Lefties in Tennis: Doubles and Prize Money
A few days ago, I offered some numbers on the prevalence of lefties in men’s tennis. It turned out that, in the top 300 of the ATP singles rankings, lefties don’t show up much more than you would expect them to.
A reasonable follow-up question would be: What about doubles?
Being left-handed may not make one a better doubles player, but being left-handed does have the potential to make one part of a better doubles team. Case in point: Five of the eight doubles teams that earned a spot in the ATP Tour Finals last year were a righty/lefty duo, including the top two teams in the year-end rankings.
And indeed, it turns out that left-handers are more prevalent in the top ranks of men’s doubles. As we’ve seen, in November 2010, five of the sixteen players (31 percent) included in the ATP Tour Finals were left-handed.
The most current ATP doubles rankings tell a similar, if less extreme, story. Of the top 100 ranked doubles players, 18 are left-handed. That’s considerably higher than the 12 of 100 at the top of the singles rankings. (Both top 100s include Rafael Nadal, who plays left-handed but was born right-hand dominant. These calculations consider him left-handed.)
The majority of players participate in both singles and doubles, at least on occasion. To determine some general level of “success” for ATP players, we could look at total prize money. This weights singles much more heavily. An advantage is that it is a reasonable measure of a sustainable career in professional tennis.
So, do left-handers have a better chance at making money in tennis than we would expect, given their prevalence in the general population?
It doesn’t look like there is any substantial advantage. Of the top 100 money-winners, 13 are left-handed, including Nadal. The top 100 does include four doubles specialists, out of only 13 total doubles specialists in the top 100.
If we go further, we find an additional five lefties from 101 to 150, and six more from 151 to 200.
Left-handers do seem to have a better chance than right-handers of reaching a certain level of success in men’s doubles. Beyond that, there is little in the way of a handedness advantage. Whatever the advantages of playing tennis left-handed and the challenges of facing a lefty, they don’t translate into an overwhelming number of left-handers at the top of the professional game, or a disproportionate level of success for left-handed professionals.