The 4 Fundamental Types of Badminton Serves

The serve marks the start of each and every badminton rally. When done correctly, the serve can pave the path to winning the point. On the other hand, a weak serve can be severely punished by the receiving team, leaving the serving team in disarray and at a one point deficit. 

It should not matter if your opponent is fast, strong, or pressures the short service line – the serve is the one shot that a badminton player has complete control over, as he or she can dictate the speed, angle, and type of serve to execute. There is a type and variation of serve that suits every situation. Ignore the player and become an expert at your own service game.

Here we will cover the 4 types of badminton serves: low serve, high serve, flick serve, and drive serve. We will dive into what each type of serve is, when to use it, and why investing the time to perfect each serve will elevate your badminton game. 

We at BadmintonBites reckon the serve to be one of the most important shots in badminton. As such, each badminton player should take our advice to practice the serve to perfection. Practice the serve relentlessly until you can literally do it with your eyes closed – seriously … try it!

Arguably, the worst thing that you can do is serve the shuttle out, short, or – heaven forbid – into the net.

Keep in mind as you learn about the 4 types of badminton serves that most of the serves can be executed by either the forehand or backhand. Now, without further ado, let’s jump right into it!

Low Serve

What is a low serve?

The low serve, also commonly known as a short serve, is a serve that barely skims over the top of the net and lands near the short service line. When done correctly, it does not give the opponent an opportunity to attack and limits the type of shots on the service return. A perfect short serve will immediately start dropping in a downwards flight path after it crosses the net, and continues to just land across the short service line, which forces opponents to lift the shuttle if they wait too long before returning the serve.

When should you use a low serve? 

A low serve is most commonly used in doubles, as the service area in doubles is shorter than in singles making it difficult to maximize the benefits of a high serve. A low serve done well will restrict the range of motion and shot choice for the receiving team on their return of serve. Especially against tall or aggressive players, a low serve will deny them the ability to deliver an overwhelming attack on the serve as the serve is kept tight and just barely above the net. 

Low Serve - Doubles
Low Serve – Doubles

The low serve has gained popularity in men’s singles at the professional level of play, as many of the top players are able to respond to high serves with a devastating jump smash. 

Low Serve - Singles
Low Serve – Singles

Why should you use a low serve?

In doubles, a low serve should be the default for the serving team as it keeps them away from automatically playing defensively. A perfectly executed low serve will prevent the receiving team from smashing the shuttle as the height and placement of the shuttle will only allow for a push or drive, at best. 

An unwritten rule of thumb in badminton is to maintain the offensive position.

Use the low serve as a means to retain a neutral or offensive position on the rally. A tight low serve that just passes across the top of the net and starts to drop in its path to the short service line may force the receiver to lift, giving the serving team the ability to convert the lift into an offensive opportunity.

In singles, a low serve also prevents the opponent from responding to a high serve with a powerful smash. In singles, the target area for short serves is a bit more forgiving because the receiver will start further away from the short service line than in doubles. 

Note: An unwritten rule of thumb in badminton is to maintain the offensive position, as it’s much easier to score a point while on the offensive than on the defensive. By performing a low serve in singles, the receiver must take a couple of extra steps forward to return the shot. The time spent traveling to the shuttle will result in the shuttle dropping in height. This increases the probability that the receiver will end up lifting, which then gives the serving team many more options to control the rally on their second shot.

High Serve

What is a high serve?

A high serve, also commonly known as a long serve, is a serve that travels high and deep into the receiver’s back court, targeting the furthest corner away from the server. The arc of a high serve should resemble that of a deep lift shot, where the shuttle reaches its high peak towards the back of the receiver’s court before dropping sharply near the back service boundary. 

High Serve
High Serve

The high serve is the only serve out of the four types we cover in this post that should be exclusively executed with the forehand grip. To execute a proper high serve that achieves the right height and distance requires significant energy transfer, which is most efficiently achieved through a full swing. The rotation of the body and the shifting of the server’s weight from the back foot to the front foot generate power that is transferred into the serve. It is uncommon for a player to possess an extraordinary amount of wrist strength to be able to deliver a backhand high serve that reaches the same height and distance to that of a forehand high serve. 

When should you use a high serve?

A high serve is primarily used in singles play, especially women’s singles. A properly executed high serve to the furthest corner from the server puts the opponent in their back court near the edge. This target destination puts demands on the receiver to exert a high degree of energy to produce an adequate return. 

High Serve Target Area from Right Service
Target Area for High Serve from Right Service Court

A high serve should be used when the opponent does not have the necessary strength or skills to easily return a proper high serve. What we mean is here is a high serve should not be used for tall players or strong players who can efficiently get behind the shuttle in a high serve and deliver an overwhelming return. The goal is to make the opponent work for a good execution, or settle for a mediocre response which you can use to your benefit.

Our advice for when to opt for a high serve in singles is when the output of energy your opponent must spend in returning a high serve outweighs the risk of losing a point from your opponent’s ability to execute a winning service return. 

You should never use a high serve in doubles. This is due to two (2) primary reasons:

1. Doubles is all about seizing the offensive and keeping it. A high serve puts the serving team in a defensive situation right off the bat. Furthermore, the service area in doubles is shorter than in singles, which gives the receiving team even more of an edge for a shorter-distanced smash.

2. A high serve requires a big swing to execute, which will eliminate any element of surprise as the only serve you will be able to deliver is the high serve.

Why should you use a high serve?

Pushing your opponents to the far corner of the receiving area pressures them to spend a lot of energy to execute a proper return, especially if they choose to respond to the high serve with a good clear or strong smash. Pushing them to the far corner may limit the angles for which your opponent can return the high serve, setting up the server to only need to worry about shots coming from the corner versus the flexibility of shots that may come from a high serve down the middle line.

Opponents that are drawn to the back edge of their court are at a disadvantageous position in singles as there is a lot more open area for them to cover. Most singles players will not choose to return a high serve with a backhand shot, as most players are weaker with their backhand. This forces the receiver to take an additional couple of steps outside of the sidelines to be able to strike the shuttle with their forehand. The high serve to the back corner of the receiving area puts the receiver in such a position that requires them to take the greatest number of steps to physically return to the center of their court – which depletes their energy supply!

High Serve Target Area from Left Service
Target Area for High Serve from Left Service Court

Use a high serve in situations where you want to tire your opponent out early in the match. A strong return – by way of a smash or clear – of a high serve will incrementally build on the receiver’s fatigue. Don’t underestimate this slow and steady burn of your opponents’ energy, as they will surely be applying it to you as well. 

Lastly, we recommend using a high serve when you find yourself in need of extra time to recover and be ready for the return of serve. This is typically more advantageous for a beginner singles player, as at this level of play, capitalizing on the benefits of a short serve is less prominent. A high and deep serve gives you the time to reposition yourself, concentrate, and focus your attention on your opponent’s response to your serve. 

Flick Serve

What is a flick serve?

A flick serve is a fast and offensive serve that travels in an upwards direction towards the far service line. The set-up of the flick serve resembles that of a typical low serve and seeks to deceive the opponent by injecting power into the serve at the last moment through wrist and thumb strength. 

The flick serve does not achieve the same height/arc as a forehand long serve, but is more similar in flight to that of a punch clear. The flick serve is meant to quickly sail above the reach of the receiver, most commonly in a doubles game, who is positioned near the short service line.

Flick Serve - Doubles
Flick Serve – Doubles

A flick serve can also be effective in a singles game, but requires much more wrist strength to execute effectively. As such, the flick serve is not commonly seen in beginners and even early intermediate singles players. 

Flick Serve - Singles
Flick Serve – Single

When should you use a flick serve?

The flick serve should primarily be used in doubles matches, given the receiver tends to stand near the short service line in anticipation for the default short serve. A flick serve adds needed variety into your serving toolkit and deters over-aggressive receivers. In a singles match, a flick serve can maximize the element of surprise as it is not very commonly practiced. A strong wrist against a far forward receiver can make for the perfect opportunity to throw in a flick serve. 

A flick serve should be used in situations where the receiver is applying pressure to the server by standing right along the short service line and aggressively leaning forward to intercept the low serve as quickly as possible. A flick serve will punish these over eager opponents by forcing them to shift their weight from a forward leaning stance to responding to a backcourt serve. Especially if you ace your opponent or are able to capitalize on a weak return of serve, your opponent will end up easing off on pressuring the short serve, allowing you to return to using a short serve. 

Another scenario to use the flick serve is if your opponent has a slow response and movement to the backcourt. As the flick serve should sail above the receiver’s reach in their starting position, opponents that have a slower reaction speed to the surprise factor of a flick serve may result in a poor return or a flat out miss. 

You should avoid using a flick serve in singles because the receiver may start further back in their court, reducing the effectiveness of the flick serve. However, use your best judgement if you come across an opponent who plays overly aggressive towards the short service line. 

Why should you use a flick serve?

Adding variety to your serve prevents opponents from predicting your serve and bullying you by intercepting the serve early to take the point. Especially for players who enjoy intimidating the server by standing near, or even hovering over, the short service line with their racket extended towards you, mixing in a flick serve can throw them off their balance. By negating an aggressive server’s changes of attacking the short serve, throwing in a few flick serves will ease the pressure from the short serve as they may take a more conservative stance. 

As the set up of a flick serve is very similar to that of a short serve and drive serve (which we will describe below), practicing the flick serve to perfection and introducing it in moderation within a badminton match will force opponents to respect your serve. The flick serve need not travel all the way to the doubles service line, as much as it should be fast and out of reach of the opponent in their return of serve position. By giving no indication to your opponent which of the three serves you will be executing – short serve, flick serve, or drive serve – will keep them on their toes and guessing. 

A well executed flick serve down the line towards the doubles service line may disrupt a double pair’s formation if the partner of the receiver is straddling the middle line directly behind the receiver. This placement down the middle line will push the receiver to retreat directly backwards, which in turn forces his or her partner to scramble out of the way. This can add some confusion to the receiving team’s strategy and formation, providing an advantage to the serving team. 

One common scenario to use a flick serve is if the receiving player is the weaker of the two opponents in the backcourt. This can be the case if a doubles pair has a designated front court/backcourt player, or generally when the female player is receiving the serve in a mixed doubles pair. Flick serving to the weaker backcourt player disrupts the ideal formation of your opponents and can give the serving team that ever so slight advantage in the rally.

Players should be wary not to overuse the flick serve as it diminishes the element of surprise. If the receiving team catches on to your flick serve tendencies and stands a few steps off the short service line, they can actually put themselves at an advantageous position to jump and interrupt the flick serve with a powerful smash, which can overwhelm the serving team.

Drive Serve

What is a drive serve?

A drive serve, also commonly known as a flat serve, is a fast and flat offensive serve that is meant to travel to the mid-to-far end of the service receiving area. The setup of a drive serve looks similar to that of a low serve or flick serve and relies on the power of the wrist to transmit the power into the shuttle. The angle of the racket race is what differentiates the flick serve from the drive serve. 

The drive serve’s flight pattern resembles that of your typical drive – where being flat and fast is the objective. A note of caution to badminton players is that the drive serve is one that is high risk, high reward. 

When should you use a drive serve?

While the drive serve can be used in singles and doubles play, it is the most effective in doubles play given the positioning of the receiver, along with the shorter service boundary at the end far end of the court. 

Drive Serve - Doubles
Drive Serve – Doubles
Drive Serve - Singles
Drive Serve – Singles

Similar to the flick serve we covered above, the drive serve is dangerous due to the element of surprise that comes with the serve. You should use this serve to add a change up to the badminton match and perhaps break the rhythm of the game. If your opponents have gotten used to your low serve and even a flick serve does not seem to phase them, toss in a drive serve to really keep them alert instead of anticipatory for your standard serves. 

The drive serve is especially effective against players with slower reaction speeds, such as tall opponents with lengthy limbs. The quickness of a flat and fast serve will put their racket handling skills to the test, which more often than not will catch the unsuspecting player by surprise, resulting in a weak service return. 

Why should you use a drive serve?

A drive serve, specifically targeting the body or more towards the backhand area, can really jam the range of motion for a receiver, forcing a loose return or mishit. Weak returns forced by this offensive serve can set the serving team up for a consecutive offensive play to win the rally.

Drive serves can be used to pick on the opponent with the weaker defense or response time as the speed in which the shuttle travels towards the receiver gives them a very limited window of time to react. And even if opponents manage to react to the serve, there are limited return of serve options given the nature of the drive serve. Namely, a smash, lift, or clear are out of the question, leaving the opponents with only drops or drives.

The drive serve offers yet another service option to your arsenal of serves, which forces your opponent to play more conservatively if they are unable to decipher (by means of reading your body language) what serve you are going to execute. 

Be careful not to overuse the drive serve because a poised and ready receiver driving a drive serve back towards the serving team may put the serving team on the defensive at best or a point-ending situation at worst. 

Service Advice from BadmintonBites

  • Practice adjusting the angle of the serve. An important factor to having a strong service game is to refrain from being predictable by the opponents. If you are only to serve to the exact same location for a low serve, your opponents will pick this up and may gravitate towards that location and may even intercept the serve early on to put the server on the defensive. Build the various targets for your service from the T to the outer doubles side lines. 
  • Become a master of disguise. The default low serve and two offensive serves (flick serve and drive serve) should also look and feel the same from the eyes of the receiver. The deception and maximum effectiveness lays in how well you are able to fool your opponents. If you keep your opponents on edge, they will play more conservatively, which puts the serving team at an advantage. Whereas, if the receiving team does not heed the warnings and pressures the short service line, you can overtake them with an out of reach flick serve or a speedy drive serve. 
  • Create hand signals to non-verbally communicate with your doubles partner. You may notice watching the professional players on the international stage that the server in doubles will motion to their partner with some hand/finger signals. This is a form of communication between partners that is pre-determined and lets the server’s partner know exactly what type (low, high, flick, or drive) of serve the server is going to execute, as well as where they intend to place it (at the T, middle, or far edge of the court). The goal of the service game is to surprise the opponents, not your own team, so communication is key! 

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