I’m a reasonably fit guy.
I exercise on most days, yet at least once a week I get my ass kicked by players older and less fit as they simply outplay me with better skills.
Just have a look at this simple badminton doubles strategy an older player performs against me by returning my serve with a quick shot to the opposite front corner, closing down the rally before it even starts.
As you can see, it doesn’t require any magic. It doesn’t even require a tight shot. All you need is to notice that the server doesn’t move forward to cover the front corners after playing their short serve. That leaves an open gap for you to exploit.
That is an example of the type of badminton doubles strategies you and I will cover in this article. Let’s explore how we, passionate, social players can beat someone who is more fit, if we have a similar technical level.
The masters of intelligent badminton doubles strategies
There aren’t many recordings available of older players who focus on intelligent gameplay over fitness in the best international tournaments for us to learn from. But I did find three exciting players:
- Ahsan and Setiawan, 35/38 years old (men’s doubles)
- Vittinghus, 37 years old (men’s singles)
Since many of us casual players participate in doubles, I’ve analyzed Ahsan and Setiawan’s recent men’s double semi-final during the All England tournament 2023.
Spoiler alert: the reason I picked that game specifically is because they won against Liang/Wang who are 20/21 years old, and that bears the best resemblance to the “young and fit vs. older and intelligent” scenario you and I are exploring in this article.
I recorded and analyzed one of my own games to compare against as I wasn’t sure if the insights from just one elite match with much stronger technical skills would be transferable to us.
In the name of transparency, there are two caveats I’d like to mention. First, I miscategorized 4 points (3%) in Ahsan and Setiawan’s match. It took me three hours to go through that one match in detail and those four points wouldn’t make a difference to the outcome, so I didn’t recalculate.
Second, their match was played over three games while mine was just one, so the data is not statistically significant and hard to compare directly… if the result wasn’t as clear as it is.
Even with these downsides, the result still stood out to me as the most points won in both matches were caused by avoidable errors by the opponents!
|Most won points by category|
|Avoidable errors by the opponent (Team Aske)||77%|
|Avoidable errors by the opponent (A&S)||28%|
(Here’s the raw data if you’re curious)
I don’t mean forced errors under pressure such as if the opponent blocks your smash, their timing is off and the shuttle flies out the court. Rather, I’m referring to mistakes made when the player wasn’t under pressure. For example, a service error or a lift crossing the backline.
Ahsen and Setiawan have a more diverse game than we do, so I got curious about the number of points lost between the two matches as well.
|Most lost points by category|
|– Avoidable errors||37%|
|– Drive duels||18%|
|– Return of serve||16%|
|– Shot out of the court (Avoidable errors)||16%|
As you can see, my partner and I were simply outplayed by a better game about a third of the time but we also made more errors giving the opponents free points.
Compare that to the daddies who did hit a bunch of shots over the line (likely due to drift in that specific hall), but lost points on a more diverse set of things.
The numbers are cool but the next question is; what the hell do we do with all of this?
If you fall into the casual intermediate category, there’s a fair chance that these numbers are representative of your games too. If you are unsure, I suggest recording your own games to compare against.
The one big deviator is that when playing casual games, we often partner with random players. Doubles rotation is a hit or miss and will be the cause of many points both won and lost, but there isn’t much we can do about it as we can’t control our partner.
3 badminton doubles tactics to win rallies against fitter opponents
I don’t have access to ask Ahsan and Setiawan’s advice directly, so I took the liberty of asking Hans-Kristian Vittinghus during a recent, private Q&A with his Patrons. I asked him what we can do to win if both players are at a similar technical level but one is younger and fitter than the other.
I’m not able to share the clip with his response directly but I’ll highlight some great suggestions he had (consider joining his Patreon–it’s terrific). He pointed out that we need to look for ways to avoid letting the opponent play the way they want to. We can do that through:
- Understanding the opponent’s game
- Neutralizing their game or strengths
- Our tactical choices
With that in mind, let’s dive into mind games and reading the game. I’ll share some pointers from Vittinghus along with my own ideas.
Reading and understanding your opponent’s game
If you recall the data from the games just now, lots of points were awarded due to seemingly avoidable and unprovoked errors.
Have you ever:
- Lost several points in a row and got frustrated?
- Given up during the last few rallies due to being too far behind
- Felt frustrated due to playing one amazing game and sucking in the next one
- Lost a comfortable lead by getting lazy while being too far ahead and then unable to get back in the rhythm
Either we are causing it ourselves or our opponent is attempting to make us feel like that by playing a certain way. It results in losing patience and wanting quick points.
Vittinghus was explaining that if we are successfully able to distract our opponents from the fact that they could outrun us, they might get frustrated, making them more willing to take risks, which can force errors.
When they get frustrated you’ll often get more counter attacking possibilities that you can punish, which can mask that you’re less fit.
You can also systematically change your pace by playing, say, two or three rallies at a higher pace than you are comfortable with before switching back to a lower gear to confuse the opponent. When switching back you can take extra breaks to get back into gear by removing feathers from the court, changing your racket, tying your shoelace or drinking water.
At our level, it’s unlikely that your opponent will be focused enough to realize that you’re only doing it now and then, which can make them afraid and assume you’ll go the distance with them if necessary.
One thing is these mind games, another is reading your opponent’s game. That is all about predicting what will happen next based on the open space around the court and their body movements.
For example, if your opponent isn’t under pressure, they might wait before hitting the shuttle (in this clip, notice how my opponent had already moved towards the net before I hit my shot, opening the space behind him).
Reading the game well has a number of benefits such as allowing you to move slower, use less energy, and it opens up for quick interception that the opponents are unprepared for, meaning that the returning shot will be low quality and more likely to hit the net, go out or make it easy for you to kill.
The one thing to take away from this chapter is to be patient and wait a few extra shots for a better opportunity to get the point, instead of taking the chance and risking giving away a free point. That often means playing the shot slightly safer than attempting the perfect shot that balances on the net cord as it crawls over.
As we saw in the data above, both pros and intermediate players seem to give away too many “free” points due to unprovoked mistakes. Don’t interrupt your opponents when they do.
Neutralizing their game or strengths
One way to neutralize your opponent’s game is playing to the mid-court. It’s often the forgotten land as it can feel as if it’s too obvious and easy.
It works great if your opponents are in attacking formation with one player in the front and another in the back as it creates confusion about who should take the shot.
If you’re lucky, it’ll be a winner directly but an alternative is that they might both commit to the shot, which opens up for all the rest of the court and you simply need to place a shot that is relatively precise, flat and a reasonable pace. It doesn’t have to be a fast downwards shot like a typical smash, although it helps.
On the other hand, if they are standing in defensive positions side by side, playing in between them can create the same confusion. You might be able to pull the same idea off by either following up with a flat clear or a net shot if they manage to return the first shot.
Tactical choices and actionable badminton doubles strategies
The challenge with casual social games is that our doubles partner often changes and we can’t expect them to be great at rotating at the intermediate level, meaning that badminton doubles strategies with combinations where both players have to coordinate are hard to execute.
Thus, I’ve kept these practical ideas simple so you can execute them on your own without it requiring anything from your partner.
Badminton doubles tips #1: the quick smash follow-up
If you smash and they block, you’ll be able to perform a quick net kill follow up to catch them off balance.
You gain a slight advantage as you’re smashing and know what’s coming, so you’ll likely be able to respond faster than your partner. But make sure your shot is going downwards towards their lower body so it’s harder to hit their racket and bounce back by chance.
Badminton doubles tips #2: the serve
There are two types of strokes we can take advantage of in particular: the serve and return of serve. They help us keep the rallies short and put the opponent under pressure or win us the point right away, which can be a badminton doubles strategy worth considering to compensate for a lack of stamina.
On occasion, we’ll win a point or two on the flick serve. Yet, more often we’ll either give away easy points by making avoidable errors when serving or set ourselves up for an easier point within the first few shots of the rally.
When I first returned to playing badminton again, I didn’t feel confident in my short backhand serve and I’d easily give away at least five points per game just due to a poor serve (but often a lot more!) Sometimes they could kill the serve immediately and other times I’d make a mistake so it never went over the net, or I’d be on the back foot right away and lose the point within just a few strokes.
My serve is nowhere near perfect but with less than an hour of deliberately practicing my serve, I now only lose a couple of points during a typical game which often make the difference in tight games. I can’t think of any other items you can train that little with such an impactful result.
Badminton doubles tips #3: the return of serve
If we go back to Ahsan and Setiawan’s game data, they won 16% of their points on the return of serve. Ending the rally early is hugely beneficial for us when it comes to saving energy and just a few tweaks can make a meaningful difference.
An easy example is killing a flick serve with a quick and steep “wrist” smash. Another is the example I showed made against me at the beginning of this article, where we return it short to the opposite corner of the server.
The problem is reacting quick enough and seeing the opening in time. One way to practice that is to decide where to return the shuttle in advance, before the server has even served the shuttle.
Another example is if you dare risk that they don’t play a flick serve and you feel confident they’ll play a typical short serve, be ready to jump into it and hit it right back at the body of the server.
The key is keeping the shuttle going downwards and on the body so there’s a low chance that they’ll hit it, as they are unlikely to be able to react in time.
Hitting near your opponent’s hip can make for a tricky reply as opposed to feeding them an easy shot right above their head and onto the racket.
It’s tempting to want to lift on a low return of serve, that’s why that serve is so commonly used. If your lift isn’t tight on the backline, you’re inviting a smash that’ll be hard to block.
But even if it is, either you or your partner will have to block a smash, get a drop or will be pushed to the back by an attacking clear. Two of which require you to move a lot with a high chance of being unbalanced, while the smash (and your block) will invite a net reply in one of the corners, meaning that you’ll continue to be on the backfoot unless you get lucky that your opponent messes up and sends you a weak attacking shot.
Obviously, you can’t just discard the lift from your repertoire all together but it’s worth making a fair attempt to see how long you can wait to use it at the beginning of the rally.
- Many points are lost on avoidable errors
- Examples of simple badminton doubles strategies that don’t require your partner:
- Keep the rallies short, for example by avoiding lifts early in the rally and attempt to set yourself up for a point on the return of serve
- Be patient and let your opponents make their own mistakes
- If you’re able to anticipate a front- or mid-court shot from your opponent, a quick reply to their body can catch them off balance