While I dreaded the badminton serve, I was still excited to play. I chose the left side of the court so I’d avoid serving when our doubles game began…
Or so I thought.
Our opponent ended up serving into the net, meaning it was only seconds before it was my turn anyway.
To me, it was a necessary evil to get the rally started. I played the classic long and high serve towards the backcourt, but it was too short and my opponent smashed it back in my face without hesitation.
It killed my confidence.
This happened a lot, except in the rare case that the serve was good or it came back with a less aggressive shot.
I didn’t feel particularly confident in this serve, but more so than any other type of serve. It was the lesser of all evils.
Like me, this is the case for many casual players and totally the opposite of when the pros play. There, it’s a crucial opportunity to get off on the right foot.
If you’re a doubles player at the high beginner or low intermediate level, who can move around the court and play most strokes somewhat confidently, the serve might just be among the most low-hanging fruits to improve.
That’s especially because developing a strong smash requires tons of drilling, whereas training your badminton serve allows you to improve quickly. Not to mention that you can do it on your own.
Service in badminton includes the long and high serve, the drive serve, the flick serve, that new (but temporarily banned) spin serve, and the most commonly used low and short serve. I’ve covered most of these in their own deep-dive articles.
In this article, I’ll spend my energy on the short, low serve, and doubles games as that’s relevant for most casual players.
I’ll share an example of improving my own serve as an intermediate player, along with suggestions on how you can replicate my results if you’d like to work on your serve in badminton as well.
Let’s dive in!
From smashed in the face to pressuring the opponent (my badminton serve case study)
If you’ve felt something similar to the experience you read about just now, I bet you’ve also felt less and less confident for every time you had to serve and it didn’t work out like you wanted.
That’s exactly what happened to me: I lost confidence and attempted to avoid serving whenever possible…
But one day I finally had enough.
It wasn’t triggered by anything out of the ordinary. We were fewer players than during a usual club session and that meant we had a free court available. I went there to practice my low serve and other players offered me pointers.
It was simple stuff like:
- Grip the racket further up to increase your shot control
- Hit the shuttle slightly towards the top of the racket rather than exactly at the middle in order to improve serve consistency
- Switch your legs around so your non-racket leg is backward to enable more room to swing the racket
With that in mind, I simply practiced the low serve over and over again for 20-30 minutes while only targeting one area of the court. During the following weeks I slowly got better and felt more and more confident despite only playing games and not performing any other drills.
That’s probably six months ago by now.
While my serve isn’t even remotely world-class, it’s decent, highly consistent, and gets the job done most of the time in casual matches. I still make mistakes, but it’s rare and if I have to serve, say, five times in a row, I’m confident in every single one.
It’s rare that something in badminton is that easy, but that’s all there was to it in my experience.
The surprisingly benefits of a good serve (I bet you hadn’t thought of)
Besides serving into the net or making life easy for your opponent and feeling like an idiot, there’s some powerful benefits to having a strong serve.
In badminton, we often don’t lose the rally on the winning shot.
Instead, the damage was done a shot or two before and this is often the case with the serve. A good one can set you up for an exciting rally or an easy win within the first few shots as opposed to offering that opportunity to your opponent.
One of the most exciting benefits of an effective serve is that it’ll help you guesstimate what your opponent will do next. That means you have a great advantage preparing for how to attack the third shot.
For example, in my doubles games, I’ll cover the front court after I perform a low serve. Since training my leg strength at the gym, I’ve become better at following up on my serve by covering the net.
After the opponent returns the serve to the front court a few times, I’ve noticed they’ll often switch to lifting or playing an arched midcourt shot (think of a slower, non-flat drive shot) for the rest of the match. If my partner realizes this pattern, we can control the third shot in most rallies.
Improving your service game doesn’t mean you’ll suddenly go from losing points to winning directly on the serve, without getting the rally underway.
You might win a point or two during a game, but it’s often due to misjudgment or that the return hits the net. Think of it like a bonus rather than a goal. On the other hand, losing points on the serve is the dumbest one to lose as your opponent doesn’t have to do a thing.
But, there’s another major benefit you’ll gain by having an effective serve.
You’ll start the rally off with confidence.
That sounds like some bullshit marketers write when they can’t think of what else to put in their advertisement.
I’ve noticed an unreal difference in both the joy and effectiveness of my game when playing with confidence as opposed to not.
Badminton serve: an hour well-spent practicing?
If you wanna gain an edge against players at your level or slightly better, you’ve gotta do something different than them. Many will find the serve too boring to practice, which means you’ll gain an advantage by practicing it.
I’m sensing that when some players struggle to improve their serve, it’s because they practice a bit of the low serve, get bored, and switch to other variations before mastering one.
As Bruce Lee supposedly said, we should not fear the man who practiced a thousand kicks, but the one who practiced the same kick a thousand times.
Most of us don’t need to become world-class at serving in badminton. Being above average at just one – the low serve – will get you 85% of the way.
A game plan for practicing the serve seems like an overkill as you’ll improve fast. If you’re serious, I’d consider breaking it up into two levels if I had to go about it again.
Badminton serve practice: level one
At the first level, I’d book a court, go there with a bunch of shuttles and practice the short, low serve on your own. You’ll get far within just one hour or two of work.
I suggest starting by serving to the T, which is as close to the middle and front corner of your opponent’s service box.
Once you feel confident placing the shuttle in that corner, the next step is working to get the shuttle reaching that spot while flying close to the net.
The question with drills is always when you’re good enough to move on.
A part of this is how confident you feel yourself, but it’s always fun to turn it into a game. You could, for example, challenge yourself to land twenty one serves in a row that you’re happy with, before you can move on.
Once you feel that you’re getting good at that, practice serving to the middle of the front line of the service box with precision before practicing keeping it close to the net once again.
Finally, follow the same steps with the far side of the service line.
If you decide to work even more on the serve, move on to the second level.
Badminton serve practice: level two
Level two requires a partner to receive the shuttle.
Now that you have a good feeling with placing the shuttle and not letting it sail in a slow arch over the net, the way a partner receives it will expose which adjustments you might need to make.
For example, sometimes the opponent will take a chance and run into the short serve in order to get an early advantage while ignoring whether your shot might be too short and cause a fault.
You’ll have to get used to looking at the receiver while serving to get a feel for how they might react. You can usually get a sense of that based on how close they are to the service line, and if their feet look like they are about to jump off the ground.
If you never mix in a flick serve, they’ll be more inclined to stand closer to the net as the game progresses, in order to gain an advantage. Even if your flick serve isn’t great, hitting a few throughout a game will keep them guessing and can be an important sacrifice in exchange for a slight advantage on your remaining low serves.
While practicing, when your partner returns the serve, you’ll be able to think about what to do after having served. In doubles, you’ll have to cover the front court if you hit a short serve as it’ll be easier for you to reach the tight front corners than your partner.
Here’s an example of someone pulling off a great tight return to my serve.
If you don’t cover the corners, your opponent will likely continue to do that to gain easy points. I’ve found that just by standing ready at the front court after the serve can help earn a lift to your partner.
- The badminton serve isn’t about winning points before the rally even starts, but rather getting a slight advantage
- Practicing the short, low serve, will get you most of the way to start each rally confidently
- Sacrificing a few slightly poor flick serves can be worth it to keep your opponents guessing