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Alex Robertson
By Alex Robertson on February 13, 2024

Southpaw Strategy - How To Beat The Left Hander

In a recent article, I talked about why rallies in squash are mostly played down the backhand side of the court.

However, that topic actually stemmed from another conversation I was having with my friends about some of the best ways to beat left-handed players, so, I thought I'd focus on that for this article!

There are a number of incredible left-handed players on the PSA World Tour, and, I personally know quite a few just in my local area who are very formidable opponents too.

I'm sure that many of you will have come up against left-handed players during your time playing squash as well, and, you'll know that it's definitely not the same as playing a right-handed player!

There are a number of different strategies and approaches you can deploy to exploit the common weaknesses of lefties, and, to minimise their ability to play attacking shots (which they're often very good at).

Here's how to beat the left hander...

Some Initial Thoughts

We all know that it's more rare to come up against a left-handed player than a right-handed player. But, of course, that's the same in real life, with most studies suggesting that approximately 10% of the population is left-handed.

So the question is, does this correlate with the number of squash players? Perhaps the answer to that question will reveal if being left-handed is an inherent disadvantage (or advantage) in the world of squash.

It comes as no surprise that there isn't any research into the number of left-handed players in squash, and, how successful they may be in comparison to right-handed players.

But, the obvious approach to gauging whether left-handers can make it to the top level of the game is to look to the pros.

I took a look at the men's world top 30, and, although there are quite a few names I don't recognise below the top 15, we definitely have Youssef Ibrahim, Nathan Lake, Nick Wall, who are all left-handed. That's 10% of the world's top 30 which does correlate with the population percentage of left-handers.

Now, technically Nick Wall is 31 in the world, but, that's close enough in my book.

In the women's, again, there are some names I don't know so I'm not sure if they are left-handed or not, but, we definitely have World No.5, Amanda Sobhy, and Jasmine Hutton (World No.25) both of whom are playing to an insanely high level at the moment (although Sobhy is unfortunately injured at the moment).

If we look at squash history, we have the likes of Amr Shabana and Peter Nicol, two of the best players of all time, both left-handed.

I think that kind of proves that left-handers and right-handers are generally on an evenly competitive playing ground, and, that they are equally as capable of reaching the highest levels of the game.

Plus, technically I guess there's also a 10% chance of you coming up against one in a squash match! So, it's definitely worth knowing what you should do differently in comparison to when you're playing a right-handed player.

And, perhaps 10% of our readers are left-handed too, so, if that is the case, maybe you can use this blog post as a cheat sheet for hints for areas of games you may want to work on!

Lastly, just before I begin talking about the tips, I just want to mention that article is in no way intended to offend any left-handed players. All of these points are just based on generalisations that I've analysed over my 15 or so years playing squash and the many left-handers I've come up against.

Plus, even if you're a left-hander, there's a good chance that you'll come up against another left-hander. Many of these tips will apply to that situation too!

Of course, every player is different with different strengths and weaknesses, these points below are not always applicable and there will be many left-handers who demonstrate completely opposite attributes to those below.

But, generally, these points are things I make sure to consider when I'm coming up against a lefty. They also have some input from my other experienced squash friends too!

So, let's delve in...

Target The Backhand

Now, this is generally the go-to strategy when players come up against a left-hander.

Again, as I mentioned above, if you're a left-hander, I'm not at all saying you all have weak backhands because, of course, that's not the case.

I would say that, generally, in comparison to their forehand, the left-hander's backhand is often not as strong.

For most players, it's also easier to attack, take the ball early, and hit with pace on the forehand side, so, for a right-handed player, it can be a very effective strategy to keep the ball on the right side of the court to force a weak shot from the lefty's backhand, and then capitalize on it with an attack.

If you can force your left-handed opponent to play more defensively, you make it harder for them to attack, and, give yourself more potential opportunities in the process.

Not only does focusing on the left-hander's backhand help you create opportunities, but, it also helps you to control the pace of the game to suit your own style, so there are a few benefits to this strategy.

Serve From The Left

Now, I know this technically counts as targeting the backhand, but, I thought I'd mention it separately because a lot of players forget to do this against lefties.

If you win a hand-out point and can choose which side you serve from, it's generally the better option to serve from the left side of the court against left-handed players.

For many of the same reasons above, targetting the lefty's backhand right from the first shot of the rally can pose many benefits and allow you to take control right from the get-go.

The left-hander is often a lot more threatening on their forehand side too, meaning that serving to this side is often a lot more risky.

It's very difficult to tell what shot they're going to play from the forehand side, and, the threat of a crash nick is always there too, especially if your serve comes out loose at all.

I would say that, if you're up against a left-hander that's a similar standard to yourself, you've got a much better chance of winning the point if you serve from the left side in comparison to the right side.

Don't Underestimate Their Angles

One thing that always blows me away about left-handed players is their ability to dig shots out of the back corners, especially on their forehand side.

Something that seems to happen frequently when I'm playing a lefty is, I think I've played a great cross-court lob or drive that I would assume will be returned with a boast, or, at least just a straight drive, however, I'm then caught off-guard when they manage to flick another cross-court from an insane angle behind them.

It's a bit of a weird one the more I think about it.

Maybe left-handers aren't necessarily better at hitting these angles than right-handers, it's just we're not used to receiving those angles from the opposite side of the court than we would if we were playing a right-hander.

After all, right-handers are better at digging out angles from our forehand as well, it's just coming from a different side of the court than the left-hander's angles.

It's like things are mirrored, but, since most players we come up against aren't left-handed, when we do play one, we're not used to those specific angles coming from those specific areas of the court.

But, regardless of whether they're better than right-handers at it or not, it's still something to be very aware of during a match situation.

I would also say that left-handers tend to play more cross-courts in general than right-handers. This is perhaps a tactical move, but, usually, it's because both players are trying to target the other player's backhand, and then a cross-court battle ensues (but, more about that point further down).

Anyway, the cross-court is a shot you should be ready for at all times against a left-handed player.

Try not to make the mistake of edging too far across on the T if you're expecting a straight drive, because, if they do play that cross court, you'll have to move even further to reach it, it'll be much harder to volley it, and, if you don't volley it, it may die in the back and you'll lose the point.

If my point above about left-handers playing more cross courts is in fact true, then they're also likely to be good at hitting them accurately, so it's definitely a shot you should be wary of.


Photo credit: Steve Cubbins

Restrict Their Volleys (Especially On The Forehand)

In general, I find left-handers to be very effective volleyers. I would say they often play a more attacking and fast-paced style than right-handers do too and they're very good at it.

The best approach is to limit their ability to volley as much as you possibly can, giving yourself the chance to play rallies on your own terms at your own pace.

Varying height is one of the best ways to do this.

The most volleyable shots are medium-paced lengths and cross courts that aren't tight enough to the side wall.

It's imperative that you get your lengths deep enough to get your opponent off of the T, then, when you have the T, use a little more pace and focus on keeping the ball tight when going for lower, harder lengths.

The obvious alternative first option is to keep the ball low and tight to the side walls to limit their opportunity for volleying. If you're going cross court low and hard, just make sure it has enough width to get past them if they're on the T.

Your second option is to lift with a lot of height. Of course, this gives them more time on the ball to try to volley it, however, the higher a shot is, the more difficult it is to volley accurately.

Again, if you can also keep it tight when going straight and wide enough when going cross court, they will still struggle to do anything too effective with the ball.

Now, depending on the style of your opponent, one of those two options may be more effective than the other.

Or, you can mix up the pace, which is another impactful approach that you can take against left-handers (and indeed all players). But, again, make sure not to be passive and hit mid-pace medium-height shots when possible.

Don't Get Sucked Into The Crosscourt Battle

Now, this one is a bit of a tricky one.

What often ends up happening when a lefty is playing a righty is that, since both players will be targetting the other player's backhand, it can end up in many cross courts being played.

As I believe I mentioned further up, left-handers are often very effective in hitting with perfect width when going cross court, so, this is a battle that you're best off not engaging in.

This is where this point kind of comes into conflict with another point.

Because you're wanting to keep the left-hander on their backhand, however, if this means repeatedly hitting cross courts, then perhaps it's time to neutralise the rally with a medium or soft, tight straight drive.

You could view a shot to your left-handed opponent's backhand side as an attack, so, to give yourself the opportunity to attack in that way, maybe trying to hit a tight deep length down the forehand might be the best approach to go for, especially if you're trying to avoid the cross court battle.

Also, if you keep cracking cross courts, you quickly become predictable, and, it just takes one weakish cross court to give the lefty the opportunity to pounce on the ball, take it early, and put you under some real pressure.

Another option is to throw in a different shot such as a straight volley drop if you can get onto their cross court early enough, of course, this comes with a higher level of risk.

Beware Of Their Deception, Especially In The Front Left

Left-handed players often excel when it comes to deception, particularly in that front left corner.

They tend to have a large backswing on that forehand side which makes it very difficult to predict when shot they're going to play next.

Let's say you play a defensive three-wall boast and give them some time on the ball, they'll often get to it very early with their racquet up high, and then they have the option for pretty much any shot you could think of.

Lefties are also usually great at wrong-footing their opponents using holds and unorthodox timings when they get the opportunity at the front. They're excellent at getting on the ball fast, then holding to draw you in, then cracking a low hard cross court at the last second.

Perhaps this is again down to that 'mirrored' point that I mentioned at the beginning, but, left-handers naturally have a different court perspective and hit with the mirrored angles to what right-handers are used to, making it easier for them to disguise their shots

Right from the start of a match, it can be a good idea to study your opponent's tendencies and anticipate when and where they're likely to play deceptive shots from both front corners.

Of course, not all players show patterns of hitting the same shots from these areas of the court, especially when you're playing better players, so, you can't rely on this analysis alone.

In the instance that you have been forced to play a weak/defensive shot to the front of the court against a lefty (which is bound to happen at some point), it's crucial that you maintain a balanced stance on the T and be ready to react quickly to any deceptive shots, staying light on your toes to adjust as needed.

However, the best solution is to avoid these defensive boasts and shots to the front as much as you can, if you can dig it out high and straight, often, this is a better option (although I'm aware that's not always possible).

But, the main takeaway from this point is just to be aware of what the left-hander is actually capable of in those front corners because it's often a lot more than right handers think!

Final Thoughts

Again, I just want to reiterate that, when I talk about the weaknesses of left-handed players, I am of course talking in generalities.

For example, I know a number of left-handed players whose backhands are arguably more dangerous than their forehands, I also know many left-handers who play a slow-paced defensive style of game (rather than an attacking style).

But, on average, based on what I've experienced playing against left-handers during my time as a squash player, the points above are often the most effective tactics.

So, I think the obvious conclusion to make is that left-handers pose a number of different threats when compared to right-handers due to their unique playing style, however, that also comes with some unique disadvantages that can be exploited and targeted.

Hopefully, this article has been helpful to all of our readers (both left and right-handed)!

This article was taken from our On The 'T' Newsletter, if you're interested in receiving more content like this, please feel free to sign up using the subscribe section located at the bottom left of this page (or underneath the article if you're on mobile), thanks!

Published by Alex Robertson February 13, 2024
Alex Robertson