As a player I’ve come across my fair share of left-handed table tennis opponents. Personally I don’t think it effects me that much. I don’t seem to struggle against left-handers anymore than right-handers. However, I have heard players say similar things in the past.
The logic makes sense. If 90% of the population is right-handed then both right-handed and left-handed players spend the majority of their time playing against right-handed players. We rarely get a chance to play lefties, so when we do it obviously comes as a bit of a surprise and something strangely different.
Wikipedia states that,
“Interactive sports such as table tennis, badminton, cricket, and tennis have an over-representation of left-handedness while non-interactive sports such as swimming show no over-representation. Smaller physical distance between participants increases the over-representation. In fencing about half the participants are left-handed.”
I decided to do a bit of investigating myself and try to get some actual figures regarding the over-representation of left-handers in table tennis. Here is what I found…
World – Men
Everybody knows that Timo Boll is a left-hander but are there many others at the top of the world ranking list? The answer is yes. A big fat yes.
There are 10 left-handed players in the top 25 and 16 in the top 50. That’s 40% of the players in the top 25 and 32% in the top 50. Quite a big over-representation when you remember that only about 10% of the world’s population are left-handed.
So who are these players? Do you know them all?
- 3. Xu Xin
- 5. Timo Boll
- 7. Jun Mizutani
- 14. Hao Shuai
- 15. Michael Maze
- 16. Chen Qi
- 18. Jiang Tianyi
- 21. Lee Jung Woo
- 22. Koki Niwa
- 25. Marcos Freitas
- 30. Patrick Baum
- 33. Kazuhiro Chan
- 46. Aleksander Karakasevic
- 47. Seo Hyun Deok
- 48. Joao Monteiro
- 49. Ko Lai Chak
Pretty amazing really! I couldn’t believe there were so many.
World – Women
The same was true in the women’s game. Four of the top 10 women in the world were left-handed, including the #1. I really don’t know enough about women’s table tennis but can you guess the four?
- 1. Ding Ning
- 8. Kasumi Ishikawa
- 9. Yanfei Shen
- 10. Guo Yue
I’ll be honest there were only 7 in the top 25 but that’s still 28%. Much more than the 8-12% estimate given by the experts.
World – Juniors
I found it really hard to find enough data and images for the junior players but it’s worth pointing out that, as luck would have it, the top two juniors are both left-handed. #1 Koki Niwa and #2 Lin Gaoyuan.
Obviously you can’t conclude anything from just two players but when you put it all together it’s adding up to an awful lot of left-handers.
It’s clear that there is an over-representation of left-handed players in table tennis. But why?
Some scientists believe that left-handers may actually possess enlarged right hemispheres, giving them superior spatial skills. However, most follow the theory of unfamiliarity, stating that left-handers have a tactical advantage and can use angles and directions that opponents are less used to.
In a table tennis match between a rightie and a leftie the leftie is feeling right at home. They spend most of their time playing right-handers. The rightie is the one struggle with something unfamiliar.
Last but not least, don’t forget the possible psychological advantage. If a right-handed player has in his mind that he “always struggles against lefties” then the self-fulfilling prophesy can really kick in. I’ve never heard of a right-handed player ever saying “I struggle against righties”.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on left-handed players. Do you believe they have an advantage in table tennis? Is it physical, tactical or psychological? Are you a left-handed player? Leave a comment and join the debate.
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