Last Updated on May 15, 2023 by Aske
Service in badminton is not an easy thing to deal with.
There’s a lot of pressure on not messing things up for your partner when you play doubles, and it sucks striking a bad serve in singles that lose you quick points and momentum for no apparent reason.
When it comes to the backhand serve in badminton many players struggle to figure out how to do it well enough and mostly do it because it’s what everyone else does.
A lot of us probably park the whole service game at – “as long as I don’t hit the net or strike an easy net kill, I’ll be fine.”
The worst thing is that up until a certain level, you can get away with this, but then, you quickly realize that service is a mind game you can’t avoid. Nor should you.
In good service, you don’t just hope for a weak return. You force it. And the backhand might be the most effective way to do this.
It’s also an insanely technical and sensitive style, where even small changes can have a massive impact on the following strikes in a rally. Like a badminton butterfly effect.
If you think it’s time to feel great about service and watch your next strike after a serve light up the court, I’ll take you through the art of setting yourself up for an advantage with a short and low backhand serve.
Let the rally begin.
Backhand birdy: the most popular low serve in badminton
Why is this style so widespread?
Whether you watch high-level professional matches or amateur club tournaments, you see the backhand short serve again and again, as the most dominating choice for service. It doesn’t matter whether it’s singles, doubles, men or women (although it’s the least dominant in women’s singles).
Nearly everyone uses this for the vast majority of their service game, and it’s no coincidence.
Low and shorter backhand service is highly effective because:
- The shuttlecock has a shorter distance to travel to get to your opponent compared to a forehand serve – making it faster
- It’s a high-control service style. With the correct technical execution, you can direct the shuttle anywhere in the service box with great accuracy and control of speed
- It has a deceptive nature. Because of its many applications and variations, it’s less obvious to your opponent how to prepare for it. That adds another layer that the receiver of the service has to keep in mind at all times
- It’s likely the most effective service style to force your opponent to return the shuttle under the net cord (making it harder to attack)
However, not everyone can strike a backhand serve well.
When you play opponents who are skilled and aggressive to get on the shuttle early when receiving the serve, you’ll need to execute correctly to maintain the offensive advantage.
Let’s look at the execution and variations of low and short backhand serves.
Become a machine with the backhand serve in badminton
Backhand serves can be challenging for players at all levels.
Generally speaking, the backhand serve is a system of three stages. This applies to all service but is much more refined in backhand serving.
You always go through the system the same way, one stage at a time.
This is everything you do when setting up your serve, and it’s hugely important to how and where you want to strike the shuttle.
It’s about holding the birdie, foot placement, backhand grip, and racket position.
Holding the birdie correctly is mostly about where you end up striking the cork or the shuttle.
It should be somewhere between a 90 and 45-degree angle aimed towards yourself. Too low of an angle, and you’ll strike it into the net. Too high, and the shuttle will fly straight up, or you’ll hit the feathers or your fingers.
Whether you use your index finger and thumb is irrelevant as long as you’re comfortable and don’t hold it by the cork.
Foot placement is possibly the most important aspect (and likely the most overlooked) of your preparation. Serving is all about giving yourself the upper hand in the following strike, so if you’re not ready to move on the return shuttle, you’ve already lost.
The backhand grip is what will give you the movement for control and power in the shot.
Your racket position should be comfortable but allow rapid movement to strike the shuttle. You can be close to your body or far away.
The main goal of your preparation is to recreate it for every service so you can strike shuttles consistently throughout a match with very few mistakes – like a backhand serving machine.
The low backhand serve is hyper-sensitive. Whenever you do something slightly different it multiplies into the shuttle. The more accurately you can recreate the same shot, the more control you’ll have when you add variations to guide the shuttle differently.
There’s a lot of technical skill that goes into a low backhand serve, and the more you simplify each step in the system, the smaller the margin of error.
- The shot
Once you’re set up for the backhand, you’re going to use your preparation to execute the correct technique when you strike the shuttle.
Here it’s all about your racket swing, follow-through, striking spot, and wrist movement working together in symphony.
Your racket swing is a little misleading because you don’t want it to be a “swing” but more a rapid movement out from your body. It’s much more like brushing your arm forward and much less like a swing that you see in the forehand.
The follow-through is typically very very gentle in low backhand serves. If you follow through too aggressively, it will make the shuttle fly higher and set your opponent up for a quick net kill or a smash.
Surprisingly the ideal striking spot is not the “sweet spot.” You want to hit toward the edge of your racket strings to avoid striking your fingers where you grip the birdie and to have better control of your shot. Remember, one of the big advantages of backhand service is high control.
Finally, your wrist movement is what controls the power in this shot. Striking with too much power ends with shuttles that are inaccurate and easy to attack. Being too hesitant and weak in your strike will often result in hitting the net.
- Targeting (where you send it)
The final part of the system is where it gets interesting.
If you have the correct execution of the first two stages, you can direct the shuttle to different parts of the court with better control and precision than any other serving style.
This is important because now you can start playing to your opponent’s weaker arm and you can start provoking specific returns that you’re ready to attack with a kill shot directly after. When you get more advanced, you can add deception that makes it very difficult to predict where the shuttle goes.
As with everything in badminton, you don’t want to become easy to read because a skilled opponent will quickly shift their game and anticipate your moves, eliminating all the advantages of this serve.
(More on this in a minute).
If you want to practice each of these stages there’s a walkthrough of the backhand service system here.
The low serve in badminton is great because it’s almost always returned under the net cord (unless you make a mistake and your opponent is extremely quick to attack it). So there’s a relatively low risk of getting difficult returns from this.
Here’s a handful of low-serving examples from the backhand (play these in slow motion).
Men’s doubles (amateur)
Mixed double (amateur)
Notice how it’s almost like a gentle tap of the shuttle. That’s how finetuned this shot is.
You can also see that the low and short serve is most effective when it dives under the net cord before it’s returned.
Another thing to notice here is the difference in preparation from amateur to professional.
Professional players use their footwork to move right after they serve to be ready for a return, while the club players seem to adjust their stance only when they see the return strike.
Flat serve/drive serve in badminton
This looks similar to a low serve, but rather than diving below the net cord quickly, it has a more direct path and is often sent further to the middle of the service box.
That means you’re putting more pressure on your opponent to catch the shuttle before it flies past them. Because it’s not a high-flying bird, it often causes problems if you’re anticipating a very short low serve and instead get a faster and more direct style of serve.
It’s the same setup as the low and short backhand serve, but the hitting action has more power to drive it flat along the service box.
You can use this in your serving variation to add a very deceptive shot because you can make it look like a low serve up until the last second before you strike it.
Drive serves have a very similar feel to the drive shot. It’s typically played at your opponent’s backhand side (typically a weaker area for the receiver to return), but you can also variate it by aiming it across the service box.
Don’t worry about winning quick points on the serve.
I’m going to bring back a point from earlier – service it’s about setting yourself up for the return shot. The drive serve is just one type of serve that can be executed with deception and force your opponent to hit a weak return.
Here’s a full walkthrough with examples from professional players.
Doubles and singles backhand service
Both singles and doubles use the low and short serve in badminton. The setup for either is identical except for a few things.
Backhand service for doubles
The doubles backhand service is often extremely fast.
In doubles, you stand further up on the service line because the service area is shorter, and you can get help from your partner to catch the return if you get stranded in an awkward position.
Compared to singles, you see much more aggressive moves on the shuttle to attack the serve.
As you can see, the service game here is pushed to the margins.
Here’s the video clip. Notice how quickly the receiver attacks the shuttle even though the low backhand serve is played only inches above the net cord.
Service for singles
In singles, you typically stand a little further back from the service line to cover a long return shuttle better (the service box extends longer here compared to the wider doubles box, which changes the service tactics).
You also don’t have help from a partner if you end up on the net and the next shuttle is to the rear court.
Because of that, it’s often a little slower compared to doubles, and most players won’t reach a kill shot on the return shuttle unless they anticipate it or the server makes a mistake.
Here’s the video clip.
You can study the difference between doubles and singles matches and start to figure out the little differences. Singles almost only play low and short backhand serves to keep the offensive advantage and to provoke an attack on their next strike.
While this is also the goal in doubles service, it’s more often decided within a few shuttles, and it’s a mind game of attempting and avoiding net kills.
This is where service tactics come in.
Backhand badminton serve tactics
This is the last part of the serving system for your backhand serve, and most amateur players at every level overlook this because they have a hard time figuring out what to do.
You enter a mind game with your opponent where you constantly have to decide where you serve to make it easy for yourself while adding enough variation that you don’t become predictable after a few strikes.
I get it. There’s so much to pay attention to in badminton that we tend to focus on how to play the rally, and serving becomes more about not making mistakes rather than pushing opportunities.
However, the payoff in the following rally can be huge if you win this mind game.
You can command a tremendous amount of rally control when you go through your Rolodex of serving tactics.
As I keep mentioning throughout this article, serving is all about setting up the next strike. Serving tactics is all about how you do that.
With low and short backhand serves, we’re generally speaking of any target areas on the front court and potentially the middle of the service box (for drive serves).
We cover an attacking area like this.
The doubles service box extends to both the purple and red areas.
You can then divide that into three more specific target points within the service box.
As you can see, you have quite a few options to direct a backhand serve within that target area.
Playing these options is an ongoing experiment you’ll have throughout the match. Attentive players figure out their opponent’s strengths and weaknesses in the first set and dial in their service tactics.
But it’s a constant game of cat and mouse because your opponent will also try to figure out where you prefer to serve and do their best to anticipate a return.
That’s why you win this weird game of badminton chess by serving to set up your next strike.
Setting up the return
Depending on where you serve, it will feel ideal or natural to your opponent to return the shuttle in a certain way (most of the time). You can use this to your advantage to try and provoke certain returns.
Here are a few examples from Badmintoninsight.
If you hit a low backhand serve directly towards the shoulder of your opponent’s racket hand, most players will return that cross-court, like in the image above.
If you’re serving out wide, you can typically expect a return straight up the line.
If you serve to the “T,” you might expect a short net return.
Why does this matter?
It’s all about the setup. Before you serve, you’ll position yourself in a stance that makes it easy to move quickly on an expected return.
Of course, you can’t always rely on that being the case, but when you successfully provoke a specific return, you have a major advantage on your next strike.
This mind game is constant, and I know that it’s easy to get overwhelmed and frustrated when your serving game isn’t working.
I’ve found that serving tactics are more fun and easier to deal with when you approach them as a series of mini-experiments.
Start by experimenting with different variations and see where you get the best result in provoking the return you’re looking for. Then you can start honing in on the most successful serving styles to constantly set yourself up for a stronger hit on the return shuttle.
A nice side effect of this is that you automatically become wildly unpredictable to your opponent because you’re serving all over the place – then suddenly, you dial it in and exploit the weakness you discovered.
For example, if I notice that my opponent tends to return my serve cross-court when I serve to the shoulder of their racket arm, I’ll mix that serve in between a drive serve and a low serve to the “T” to disguise it – then plan my next strike anticipating that exact reaction.
Just remember to keep adding variation. Otherwise, they might figure you out and position themselves to return differently.
Here is a few more backhand serve variations on a club level. See if you can spot the specific returns.
Think about how much easier it would be to take control of a rally if you can provoke specific returns…
A quick note returning these popular serves.
Returning a low and short backhand serve
We already talked about how doubles are faster, and the service here is more about attacking the shuttle as quickly as possible.
This is a technique that can win serve returns, but you have to be extremely aggressive and quick.
To do this, you should always stand up on the service line so you can lunge and jump on the net to strike a quick return. Don’t worry about covering the back of the service box in doubles when you’re at the very front of the service line because it doesn’t go as far back as in singles.
Too many servers hit the same type of service every time, so you can start planning out these returns quite effectively (which is why you should have variations as a server).
Here are a few tactical ways you can return serves to create confusion for the other doubles couple.
In singles, similar concepts apply, but the goal isn’t always to attack the shuttle as early as possible. Since you have to cover a longer service box area, you typically won’t start up on the service line.
Here’s a list of serve returns you can do in singles games.
And here’s how you return a drive serve
- The backhand serve is probably the most effective way of serving and provoking weak returns from your opponent when it’s played correctly
- The low and short backhand serve is hard to attack unless you’re very fast and anticipate the servers target
- Backhand service is a fine-tuned system where small changes make a big difference in your advantage on the following strike
- Service is more of a mind game for the next shuttle than it’s about winning a quick point – and the backhand low serve gives you several opportunities to control and variate shuttles to gain the upper hand
One of the best ways to practice a low serve in badminton is to get a ton of shuttles and start serving to different areas without any opponent on the other side. It’s about getting as much repetition that each stage in the system becomes muscle memory. You can make this even better by filming yourself so you can see where you can improve next time. After you can upgrade it by practicing with a partner where you switch as server and receiver.
You improve a low serve by practicing serving as close to the cord as possible without hitting the net. Next up you want to practice the distance in your opponent’s service box. Try to get it far enough that it lands at the front of their service box but dives under the net cord before reaching it. Finally, you can practice serving to the T, the middle, and out wide using the same technique.
You have the highest level of control and accuracy compared to any other serving style. It’s also naturally deceptive because of its many applications which keep your opponent’s on their toes.
A backhand serve in badminton is when you brush your racket forward from the backhand to strike the shuttle.
To hit a drive serve you set up the same way you would a low and short backhand serve. Then at the last second, before you strike the shuttle, you tighten up your wrist to push the shuttle longer and more directly past your opponent at around shoulder height.
Yes, and it’s also very popular to mix in as a variation of other lower and shorter backhand serves to confuse opponents both in doubles and singles matches.