Net shots are one of the trickiest parts of the game for badminton players to get good at.
There’s no power. There’s barely any hitting motion with your racket. You get into the most extreme low lunges, and it requires an immense amount of focus to tap the shuttle lightly enough that it crawls over the net – but not so little that you see it plummet down on your own side of the net.
Badminton net shots could be summed up as some of the most intense, technical control-focused shots in badminton.
If you ever watch any of the top pro tournaments (or maybe just some players in your local club), you’ve probably experienced being on the edge of your seat every time a rally moves to the net.
The exchange of tight net shots where each player keeps lunging in to tap the shuttle lightly as they bounce birdy after birdy over the net until someone cracks and misses or lifts to get away.
If you’ve been in net battles yourself, you know it almost feels like time slows down.
*Ding* you send the shuttle over. *Ding* you get another net shot back and manage to reach it. Then it comes back again, but this time it rolls over the net cord, and you try to reach it but instead slam your racket into the net in a frustrating attempt to hit it back.
I hate losing points like these.
So how do you get to control what happens on the net with these trouble-making shuttles back and forth?
Let’s play it out.
The fundamental use of a net shot in badminton
It’s all about finesse and balance. If you apply too much power the shot loses most of its effectiveness and it becomes easy for the other player to come up and hit a net kill (more on that later).
A perfect net shot rolls over the net cord and drops immediately after which makes it incredibly difficult to return it without shooting it into the net – it’s a challenge even for players at the highest levels.
But even if it’s not a perfect net roll, a tight net shot still causes a lot of trouble for most players.
Remember, you can’t touch the net in badminton so being able to hit a tight net shot is a strong technique for winning points.
Net shots are also incredible for setting up devastating attacks because they often force weak returns like “half-lifts” that only make it to mid-court and can easily be attacked with a smash.
If you’re not familiar with the basics of net shots you can check this clip.
I also explain more about forehand and backhand net drops here.
Badminton net shots are often used to disrupt the rally pattern. They can suck out the pace of a fast rally in an instant and flip the momentum and advantage. Especially, if your opponent was flying on a good attacking streak.
The most effective way to play the first net shot is when your opponent is at the rear court.
It’s one of the most frustrating shuttles you can make your opponent chase after they just attacked from the rear court. The nature of the shot almost always forces a weaker return because they have to move quickly to reach a shuttle on the net.
If you’re on the returning end and want to avoid returning a weak lift, you typically choose to play a net shot on their net shot.
This puts the pressure back on your opponent, who has to hit a net shot back or defend with a lift.
This is where you’ll get into an exchange of net shots which brings us to one of the most intense aspects of badminton.
Badminton net shot battles: make sure you have the stomach for this
You must’ve watched net battles going back and forth like this.
Sometimes net play in badminton gets so tight it’s nail-biting. It becomes an intense mind game to keep sending flawless shuttles over the net to squeeze a mistake out of your opponent and avoid being the one forced to hit a weak lift.
If you’ve ever lost several points in a row during badminton net play, you know it can feel like the other player is living rent-free in your head.
You start to feel anxious at every net exchange, and you either become hyper-focused on returning a winner or constantly look for ways to get out of this part of the game.
Net battles have the power to take up a ton of your mental focus.
Players can really get in each other’s heads because it’s intense exchanges at such small margins that losing several points in a row builds up frustration.
An example of this frustration messing up a player’s focus was when the world’s best and top-seeded Viktor Axelsen (at the writing of this) lost the quarter-finals of Denmark Open to seven-seeded Loh Kean Yew, who pulled off a flawless net game.
Here’s a highlight reel that shows how a strong net game can break down even the best in the world.
In badminton, you can’t ignore tight net shots that just lost you several points in a row, but you also can’t anticipate net shots so much that your rear court gets exposed.
That’s the mind game in net battles that can potentially break down another player’s game entirely.
If you want to come out on top in this “net game of shuttles,” you need to get in your opponent’s head before they get in yours.
Control the net play in badminton
To control the net, or at the very least give your opponent a fight for it, you need to both hit good net shots and position yourself to return your opponent’s net shot.
To get the perfect balance that puts you in the fight for net control, let’s first look at your net shots.
If you start the net play (for example, by returning a drop shot), it’s all about hitting with the right timing, balance, and light touch.
You want to enter net play by getting the shuttle as close to the net as possible.
Doing this puts pressure on your opponent’s footwork ability and forces them into a deep lunge to reach the shuttle. It also tests their balance and general shot control because their movement is limited in one direction.
The best net shots exert all this pressure to force out errors and weak returns from the other player.
The more you play on these margins, the more limited your opponent’s options are for returning the shuttle. It also makes it easier for you to anticipate what type of shot you need to return.
Look at this scenario where a tight net shot puts immediate pressure on one player.
Jonatan Christie (on the right) just hit a tight net shot that forces Lee Cheuk Yiu (left) into a deep lunge where his best option is to try and lift high or hit a net shot straight back.
Since Christie put the pressure on, he’s already in a position to cover a potential lift, but he’s also ready with his racket down and anticipates lunging into another net shot.
Getting better at net shots has the added effect that good ones are difficult to return – even if the other player expects it.
Here’s an example that shows how a tight net shot wins a point even when the other player knows it’s coming (first five seconds).
While it’s tempting to push for a net battle when you’re in a ready position on the frontcourt to hit an even tighter net shot back at them, you need to anticipate defensive lifts too.
Net shots often provoke lifts from players who feel too pressured to enter a net battle, and you don’t want to lose an opportunity to smash on a weak lift. You also don’t want to get caught off guard if your opponent returns a great lift to the rear court.
This brings us to the next part.
How do I return good badminton net shots?
Your position to return a net shot should not be too close to the net.
There are a few reasons why this is important.
- If you’re too close to the net, you can’t get the lunging movement with a stretched-out racket arm, which lets you push into the shuttle and guide your net shot without creating too much power to make it an effective net shot
- You open up your rear court for long lifts or miss out on smash opportunities from weak lifts
- Your movement is restricted in case you need to catch net shots to the sides
As a rule of thumb, you want to be around the same distance as when you serve, at the “T” (in the middle where the service line meets the center line.) This way, you’re close enough to move up and reach any net shot – or move backward if there’s a lift.
Footwork and ready stance
Other than being positioned correctly, you could also benefit from starting in the highly explosive net stance. This gives you an ideal balance point for net play and puts you at a starting point where you can quickly launch yourself anywhere on the net.
Footwork is the third part you need for badminton net play, but especially the split step will enable you to catch pretty much any net shot while keeping your balance to strike a good shuttle back.
Your footwork and stance are essential to recovering after a net shot.
You need to recover to your starting point after every net shot to lunge at a new net shot or move back and attack a lift.
Think about it. If you’re back on the court (or even the mid-court), at an awkward stance and without good footwork, it’s near impossible to reach a good net shot.
The same is true if you push yourself too close to the net, expecting another net play, and your opponent sends the shuttle to the rear with a long lift.
Look at this clip and notice how both players use the split step to move in and out of their stance. They keep the movement going after a net shot and return to an optimal position.
You can add all these elements together and practice hitting a perfect net shot. This video is a good starting point. Notice the continuous movement to keep lunging into new net shots. You need that forward movement to produce hitting power because you don’t move your racket much.
Defending net shots with super lifts
If you have the correct footwork and stance, you can exit net play on your terms when the pressure gets too much. Typically when your opponent hits a great net shot, that would be almost impossible to counter with another net shot.
This is where the lift comes in. A lift shot is almost a low clear that “scoops” the shuttle in a high arch toward the rear court.
The tricky part is that many net shots trigger a “weak lift.” It’s when you lift the shuttle, but it only makes it to your opponent’s mid-court, which makes it easy to attack with a smash.
But if you hit a “super lift” to the backcourt, you’ll defend the net shot while pushing your opponent so far back that they can’t attack the shuttle easily.
This clip shows how super lifts can get you out of net play without leaving room for counterattacks. Notice how Axelsen lifts after a net shot exchange, but it’s so far to the rear court that his opponent clears – (first 5 seconds).
You can see Viktor Axelsen here, coming from mid-court after defending a smash, moving to catch a net shot. Notice that to gain the scooping hit on the shuttle, he keeps his racket extremely low, almost scraping the floor.
As he hits the shuttle, he uses the power generated by his forward movement and footwork and puts his entire balance and weight on his racket leg. Coming in with his racket low to the court, he can either hit a super lift or decide to tap the shuttle for a net shot.
Here you can see Viktor Axelsen practice defense against drops and smashes while mixing in net shots. You can use this position and stance to defend against net shots while covering other types of shuttles coming at you.
Badminton net kill: a “guaranteed” winning point
Following in the wake of net shots is a shot that takes advantage of even the tiniest error from your opponent when you fight it out on the net. To play this opportunity that wins the point, pretty much every single time, you have to be extremely aware. You need to be positioned correctly and move on the shuttle fast.
Typically, in net battles, net shots are played tight, but if your opponent adds too much power and the shuttle sits too high, there’s a chance to kill it.
The badminton net kill shot typically has two variations.
The first one is when you hit a net kill by lunging forward into the shuttle, hitting it down aggressively. You lunge forward to hit the shuttle at its highest point before it starts to drop.
If the shuttle is even more subtle and limited in its window of opportunity, you can hit another variation called a “brush off.”
This technique is less of a hitting motion as you flick your racket forward while jumping at the shuttle and “brush” at the shuttle. You need to watch out here as you get really close to the net, and your net kill won’t be any good if you push your racket movement too hard and end up slamming against the net.
Three things are important for all kill shots.
- You can’t play the kill shot if you’re too close to the net since that limits your movement forward
- Unlike most other ready positions, you need to get your racket up before moving in to hit a kill shot. Otherwise, you’ll likely reach it too late.
- You don’t swing at the shuttle like a smash. Use your forward movement and snap your wrist to push the shuttle down.
Greg and Jenny from Badminton Insight show what’s important to practice to hit these net kills effectively.
Here’s a real match example of a net kill where the Danish double (Mikkelsen/Søby) hit a net shot that’s not very tight and the shuttle sits a little high above the net. The Chinese double, (Zheng/Huang) quickly picks up on this and moves in with a kill shot that wins the point.
It happens again later in the game. This time, the Danish double moves in on a net kill. Notice how quick you have to be to react to a net kill opportunity as the window closes in just about a second. (You can follow this better if you set the playback to half speed.)
You can read more about the net kill and other badminton shots here.
Remember you have to react super fast to hit this shot. If you miss the window of opportunity, you have just as good of a chance to net-kill yourself.
If we look at one of the previous scenarios between Christie and Yiu we can see what happens when you mistime it even by a split second. He’s going for the “brush-off” in this clip.
Advanced net shots when you master the basics
If you want to level up your badminton net play and hit the shuttle in a way that’s deceptive and tricky, you can start learning the more advanced net shots that make so many professional players look like demi-gods on the net.
I previously covered advanced net shots (net drops) in badminton here. You can go there if you want to know more about when and how you can use them.
Here are some quick examples of advanced net play.
Cross net shot
This is another clip from the match between Christie and Yiu, but here Christie wins two points in a row by using a cross-net shot.
This shot sends the shuttle to the complete opposite side of the court while still dropping down at the net. Notice how deceptive it is when he lunges into the shuttle like a normal net shot but twists his racket in the last second to make the net shot across.
One of the all-time masters at cross-net shots is Lee Chong Wei. Notice the difference here in how tight you can play the cross-net shot when you master it to perfection. He even makes it roll off the net cord.
Spinning net shot
Here’s Lee Chong Wei again with a spinning net shot. Spinning net shots are significantly harder to return because you often have to wait a little longer for the shuttle to stabilize before you can strike it back and at that point, it’s often dropped halfway down the net.
- Net shots are great for changing pace and disrupting the playing pattern of your opponent
- Footwork, positioning on the court, and your stance is crucial if you want to control the net effectively
- One of the best defenses against a good net shot is a strong lift but be aware that weak lifts open you up to attacks
- Net kills are big point winners but a successful net kill has a narrow window of opportunity so you have to be extremely quick
- When you master the net shot you can start improving it with cross-net shots and spinning net shots
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