Now that you have graduated from backyard badminton, you can no longer rely on physical ability alone to win games. It is time to develop tactics and strategiesï¿½a game planï¿½to out-think and beat your opponent. By identifying and focusing on his or her weaknesses, you are beginning to use your mental acumen to win. If you play without thinking you will lose without realizing why you lost.
Study your opponents. Discover what shots they are prone to make errors on, which shots are their favorite ones, and which shots they are limited to in specific situations. You are looking for patterns and tendencies. Perhaps by their body language and movement they telegraph what shot they are going to execute. Correctly anticipating what the opponents will do with the shuttle will help your own game enormously. Even feeding the shuttle to an opponent’s favorite put-away shot will work to your advantage because you gain time: you will be ready for it and may return it before he has recovered.
Your opponent has other qualities that dictate how you play. I play quickly and aggressively against a player who has more stamina and patience than I do, likewise I play more conservatively against a player who has less stamina or is more inconsistent. One coach I knew classified players according to how they moved, and hit shots that he thought would upset their timing and rhythm. I, on the other hand, know only enough to hit fast, low shots against slow-footed players and try to fake more against quick players.
Use the length of the court and pin your opponent to the back line before trying a drop shot to the net. It is much easier to retrieve his shots when he is forced to hit from deep in his court. Move your opponent to all four corners to tire him. It is much easier to hit winning shots against a tired player, even a fresh player who is slightly tired from a long rally. Dart in and out of your own corners so that you can cover your court for his next shot.
Singles is a mental and physical battle. A lapse in concentration can easily lead to losing a run of points, which in turn is discouraging and may lead to losing even more points. To win in singles one must be fit, focused, and hit good clears and drops without errors. Smashes should only be used for ending the rally within the next two shots. The classic singles rally would use drops and clears until the shuttle is too far away from the opponent to him to effectively clear a return, and then with a smash win the rally outright.
Mens and womens doubles
Avoid lifting or clearing the shuttle, which is like punting in football. By clearing, you are giving the opponents a chance to win. If you do clear, your team should adopt a side-by-side defensive position. The whole point of the rally, starting with the service, is to hit shots that force the opponents to lift. This is why when you are serving your partner stands behind you because you hope to make the receivers lift with your good short serve. This is also why when you are receiving serve your partner stands behind you because you hope with your aggressive return you will make someone on the serving team lift to your partner.
If your opponents clear to your side, the person who will hit the shuttle must hit downwards (either smashing or dropping) while the partner must be moving to the front as soon as he realizes the shuttle is not his. This is the up and back offense position, the better to control the net. From now on the smasher gets all the deep ones, while the net man cuts off or puts away everything else.
If you have the offense, it is safest if you do not smash cross-court, since their down-the-line return will be directed at your undefended open space. Find out how your opponent directly across the net from you waits for your smash. If he waits on his backhand, smash wide to his forehand or close to his forehand hip or shoulder. If he waits on his forehand, smash to his body or his backhand. If he stands deep, hit drops or cut smashes. If he stands close and waits with his racket up, try a quick clear.
If you are on defense, try to flatten the smash out so that the smasher cannot smash again. You can return cross-court with the aim of tiring the smasher or forcing him to hit a laterally off-balanced shot, but the cross-court must avoid the net man.
In the classic mixed formation, the woman stays in front of the man, playing along and just behind the short service line, while the man retrieves shots hit to his half-court or backcourt. In mixed it is even more imperative not to lift, since the woman is so close at the net and vulnerable to smashes. Classic mixed is a slower game with more finesse than in regular doubles, the better to bring both partners into the rally. Again, each team is trying to hit shots that make the other team lift. Avoid shots that your opponents can meet above the tape, unless you manage to get the shot behind the striker.
If you do lift, the woman should not stay at the T and duck, but run away cross-court from where the shuttle is on the other side and take a position about 2-3 feet behind the short service line, squatting down and keeping the racket head up. She is only responsible for smashes and drops directed at her; the man gets everything else, including the down-the-line drop.
Since you are playing in an up-and-back formation, hitting cross-court is risky since you are vulnerable to a down-the-line return. Hit cross-court only if both opponents are on the same side of their court as the shuttle is on your side, or if you know you can hit a winner through the opposing woman.
For more details on playing mixed doubles, see the winter and spring issues of 1996.