Playing a lefty will always feel foreign to right-handed players, simply because there are more right-handed opponents. It’s one of the many advantages Rafael Nadal—one of three left-handed players in the ATP’s Top 40—has going for him. But there are three important tactics righties should employ in practice, so they’re better prepared for any curveball a southpaw can throw.
The down-the-line backhand will be key to getting into an ideal playing pattern: your crosscourt forehand to their backhand. If you can create an opening after a few forehands, look to hit your backhand, but you don’t need to rip it flat. Instead, go high, with heavy topspin, or even hit a safe slice. As long as it’s going down the line, it will disrupt your opponent and force them to hit a forehand on run. Players practice their crosscourt patterns a lot more than down-the-line, but if you’re preparing for a lefty, you’ll want to change that habit.
There’s a simple way to cope with the spins and angles of a left-handed serve: aim to the middle. Practice this anytime you’re working on your return. If you hit a crosscourt return, you’ll give your opponent another angle to work with, and you’ll find yourself running to track a tough reply down. Hitting a deep return down the middle takes away options and gives you more control of the rally, getting you back into position for the ideal playing pattern.
When returning a lefty’s serve, the spin is going to throw you off, no matter where the ball is going. So here’s another tip: give yourself big margins. A crosscourt or down-the-line return will fly off your racquet, often in wild directions. Aim over the lowest part of the net—it’s yet another reason to hit your return towards the middle.
Richard Ashby is a USTA National Coach at the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona, FL. Across two decades, he has worked with many top American women, including Sloane Stephens, Amanda Anisimova and Sofia Kenin.