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South Carolina boy, and father, look to revolutionize tennis with ambidextrous play

November 20, 2015 01:45 PM

By Jonathon Braden, USTA South Carolina

CHARLESTON, S.C. – Coy Simon might be the easiest player to spot at a junior tennis tournament.

From the sideline on a recent sunny Saturday morning, nearly all his peers showed similar styles – one-handed forehands and two-handed backhands.

Then there was Coy, the tournament’s No. 1 seed, who plays tennis like few do in South Carolina, if not the country.

Coy hits a forehand with his left hand and his right hand. He also uses both sides to place serves and smash overheads.

He has played ambidextrously since he was 6, when his dad, Ben Simon, started teaching him how to play. By 10, his dad said, you couldn’t tell which hand was his dominant. (It’s his right.)

Now Coy is 14, and his unconventional methods have helped him earn success in South Carolina and throughout the Southeast, including a No. 11 ranking in the state for the 16-and-under boys singles division.

But his dad, who’s also Mount Pleasant tennis pro, believes this is only the beginning for his son and his unique style. Ben Simon, who has taught tennis for the past 22 years, envisions two-sided tennis becoming mainstream tennis.

He thinks the style will follow the paths of other once unusual strokes, such as the two-handed backhand and topspin forehand. Fifty years ago, neither stroke was widely taught or used, but now they’re both the favorites of nearly junior and pro player.

“I think it is going to revolutionize the game,” Ben Simon said of ambidextrous tennis.

Screenshots from a 2013 video of Coy Simon show his ambidextrous play. (USTA SC illustration)

Ben Simon himself started playing tennis ambidextrously, until a friend’s dad later taught him how to play with a two-handed backhand and one-handed forehand. He played with the more-modern style at Lander University in Greenwood, where he helped the school win two Division II national titles.

Years later, Ben Simon, by then an established tennis pro, was talking with a friend about ambidextrous tennis. Neither men were convinced the method had been properly tested, from the beginning of a player’s tennis development through his or her adolescent years. They also discussed the style’s strengths – two forehands and no backhand, which is most players’ weakness.

So Simon agreed to try it with Coy, who was 5 at the time.

“I’m not afraid to try new things. I’m not afraid to fail,” Ben Simon said recently.

Ben Simon

The style looked successful Saturday during the South Carolina Junior State Open Championships at The Citadel.

Coy Simon used both serves – his left and his right – to keep his opponent, Garrett Kozar, off-balance. (Coy changes serve sides based on the sun’s location.) During rallies, Coy Simon comfortably switched hands, sometimes even between shots. During one point, he hit a left-handed topspin forehand approach and switched to his right hand to angle away a volley.

“I couldn’t really tell which hand was dominant,” Kozar said. “They were both really good.”

Kozar usually tries to attack his opponent’s weakness – read: backhand – during matches. Against Coy Simon, though, he had to try a new strategy. “You basically have to go all out because he’s really good,” Kozar said.

Kozar was unsuccessful; Coy Simon won, 6-0, 6-0.

Other players have enjoyed ambidextrous success, even on the game’s biggest stages.

About a decade ago, Evgenia Kulikovskaya of Russia reached inside the top 100 on the women’s pro tour. Swinging from both sides, American Luke Jensen, playing with his brother, won the 1993 French Open doubles title. (Luke Jensen, like Coy Simon does now, could do everything with both hands – serve, hit groundstrokes and volley.)

The style has more historical roots as well. Decades ago, as Bud Collins noted in Bud Collins’ Tennis Encyclopedia, ambidextrous player Giorgio de Stefani of Italy won the 1934 French Open, and American Beverly Baker Fleitz lost in the 1955 Wimbledon final.

Roy Barth, the longtime director of tennis at the Kiawah Island Golf Resort, can see how two forehands could be ideal from the baseline and while serving.

But Barth, who was an All-American at UCLA and played on the pro tour, doesn’t endorse the style because of how long it could take to switch hands, especially in pressure situations, such as when attacking the net.

“I would not recommend it,” Barth said. “I think you’d be better off if you picked your strongest side.”

Coy’s dad, Ben Simon, knows people disagree. “Out in left field” was how one Charleston tennis coach described him, Simon recalled.

Even at the Live To Play Tennis Club in Mount Pleasant, where Simon is the director of technical development, no other parents have wanted their kids to try the approach.

Ben Simon is convinced more will try, though, once his son and his 9-year-old daughter, Breeze, who’s also playing with two forehands, win more consistently and at the biggest tournaments.

“Right now I’m kind of nuts,” Ben Simon said. “But as soon as one person makes it, one person breaks through, I guarantee everybody will be doing it. If not (doing it), seriously thinking about it.”

At the Citadel tournament, Coy Simon finished third. The result, however, didn’t bother Dad. He thinks the best results for Coy – and ambidextrous tennis – are only a year away.

“This time next year,” Ben Simon said, “we’re going to make some noise. Mark my words.”