The first three shots in badminton, namely the serve, service return, and third shot (for lack of a better name) of the rally are the most crucial shots in badminton. They set up the rally and usually determine which team is attacking and which team is defending. In most casual/amateur games, many rallies even outright end within these 3 hits. If you want to improve your game rapidly as a beginner or intermediate player, you should take the time to improve these 3 shots.
This is the one shot that you have complete control over. In theory, no experienced badminton player should have any excuse to mess this up. However, it happens all the time – whether because of nerves, lack of practice, or intimidation. The best way to have a consistently good serve is to just practice. Many players don’t take the time to practice their serve and so, just give away free points during games by making mistakes. Take the time to practice and you will see an immediate improvement in your game.
The serve has a very subtle mini game within itself that many players don’t seem to realize. Even with a good serve, if a good opponent can predict where you are serving, they may still be able to get an advantage or outright kill by rushing the net. Some players tend to serve from the T (front middle) to only the opposite T or to only the middle of the receiving player’s court. This gets far too predictable. The mix up of the serve is a crucial part of keeping an aggressive opponent guessing and more hesitant to attack your serve. Try experimenting with serves to different parts of the court every so often and try to catch your opponent off guard.
More uncommon serves include the serve to the far front corner or flick serves to the back (pretty common in amateur play though). The serve to the far front corner is risky since it has to be flatter (it has to travel farther than to the T) and the receiver has a potentially lethal straight or crosscourt shot. However, with that said, if you catch your opponent off guard, there is a high chance of gaining the attack.
The flick serve, on the other hand, is an attempt to outright win the point by completely catching the opponent off guard. It is a high risk, high reward type of serve whose alternate purpose is to keep opponents guessing. At the same time, a wary opponent can catch the shuttlecock early and can gain a fierce attack, often winning the rally in the next few hits. While this may be what is typically seen in professional badminton, the flick serve is extremely overused in amateur play. Reasons include not being confident in their short serves, pushing a weak opponent to the back of the court, or just wanting to win points quickly. Although this is the case, I strongly advise to avoid overusing the flick serve since it will hinder your potential for improvement as it will not work well against higher level opponents. Use the flick serve as mix up and a mind game, not as a crutch.
We have learned that the service is a game in itself which can involve many mind games and a variety of types of shots. There are, however, many service rules you should be aware of. The most common service faults include hitting the shuttlecock higher than 1.15 meters from the ground, racket not pointing in a downward direction. This is why drive serves are largely illegal and only done at the amateur level (where they will not be faulted). Other illegal services include double action (pretending to hit the shuttlecock then backing back up to hit it in a different direction), and a non-smooth serve (pausing in the middle of the serve, then continuing to serve). Both of these are used to bait the opponent to move, then hit in a different direction. All of these types of serves are illegal. Don’t do them. Rather, try to improve your legal serves and don’t rely on such gimmicky and illegal tactics.
The Service Return
Professional mens doubles players stand as close to the service line as they can when they receive the serve. They do so to attack the birdie as soon as possible in order to create pressure or as an attempt to gain the attack. Often, professionals push the birdie to the mid court in a flat or downward direction without much power. By taking away the power/pace, attempts at driving or dropping the birdie become more difficult. Other options that professional players choose include tight spinning net drops and pushes at the opponents’ bodies. Spinning net shots do not pressure the opponents immediately but usually forces a lift for attacking play. A mix up between these shots keep their opponents guessing.
Sometimes professionals deliberately aim to hit the top of the net for the birdie to topple over. It is extremely difficult to receive if done successfully but requires a lot of practice to have a high success rate. It can be quite a risky tactic but can have huge payoffs. It may seem broken to have the ability to do this consistently, but remember that the server can change up the serve (whether power or direction), making it far more difficult to do such a tactic.
For amateurs, there tends to be several phases that players go through with the service return.
The beginning phase includes lifting the shuttlecock to the back court and play defensively on the service return. This is usually the case because they stand farther back in their square and do not receive the shuttlecock early enough to attack. Others prefer to just play defensively and do not even attempt to be aggressive. While not necessarily bad for amateur or casual play, lifting all the time will keep you from improving to the next level.
The next phase is driving flat or downward powerfully in an attempt to win the point quickly. This is a tactic used most often by intermediate players but also by advanced players sometimes. It is effective against many players because players at this level tend to have serves that are slightly too high and also because players are not that quick to receive the drive. What tends to happen next is for players to start flick serving all the time to avoid dealing with an aggressive player (this may help somewhat but as said previously, will not actually improve your service game).ß
The next phase includes a mix up of several shots, sort of like the professionals. This includes half pushes, shots towards the opponents’ bodies, and tight spinning net shots.
The Third Shot
Retrieving this shot well is one of the biggest milestones in a badminton player’s training. Beginning to intermediate players have trouble with the third shot of the rally once players start driving or attacking the serve, often resulting in the rally ending soon thereafter. There are many reasons why players have trouble with the third shot, oftentimes because of a lack of control, power, or speed. While there really isn’t any way to fix power, speed, or control without plenty of training, there are some other ways to improve your third shot retrieval skills considerably and gain the attack.
First, anticipate what your opponents will do. What have they been doing for the whole game? Are they predictable? More likely than not, your opponents will not change up their shots much and have favorite shots they like to do. Use this to your advantage and be prepared for a particular response that you think is likely.
Second, from the front of the court, get your racket up as soon as possible after your serve. This will instantly make your reaction time faster to cut off shots or retrieve drop shots.
Third, from the back of the court, stand closer to your partner (who is serving). Many players tend to stand too far back in the court. This is largely because players do not think they are fast enough to back up to lifts or want to give themselves more time to retrieve fast drives. However, standing farther back makes attacking chances more difficult when the opponent attacks the serve with half court pushes or fast drives. This likely results in forcing you to lift the shuttlecock and putting your team in a defensive position. By standing closer to the mid-court, you give yourself a better chance to cut off the shuttlecock and drive or drop back in a downward direction.
Fourth, the server can give a hand signal to indicate where the serve will go. Professionals often do this to help their parter anticipate the return shot better (very important, especially when the shuttlecock is moving at such fast speeds!). This is not seen much in amateur play but may be worth considering to improve your play to the next level.
There are so many combinations of shots within the first three hits of a rally that it becomes more like an art than a science and thus, is impossible to perfect. The tips I have given here provides a solid path to help improve your game but to truly figure out works for you, practice, practice, practice! Just try to consciously keep in mind what you want to work on during the game on and you’ll surely improve rapidly! Happy playing!
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