There’s something unique about the best left handed tennis players on the ATP Tour.
For the majority of us, picking up a tennis racket and trying to play with our left hand would not be pretty to watch. Chances are, it’s something we’d only do if we were playing against a niece or nephew.
However, for some of the best left handed tennis players who step onto the court, being unconventional has actually served as an advantage. A small group of lefties have turned their irregular style into a strength, and leveraged this to achieve great success.
We look at five players who have played left handed and excelled in their careers.
#1: Rafael Nadal
Spain’s Rafael Nadal is undeniably the best left handed tennis player to play the sport.
As a youngster, Rafael Nadal used to play both his forehand and backhand with two hands. However, around age 10, he was required by his coach to start hitting a single handed forehand. Despite being a natural right hander, Nadal opted for a left handed forehand—and since then, has gone on to become the most successful faux leftie the sport has ever seen.
Nadal first burst onto the scene in 2005, winning the French Open as a teenager. Three years later, he had knocked Roger Federer off his perch as World No.1. Since then, Nadal has gone on to have a long and successful tennis career, known for his heavy topspin play from the baseline, fierce competitive spirit and prowess on the clay.
Across his career, Nadal has won 22 Grand Slams and a total of 92 titles.
Without a doubt, Nadal has had the most success of any left handed player on the ATP Tour.
#2: Cameron Norrie
Another left handed player who has broken into the World’s Top 10 players in 2022 is Cam Norrie.
Debuting as a professional in 2017, Britain’s Cam Norrie shot up the rankings with his left handed play and strong double handed backhand. The 27-year-old had his breakthrough year in 2021, winning two titles including a Masters 1000 in Indian Wells. These results saw Norrie break into the World’s Top 10, with a peak of No.8 in mid-2022.
Standing at 6’2” (188cm), Norrie has developed a formidable serve with his high bouncing serve to the backhand of a right hander. His booming forehand is also a key weapon, struck with the left hand across court to also target the backhand of a right handed player.
While injury saw Norrie slip to No.14 in the world by the end of 2022, the leftie is expected to be a threat in and around the Top 10 for years to come.
See also: Cam Norrie analysis
#3: Denis Shapovalov
Canadian No.3 Denis Shapovalov has a similar story to Cam Norrie, playing as a left hander and sitting just outside of the World’s Top 10 at the end of 2022.
The 23-year-old was born and raised as a leftie, and has used it to his advantage, moving his way through age grade tennis to become a professional in 2017. At the young age of 18, in his first year as a professional, Shapovalov became the youngest player to make the semifinal of a Masters 1000 tournament.
Shapovalov’s early success solidified his position in the World’s Top 100 players. It was soon followed up with a title in 2019 at the Stockholm Open as well as a finals appearance at the Paris Rolex Masters that same year. Soon after, Shapovalov made the 2020 US Open quarterfinals and reached a career high of No.10 in the world.
Not only is the Canadian a leftie, but he has made himself even more unconventional by adopting a one handed backhand as well. This shot is a thing of beauty to witness, and means Shapovalov can take the ball early, hitting up the line to a right handed player’s backhand.
#4: Jimmy Connors
Looking at some of the best left handed tennis players who have excelled in years gone by, Grand Slam champion Jimmy Connors stands out.
The American was a legend of the sport in the 1970s and 1980s, sharing fierce rivalries with the likes of Bjorn Borg. Playing as a left hander that would punch backhands down the line with unparalleled pace, Jimmy Connors found great success on the tennis court. Turning professional in 1972, Connors quickly shot to the top of the sport and held the No.1 ranking from 1974 to 1977, amassing a total of 268 weeks at the top.
Connors also won an incredible 110 titles across his career, including eight Grand Slams at the US Open and Wimbledon. Interestingly, Connors thrived on all surfaces of the tennis court, and is the only man to win the US Open on three different surfaces—a record that is unlikely to be broken any time soon, considering that the US Open is now a regular hardcourt only tournament.
This powerful left handed tennis player will forever be remembered as one of the greats of the game.
#5: Rod Laver
As with many lists of tennis greats, it’s almost impossible to exclude Rod Laver.
Given that Laver was also a left handed tennis player, he deserves a spot on this list as well. Australia’s Rod Laver played in an interesting period of tennis history, when the game was transitioning from the pre-Open Era to the Open Era. About half of Laver’s career occurred on either side of this transition.
While this transition makes it difficult to accurately speak to Laver’s excellence, the reality is he will go down as one of, if not the greatest left handed players in all of tennis. The Australian allegedly won over 200 singles titles, but is most renowned for achieving something no other man has been able to do in the sport — the Calendar Slam.
On two separate occasions, Laver won all four Grand Slams in a year, in both 1962 and 1969. This achievement alone makes him one of the best left handed tennis players.
Overall, Laver won 11 Grand Slam titles, and is remembered so fondly that he has a stadium named after him in Australia.
1. Who is the best left handed tennis player?
Rafael Nadal is undoubtedly the best left handed tennis player to play the game, having won 22 Grand Slam titles and spent long stretches as the World No.1.
2. What are the advantages of being a left handed tennis player?
Left handed tennis players can serve a high bouncing serve to the backhand of a right handed opponent, which is difficult to return. They also force their opponents to rethink their conventional tactics.
3. How many left handed tennis players are there?
Left handed people account for about 10% of the world’s population, however in 2022, there are currently 13 lefties in the Top 100 of the ATP Tour.
Looking at society in general, left handed people are often seen as being the odd ones out, or at a disadvantage.
However, in the game of tennis, being left handed can often be an advantage. From a high bouncing serve out wide, to an ability to target opponents’ backhands more easily with flat forehands and requiring new tactics to be adopted, left handed players have many advantages in tennis. A small group of these left handed players have capitalized on this, and gained great success in the sport.
After all, there’s a reason why the World’s Top 10 regularly has several left handed players in it, and so many of the best left handed tennis players hold a revered place in tennis history.
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