Everything You Need to Know About Service Rules in Badminton

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By far, the most complicated rules in badminton come from the service rules. If you’re new to badminton, you may be wondering how to start a game or point. And even if you’ve been playing badminton for a while, you might have come across an obscure situation you’re not sure of. In this post, we’re here to answer all of your service questions. If you still have questions or have encountered an obscure situation, leave a comment below letting us know.

If you’re a beginner just getting into badminton, make sure to finish reading this post and also What is Badminton? A Beginner’s Starter Guide.

If you’re looking for general rules of badminton, we did a post detailing the official rules in an easy to understand manner in Fundamental Rules of Badminton – The World’s Fastest Racket Sport.

For the rest of this post, we will refer to the Badminton World Federation (BWF) for official rules. You can find their official document over here.

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Who Serves First in Badminton?

The first player or team to serve in badminton is determined by the players after a coin toss conducted by the umpire. The winner of the coin toss can choose between 2 categories – service and court ends. From the service category, players can choose to either serve first or receive first. From the court ends category, players can choose which side of the court to start play in. The winner of the coin toss selects and chooses an option in one of the above categories while the remaining category is determined by the other player/team. In doubles, either player on the serving team may serve first. Similarly, either player on the receiving team may receive first.

Coin Toss
A coin toss determines who serves first.

Note: In casual play, a common replacement of a coin toss is a shuttlecock toss, where a shuttlecock is hit straight up into the air and the winning player/team is the one the shuttlecock’s base is pointing towards.

Which Side of the Court Do I Start Serving From in Badminton?

Players start a game by serving from the right side of the court in badminton. You always serve from the right side of the court when you have an even number of points and always serve from the left side of the court when you have an odd number of points. Since the score is 0 – 0 at the beginning of a game, you have an even number of points, and therefore serve from the right side of the badminton court. This applies to both singles and doubles.

Below are the service court boundaries for singles and doubles for when you have an even number of points.

Singles service court, even score.
Singles Service Boundaries for Even Scores

Doubles service court, even score.
Doubles Service Boundaries for Even Scores

Who Serves and Receives First in the 2nd and 3rd Games in Badminton?

In singles, the player who won the previous game will serve first in the next game. Similarly, in doubles, the team who won the previous game will serve first in the next game. However, the teams may change which player on the team serves first for each game. The receiving team may also decide who receives first for each game. There is no rule stating that players must be in the same formation as they were at the start of the match. Therefore, teams may decide their own starting formation at the start of each game.

Who Serves and Receives After the Change of Ends in the 3rd Game in Badminton?

In the 3rd game of badminton, players/teams will change ends once the first player/team reaches 11 points. The player who serves after the change of ends is the player who would have served if there was no change of ends. Similarly, the receiver must be the same. Essentially, service and reception continues as if the players did not change ends.

Who Serves After a Rally in Badminton?

The player or team who won the previous rally serves the next point. In doubles, if the team who won the rally was serving in the previous rally, the players on that team will rotate positions (from left to right and vice versa) and the player on that team who served in the previous rally will continue to serve. If the team who won the rally was not serving in the previous rally, they do not rotate positions.

How Many Serves Do You Get in Badminton?

You get a single serve (1) in badminton. You lose the point if you fail the serve, whether it is a fault, not hitting the shuttlecock in-bounds, or not hitting the shuttlecock over the net. This is in contrast to tennis, where players get a second serve if they do not perform their first serve properly. If you would like to learn more about the differences between badminton and tennis, we’ve written a post that goes over some of the major differences in detail to help you decide which sport to play (or maybe both!). Check it out – Badminton Vs Tennis: What’s the Difference?

Is a Serve That Lands on the Line Considered In?

A serve that lands on the line of the service boundary is considered in. It does not matter what type of serve it is (as long as it is legal). This rule applies even after service, meaning that hits that land on lines of the active boundaries are always considered in, even if it just hits part of the line.

A shuttlecock landing on the boundary line is IN.

Can the Shuttlecock Touch the Net During the Service in Badminton?

A serve that touches the net but still goes over and lands inbounds is legal and considered a valid serve. This doesn’t happen too often but is frequent enough to be aware of. When it does happen, the shuttlecock will skim or bounce on top of the net but still go over. It is usually done by accident but is completely valid, so you’ll have to react quickly to the change in direction.

Can You Serve Again If You Miss the Shuttlecock in Badminton?

No, you cannot serve again if you miss the shuttlecock on your serve. BWF’s official rules says “in attempting to serve, the server shall not miss the shuttle”. This also means that if you miss the shuttlecock once, you cannot attempt to hit the shuttlecock again, even if the shuttlecock did not reach the ground yet.

When Do You Rotate Service Positions in Doubles in Badminton?

Partners rotate service courts (from left to right and vice versa) when they win a point that they served. Otherwise, no rotation of service positions occur.

Image - Rotation

Can You Serve Overhand in Badminton?

No, you cannot serve overhand in badminton. You must serve underhand as BWF states “the shaft and the racket head of the server’s racket at the instant of hitting the shuttle shall be pointing in a downward direction.”

Can You Stand on a Line When You Serve or Receive in Badminton?

You cannot stand on a line when you serve or receive a serve in badminton. It is considered a fault and you would lose the point. If both players/teams violate the rule, it is a let (a redo).

Can You Hit the Feathers of the Shuttlecock During the Serve in Badminton?

The server can hit the feathers of the shuttlecock, but the base of the shuttlecock must be hit first. There is no clause in BWF’s rules saying that the feathers cannot be struck during a serve.

Hitting the feathered side (skirt) first is a FAULT.

Can Players Move During a Serve in Badminton?

The server and receiver cannot move their feet off the ground until the shuttlecock is struck. However, the server and receiver’s partners can move their feet off the ground during the serve. Once the shuttlecock is struck, all players may now move their feet off the ground, even before the shuttlecock has moved past the net. Players may move other parts of their body during the serve.

What Happens if the Receiver was not Ready For the Serve in Badminton?

If the receiver was not ready and a serve was made, it is considered a let and the point is redone. However, if the receiver attempts to hit the shuttlecock, the receiver is considered to have been ready.

How High Can the Shuttlecock Be Held When You Serve in Badminton?

The entire shuttlecock must be below 1.15 meters (3.8 feet) from the ground when it is struck. This is an experimental rule made effective by BWF in March 2018 and is still effective as of 2020. Previously, the entire shuttlecock had to be below lowest part of the server’s bottom rib.

Note that the rule applies to when the shuttlecock is struck, not anytime before or after. This means you can hold the shuttlecock higher before striking it and you can also follow through your shot after your racket makes contact with the shuttlecock.

Are Service Rules Different Between Singles and Doubles in Badminton?

No, the service rules are the same for singles and doubles. You may see players use different types of serves in each discipline but they all follow the same rules. However, court boundaries are different. See below for the service court boundaries for singles and doubles (only boundaries for even scores are shown, odd scores are similar but on the other side of the court).

Singles service court, even score.
Singles Service Boundaries for Even Scores

Doubles service court, even score.
Doubles Service Boundaries for Even Scores

We have an in-depth explanation of all the differences between singles and doubles if you’re interested in more rule and strategy differences. Check it out in What’s the Difference Between Singles and Doubles in Badminton?

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    • Great question James. A service that falls on the line of the service boundary is considered in, irrespective of the type of serve.

  1. Is it legal to toss the shuttlecock a little ( below chest level ) in the air before hitting it ( below last rib ) in compliance with BWF’s regulations?

  2. Is it legal to toss the shuttlecock a little into the air ( below chest level ) & hitting it only below the last rib?

    • Yes, it is legal to toss the shuttlecock during a serve. As long as you hit the shuttlecock when it is below the legal point (1.15 meters/3.77 feet in the current official rules) it is fine. When singles players hit high serves, they typically drop the shuttlecock from their hands and hit the shuttlecock once it is lower, which is similar to the situation you described.

  3. Good morning, is there a time limit on how long it takes you to serve, ie, you have to serve inside 1 minuite?

    • Excellent question. There is no official time limit on how long a player can take to make a serve.
      However, the official rules do have these clauses:

      “Neither side shall cause undue delay to the delivery of the service once the server and the receiver are ready for the service.”
      “On completion of the backward movement of the server’s racket head, any delay in the start of the service shall be considered to be an undue delay”
      “The umpire shall be the sole judge of any delay in play”

      So essentially, it is up to the umpire to decide what is considered a delay and what isn’t. In casual play, the players should use their own judgement.

  4. Can the receiver from a serve move out of his grid once the shuttle has been struck but before it crosses the net ?

    • Good question David. Yes, the receiver can move out of the receiving area the moment the shuttle has been struck, even before it crosses the net. Moving before that moment will result in a fault.

  5. If I miss hit the shuttle when serving in doubles and instead of going to the diagonal opponent it goes to the opposite opponent who catches it before it hits the ground who is at fault?

    • Thanks for the question Chris. In this case, you would win the point. If the wrong receiver hits (or touches/catches) the shuttle before it lands on the ground, the server’s team wins the point. It does not matter that the shuttle would have landed out.

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