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We all love back-and-forth rallies. However, like everything we love, badminton games do come to an end. So when does the umpire declare a badminton match finished?

A badminton match can end in several ways — the most common being when a player wins two games out of three. Winning two out of three games involves getting 21 points for two games before the opponent. Sometimes, badminton games can end due to disqualifications, after tie-breakers, or after forfeitures due to circumstances like injuries.

Let’s dive into the circumstances that can end a badminton match!

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Why is a Badminton Match Best of Three Games?

Badminton matches are best-of-three matches. In other words, players win a badminton match when they win two games. But have you ever wondered why this is the case?

A badminton match is a best-of-three match due in part to how it allows both sides an equal shot at victory. Since players need to win two out of three games, each player has a chance to win one game. Either player can go on to win another match after winning the first or take things into overtime. The other reason behind the best-of-three format is that it makes for fast and thrilling matches. There’s a higher sense of urgency for players to play their rackets off if they know they only have two games to do it. This results in exciting performances and — surprisingly enough — faster games!

Since the creation of badminton in the late 1800s, badminton matches have always been best-of-three matches. Even during its inception, players needed to win two out of three matches. If you want to learn more about early badminton, check out my deep dive into badminton’s history.

All that has changed is the score cap. Badminton matches back then were best-of-three matches in which you’d have to beat your opponent to 15 points. It sounds easy — that is, until you recall that the old rules used a sideout scoring system where only the server could score.

It wasn’t until 2006 when the maximum number of points to win was officially changed to 21. Of course, the only exceptions would be when players are tied.

In 2014, the Badminton World Federation (BWF) considered introducing a best-of-five format, testing it in several tournaments. The proposal came to the disappointment of badminton greats like Jan Jorgensen and the GOAT, Lin Dan.

Luckily, the proposed format never saw the light of day. However, the BWF revisited the idea in 2020. Only time will tell if the five-game system will make it to the Laws of Badminton.

How is a Badminton Game Completed?

When I talk about a “complete” badminton game, I’m referring to a game where a player beats their opponent. Because victory can come in several ways, I need to be clear on what it means to complete a game.

A badminton game is complete when a player scores 21 points before their opponent. In the event of a tie, a player completes or wins a game by establishing a two-point lead. To score points, a player must cause the opponent to miss or commit faults. A badminton game can also end if one team or player forfeits the match, or when someone suffers an injury and cannot continue. Of course, let’s not forget that disqualification will lead to a game’s end, too!

Let’s look at five scenarios to see these rules in action:

Scenario A: A Player Beats the Opponent to 21 Points

Picture two players: players A and B. Player A begins the rally with a service. The rally goes on with misses and changes in services. Towards the end of the rally, player B has managed to score 20 points while player A has only scored 15 points.

Using a double-action underhand shot à la Peter Gade, player B causes player A to miss. Player B then scores the 21st point, becoming the winner of the badminton game.

Image with text - Scoreboard (21 points)

Scenario B: A Player Establishes a Two-point Lead

Imagine that players A and B have tied the game at 20 – 20. Because this happened, one of the players now has to get two more points than the other.

Players A and B continue playing. After a few rallies, player A has scored 22 points, leaving player B at 20. As a result, player A is declared the winner and the game is completed.

Image with text - Scoreboard (2 point lead)

Scenario C: A Player Forfeits

A game forfeiture is a match forfeiture; players can’t forfeit one game and hope to play in the next one. Players can forfeit matches by not showing up or by informing a BWF official — usually the match coordinator or referee.

Image - Forfeit

Scenario D: A Player Sustains an Injury

In the event of an injury, a player or the umpire can call a let. A physician then approaches the court and assesses the player. From here, the player can decide whether they would like to continue or forfeit the match, depending on the doctor’s findings.

An Injured Badminton Player
An Injured Badminton Player

The latter happened in the iconic match between Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan. At the 2013 BWF World Championships, Lee Chong Wei suffered a severe cramp in his right inner thigh. Unable to continue, he had to forfeit the match due to the injury, giving Lin Dan the win and the championship.

Scenario E: Disqualification

Games can end with a disqualification. Disqualifications result in one player or team automatically winning the match, regardless of the score.

There are many potential reasons for a player’s disqualification. We’ll get into this later on!

What is the Time Limit for a Badminton Game?

A badminton game ends as soon as someone establishes a two-point lead or makes it to 21 points before their opponent. But is it possible to win by running down the clock? Is there a time limit for a badminton game?

Badminton games have no time limits. They can last anywhere from a few minutes, such as the games in the match between Julia Mann and Ra-Kyung Min, to a few hours, like this two-hour match between Japan’s Kurumi Yonao and Naoko Fukuman and Indonesia’s Greysia Polii and Nitya Krishinda Maheswari.

In short, you can miss an entire badminton game when you head to the restroom or go for a popcorn or soda refill. However, in the same convention, you can be glued to your seat for hours watching two skilled shuttlers duke it out on the court!

If you’re going to spectate at a BWF tournament in your area, it’s best to keep your schedule open for the day; there’s no telling how long it’ll take.

What Can Disqualify a Badminton Player?

As I’ve mentioned, a game can end after a disqualification. The following can result in the umpire and referee disqualifying a team or player:

The BWF’s Laws of Badminton allow the referee to disqualify teams or players for damaging the shuttlecock intentionally (16.6.2), offensive behavior (16.6.3), deliberate attempts to delay play (16.6.1), or other kinds of misconduct not codified in the Laws of Badminton (16.6.4). This automatically gives the win to the opponent of the disqualified team or player.

Examples of offensive behavior include taunting the opponent or engaging in a confrontation. One such confrontation happened in the 2013 Canadian Open where two ex-partners fought.

As for non-codified forms of misconduct, one example is “taking a dive.” “Taking a dive”, or intentionally losing a match, can result in a disqualification. The most recent example of an intentional loss was in the 2012 London Olympics. Many women’s doubles teams threw their matches to get easier single-elimination draws.

It Ain’t Finished ‘till the Umpire Says So

Badminton matches end when players out-score their opponents or due to forfeitures, injuries, and disqualifications. However, while the game might be over, one thing is for sure:

The exciting action never ends in the world of badminton!

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