How to Play Pickleball With or Against a Lefty

A question I hear a lot is: “Prem, do you have any suggestions for what to do when I’m playing with a lefty? “What I don’t hear quite so often is: “Prem, how do I play against a right-left combination?” and the reason I don’t hear it much is because a surprising number of players never even NOTICE when one of their opponents is left-handed (not to mention if both of them happen to be).
Sure, you get to know the local players at your club who are lefty, so you are kind of prepared to at least not feed it straight to their wheelhouse. But here’s tip #1 for this month:

Tip 1: Have a mental checklist you go through at the beginning of EVERY match, and have the first question you ask yourself be, “Is my partner or either of my opponents left-handed?”

You just can’t play a smart game of pickleball if you’re not clear when you’re hitting to your opponents forehand and when you’re hitting to their backhand, and you can’t know THAT unless you know whether they are a lefty or a righty. (Not counting the rare cases of players who successfully switch the paddle between both hands, so virtually all their shots are forehands.)
So first, since I get asked this most often, let’s take the case of when you and your partner make up a left-right combination (these things apply no whether you’re the lefty or the righty).

Why does it matter?

For those of you who are beginners or have never paid much attention to how playing with or against a lefty changes the dynamics of the game, here’s why it matters:

Strategies for When You Are PART of The Left-Right Combination

Who takes the middle shots?

Tip 2: When you’re part of a left-right combination, decide at the beginning of the point who is going to take the middle shots. Then, have that person take all the shots that come to the middle.

Depending on your relative strengths as players, you should also consider whose Backhand is stronger & whose forehand is stronger. Then, depending on whether you have forehands in the middle or backhands in the middle, have the person with the stronger shot take all the balls that come to the middle when you’re in that position.

What if the Ball is Just Out of that Person’s Reach?

Tip 3: When you are part of a left-right combination, it is even more essential to make sure to CALL every ball you can.

For a detailed explanation about how & when to call the ball in pickleball, see my post called When It’s OK to Talk Like a Top Player Even If You Don’t Play Like One.

How About a Tip for Advanced Players?

So, for those of you who really like to analyze the game, here’s another tip:

Tip 4: If you are part of a left-right combination and you’re hitting a shot that’s come to the middle between you and your partner, your best bet is to hit the ball cross-court to the person in front of your partner.

Why? This draws upon the logic I outline in my post, How to Know When to Cover the Line or the Middle in Pickleball.
If you are about to hit a shot in the middle of the court, it means you are not covering your line. So if you hit to the person directly opposite you, your line (or what they call the alley in tennis) is wide open for them to hit down.
Now, when you’re about to hit that shot in the middle, your partner should be shifted slightly to be covering their line/alley, since they don’t NEED to be covering the middle. So, if you hit the ball cross-court to the person in front of your partner, it will be difficult for them to make an offensive shot because two-thirds of the court is covered by you & your partner. You will have effectively forced them to hit directly to one of you or to make a very difficult cross-court dink. (Even better if you can hit to the person’s backhand because it will make it difficult for them to do anything other than just dink the ball back to you.)
And finally…
If you & your partner play dramatically better in a particular position, (usually forehands in the middle) you may opt to always stay in that configuration. This can get VERY confusing because you must still follow the rules to serve & receive from the correct position. However, there is no rule about where their partner can stand, so if you are a righty receiving on the right side of the court, your partner can stand to the right of you (outside the court) and as soon as you return the ball you can both shift to the left. This is an advanced strategy that is usually more confusing than it is effective, however at the very top levels, it is regularly used to a good advantage.
So now…

Strategies to Play AGAINST a Left-Right Combination

Hit to the Middle

Tip 5: When you’re playing against a left-right combination, hit to the middle of the two players.

Strategies to Play Against a Left-Right Combination

For a long time when I said, “Hit to the middle,” people would think I meant to the middle of the court, and (even my wife, Wendy) would aim for the “T” at the kitchen. But what I really mean is to hit to the middle of the two players. So no matter where on the court they are, centered on each of their halves of the court or one covering the line & one covering the middle, aim for the half-way point BETWEEN the two players. Got it?
In most cases, this applies whether they have forehands OR backhands in the middle. Obviously, don’t hit the ball high enough that it’s in their wheelhouse where they can smack a put away shot, but if you keep your shots low & slow, the added confusion of who is going to take the shot is a greater advantage to you than the lower-percentage shot of trying to hit to their backhands and risking hitting into the higher part of the net or hitting the ball out.

Slower Balls Are Better Than Faster/Harder Balls

Tip 6: When you’re playing against a left-right combination, hit slower balls to increase the odds of your opponents confusing themselves.

Think about it. A ball that is slow coming and that they have to wait to bounce gives them MUCH more time to get confused about who is going to hit it. A ball that is hard or fast is one they are both likely to just react to and at least one is likely to hit.

Lob Smart

If you like to lob & are consistent with it, lob to the middle of the back third of the court when your opponents have their backhands in the middle.

Tip 7: When you’re playing against a left-right combination, hit a strategic lob to the middle of the back of the court when their backhands are in the middle.

Like I said in last month’s article about the lob though, you better make sure it’s a good one or you’re liable to have the ball slammed back down your throat (or at the very least, at your feet) in no time flat.
Please Leave Your Comments Below!
So there you have it, my 7 tips for playing pickleball with or against a lefty. Did you find this article helpful? Do you have any questions about it? Or any other suggestions you’d like to add or think should be included? Please be sure to leave your comments in the box at the bottom of the page.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *