic can often be to play many straight balls particularly down the line to the left-hander’s forehand, from your forehand corner or from the middle C). It is important too to use your backhand against left-handed players, force them out wide to the forehand, then play back into the body on the next ball, or wide to their backhand.
As we have said, often left-handers have strong forehands, which they try to use over much of the table. This can make them a little susceptible to the short serve to the middle or wide out to their forehand, especially if the next ball is played long into the corners or into the body. The reverse spin serve can be particularly effective short or half-long to the forehand or middle areas.
Receive tactics are also important against left-handed players. They can be quick to come round on the 3rd ball to loop hard into the corners, so often it is not advisable to push long into their backhand side. A better tactic can be to drop short to the forehand or middle, or to flick or loop long and straight into the forehand corner. This approach pulls them over to the forehand side and leaves them vulnerable to attack into the backhand sector.
As we have emphasized in other articles the prime skill of table tennis is quite simply to be able to adapt in an ever-changing situation. Most of us train more against right-handers and therefore when we meet left-handed players we find their serves and tactics unusual and it’s more difficult for us to adapt quickly. Our automated, ‘grooved’ reactions let us down when we have to bring conscious thought into an automatic situation. It is therefore essential that players train against left-handers of differing styles and do this even from an early age.
Often in addition it’s necessary too for us to change well-used tactics and table areas which are second nature to us. When we for example meet a left-handed defender with long pimples on the backhand, we are top-spinning on our forehand diagonal to the pimples. For many right-handers this is not a scenario in which they have trained and it requires adjustment. It may also require us to accentuate aspects of stroke-play which we are not normally accustomed to using. For example looping with pronounced sidespin into the left-handed, pimpled defender’s backhand will usually cause them considerable problems, but are we capable of using this tactic effectively?