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The Lefty Dilema

podcasts May 22, 2020

Marc

Thanks for joining us here again on Crunching the Numbers I am Marc Sophoulis from The Tennis Menu and we are so privileged to have Mr. Shane Liyanage from Data Driven Sports Analytics once again, Shane, thank you for joining us.

Shane

Thank you Marc your introductions amaze me every time, I don't think I deserve any of that. But it's great to be here. And yeah, lets hope we can bring you a good episode today as well.

Marc

Trying to mix it up a little bit and keep keep it fresh for listeners out there who are probably bored to tears on my introduction. But anyway, thanks again. Today's a bit of a different topic. We probably haven't gotten so many people to touch on this topic at all terms of, you know, podcasts that I've heard or any sort of data but we'll look at right handers playing against lefties and you know, obviously the the greatest rivalry of all time is the Federer-Nadal rivalry that we always talk about. And, you know, I just cast my mind back to the Australian Open 2017 that epic final, you know, five sets, Feds gets up and wins that match in the fifth. And it was just an incredible match to watch. And the way that he changed the match in that fifth set so, you know, obviously, that's one that we've obviously discussed in the past as to how do we get out of a situation of playing lefties? And you had a great example of something that didn't work or that you've been involved with with Thomas Fabiano.

 

Shane

Yeah, absolutely. So the last year I've been working on the team of Thomas Fabiano and Federico and, and he's had a lot of success particularly at the Grand Slams. But one of the challenges that we've had is when we've faced a left handed player and and it's it's a strategy or the patterns that he has to play against lefty is not natural and that he struggled with and in terms of statistics on tour all level like he made a number of good runs in Grand Slam last year. He was winning nearly 50% against right handed opponents, but if you go back and look at maybe the last year and a half against lefties he's barely winning 10% of those matches. So there's a big discrepancy. And it's something I'd love to sort of pick up on with Marc. And particularly around tournament's where you don't really have that sort of turn around. And you don't necessarily know who's in the draw. So how can you prepare to play a lefty?

 

Marc

It's a, it's a really challenging one and this is a really hard thing early on in my coaching days and because of the patterns applied, change totally in the shift from one side of the court to the other generally. So you're trying to obviously play you know, as many forehands as you can, especially a male tennis compared to the females, but, you know, you want to play as many forehands as you can, but if you're playing to their forehand, which you generally would do, then you're obviously exposing your backhand side and I found that Federer had this problem with Nadal, where Nadal just kept lifting the ball onto Federer's one handed backhand, and he just couldn't hit the ball from above the shoulders.

So, and this was where I felt it changed significantly in 2017. And I don't even know the numbers as to what Federer has done since that that match against Nadal. I think his numbers have been pretty good. Playing him in the last two years, but he in that 2017 final got to the fifth set, and literally started to play amazingly, just offence. He took the court away from Nadal, he stepped in, he didn't allow the ball to rise above his shoulders, he took everything on the rise, he came forward, and it was literally just a massive flip from what he played for four sets prior.

And I generally talk to a lot of the players around you've got to try and stay out of their forehand corner and your backhand corner. The only one, and we touched on at the start was Novak Djokovic, he's the only one that can really get out of that situation because he has such an amazing ability to change the direction of the ball down the line and force it to the backhand of the lefty. But when you talk about other players and they really struggled with that. And I would dare say that, you know, your example of Fabiano probably would be very similar in that it's very hard to change the direction of Nadal's ball, for example, to play that up the line and then get the ball shifted back to your forehand corner. So you know, it is a really challenging situation for any right handed to come against, you know, someone like Nadal who can lift the ball and keep you in your backhand corner for such a period of time and dominate the court their forehand.

 

Shane

Yeah, and then just on that example, that since that Melbourne Park sort of final in 2017, Federer's only lost one set against Nadal on clay (obviously at Roland Garros Nadal's a completely different beast). But he's he's gone on an incredible run. Since that, that match. I don't think that was maybe a light bulb moment for him, where he was able to sort of play that aggressive pattern in a critical sort of stage when he was down trailing a break in that fifth set. And it worked, and since then, he's really bought into that strategy more. And it's working well. A couple of things - I think some of the the experts on racquets probably have an opinion but I think the racquet change to a bigger head's helped him play that style a bit more. But yeah, and the other example you touched on is Djokovic, and last week we talked about predictability and how Nadal has that really robust pattern where you can just go pepper, that sort of right handers backhand in all day, but Djokovic is probably the one player, particularly on clay that pattern isn't as robust and Nadal actually needs to start looking for going up the line to Djokovic's forehand a bit.

 

Marc

100% I feel, you know, the Federer one in 2017 - and I've got a saying in my coaching that success leaves footprints, and you know, the success he had in that one set has changed the way he plays in Nadal every time now, and he's seen what success looks like and he goes away and he continually sticks to his success manual (if you want to call it that), and you know that is the recipe for success and he just continues to follow that recipe now every time he plays him. He definitely plays a different beast as you said, but you know, there's no doubt when you see something work like that you continually do it. You know, Djokovic is that one player, he's backhand is exceptional, he's ability to change direction off any ball at any moment in time keeps Nadal guessing and obviously puts him in a defence on the backhand, when Djokovic changes direction. And the moment you get in deep in defence on the backhand, then it gives you time on your own forehand to then spread the court and that's what Djokovic does really well. And he takes a lot of time away from Nadal by closing the court space down and staying up on the baseline. Now, obviously, we hopefully see that happen with a lot of other players that play Nadal is the ability to hold position on the court because of the steepness of the bounce of his ball, it's very hard to hold your baseline because advances up so you have to retreat a lot of the time, but if you can step into the court and take the time away from the ball coming up then obviously it's a great point and a great play for anybody that's playing against Nadal.

 

Shane

So I suppose, what are your tips Mark? Okay, let's say you get the draw you don't know who you're playing and then you find out you're paying a lefty, so what goes through your mind as a coach and what are you trying to get to your athlete when you're playing a lefty in terms of the warm up and the preparation?

 

Marc

Yeah, well obviously the ideal, and we actually had that at the Australian Open this year with with Ionel playing a lefty first off and you know you got to have a lefty to warm up with, there's no doubt. If you see someone else in the draw that's a lefty, we try and work out a warmup structure to practice with them before the match. If you've got a day off in between you try and hit with the lefty the day before. A lot of the time it's very hard to find and this is the hardest part about preparing for a lefty and I feel like in the past I was a hitting partner at the Australian Open and you know playing against the lefty, I'd have to serve inside out to get the ball to spin like a lefty and move away from a player, to get them to feel where the ball is going to be. Now, that's not ideal, but you do what you have to do if you don't have a left handed player available.

So, I feel like the warmup before the match, the days leading up to it, if you've got a lefty available once the draw's out, and you try and work with them.But yeah, it isn't, it isn't easy. And the other thing you can do is practice some pattern strategies. So getting the player to play the other corner doing some drills and, you know, mixing their patterns of play up, and obviously getting the ball coming back on different angles. You know, and I think it's important to get the player feeling the different shift of court and where they might find themselves on match day. But yeah, and again, you've got to stick to your strengths when you're playing. You know, just because they're a lefty it takes you away from your strengths, but you've also got to be mindful that, you know, your strength might play right into their strength as well. So you need to think about ways that you can change that up especially the big moments of the match.

 

Shane

Yeah. And then going back to that example. So we, Fabiano had played Tsitsipas. Obviously a righty and then Ivo Karlovic, which is a very strange match, where a lot of patterns kind of go out the window. But then he had Verdasco and he knew he had to slightly change it because of the strength of about Verdasco's forehand, but just couldn't execute. And I suppose that's a challenge and, I think when we did the review, we really identified that in those training blocks, he probably wasn't hitting with enough lefties. And that was something he certainly tried to change before the US Open where he was actually hitting with lefties on every second or third day.

 

Marc

Yeah, and it is really important and even, you know, when you play someone like Verdasco or you play someone like Nadal or you play, you go back to Jaco Nieminen when he was playing, you know, they have these different ball-shape and they generally liked to lift it. They've developed that lifting pattern because as a junior, they might want to lift it to the players backhand. So they had this great ability to lift the ball. So as a coach I generally try and sit in the forehand corner of a left hander and feed high heavy balls in the backhand of my player and get them to learn to take it on the rise, getting them to change direction on the ball, to get them feeling what they might need to do come match day. And you know, it's obviously trying to simulate what they're going to get is what you do as a coach and I'm a big believer of training situations and you know, situations at that moment is; you're playing a lefty and this is what's going to happen and this is what you need to do to get out of it.

So my thought process around training before playing the lefty in the big moments, but you know, obviously you know like you said the data for Fabiano isn't great and right now you know, he might might be playing the right way, the guy might play better. You know, that's the other thing we got to look at in tennis, there's always an opponent and they can always play better to beat you in that moment. So, you know, we've got to look at how do we, how do we get better at that, but also never take away what an opponent can or can't do.

 

Shane

Excellent. Well, well, yeah...

 

Marc

Sorry. Oh, you got for it.

 

Shane

No. I was just thinking. I mean, is there any difference I suppose to playing a female lefty, as opposed to, in terms of how you sort of prepare or is it broadly the same sort of strategy?

 

Marc

It's probably the same. The female lefties don't hit as heavy generally. I'm talking as a general rule of thumb, so they generally hit flatter, so you're not going to have that ball comes up too often. And the other flipside of playing a female lefty and this is (and this is away some coaching secrets), but I feel like playing into a female forehand is probably a better ploy than playing a female backhand. And I feel like the female forehand breaks down more often in the forehand corner than the backhand will. So I think the female player is more comfortable playing backhand cross to forehand than they are to backhand. So that's the flip side of where the female game is. And obviously coaching on both tours, I found that, you know, I've actually enjoyed coaching against lefties because I know that a lot of female players have a better backhand and so it's a more comfort zone for them. The change of direction is a lot easier for females on the backhand, you know, they'd like to play the backhand line. They play more lines than they do cross, you know, it is a different kettle of fish when you coach in the male and female game so there's no doubt you know, the left handed side of the game doesn't impact the females as much as it does the males.

 

Shane

Yeah, and I might just end on one thing. Both of us were involved in a team, I think was last year or the year before. Lulu Sun - so she's a lefty, so I suppose the challenge for a lefty playing another lefty I suppose. What's the dynamic there?

 

Marc

Yeah, well, Lulu was a great project. Obviously making the quarters of the Australian Open that year and then going on to win a few futures in a row in Australia after that. And you know, we we had such a field day with having a lefty in our team because we could play all those patterns of play and and get away with not even executing really well, it was just the ball was going to that spot and taking away what the opponent could do. Lefty against lefty's hard because you just want to play your strength and I just felt like we tried to play her strengths as much as possible and and she was exceptional at playing her big forehand all over the court and utilising the slice serve and you know we wanted her to do as much as we could. So you know you obviously just stick to strengths - no different to right hander versus right hander. It's the same same concept, so now it's it's an interesting topic and I'd love to hear from any lefties out there that have any secrets, trade secrets that they do against the right hander because I'd love to utilise some of them and feel free to send us a message on social media or email us anytime and get hold of us.

But again, Shane thanks again for obviously your honesty with working with Fabiano, his team and their data and and utilising some of those know those ploys and hopefully, we can take these lessons into what we do as coaches and use them to our advantage as well. So thanks again for joining us, Shane. And you know, once again, you know you are the guru of numbers and the science behind the art and, obviously you're the brains behind our team so thanks again for all your work.

 

Shane

Thanks Marc.

 

Marc

Thanks guys for joining us once again on Crunching the Numbers. You've been listening about left handers and the way that we coach and strategize against lefties and hopefully it's been able to help you in your in your coaching in your game and, and we look forward to hearing your comments and feedback. Once again I’m from The Tennis Menu. And please feel free to search us up on social media and Mr. Shane Liyanage from Data Driven Sports Analytics, the best numbers in the game. So please feel free to listen to all our previous podcasts back here on the First Serve. And yeah, any feedback is welcome. Thanks again for joining us on Crunching the Numbers.

 

For a more detailed look at Crunching the Numbers, don't forget to checkout Shane and Marc within the Coaches Cupboard, where they do a deep dive into the latest trends in the world of tennis.

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