One of the most common questions about tactics for badminton is why men’s singles players stopped performing the classic high serve when it’s still being used often in women’s singles.
The general consensus is that male players have a more powerful smash, meaning that they get less time to defend their opponent’s perhaps best stroke right from the start.
To add to that, I’m speculating that the drift, which varies from venue to venue, makes it riskier to hit near the backline.
It’s also worth mentioning that receiving a high serve allows you time to execute an attacking plan, even if that is building up to a winning shot later, rather than going for the smash right away.
That doesn’t mean that it can’t be effective against intermediate-level players, though. Many intermediate players struggle to clear from backline to backline and may invite a smash if their clear falls short.
In this article, I’ll share six badminton strategies that you can use in your singles games to gain an edge when playing at the intermediate level this week.
Table of Contents
Effective singles tactics for badminton players to defeat intermediate opponents
Let’s look at tactics, starting with a classic.
1. The classic tactic for badminton singles: wear your opponent down
If the technical level between you and your opponent is about the same, singles games tend to become all about who can maintain their energy and keep a cool head.
Among the most popular tactics in badminton is putting pressure on your opponent by moving them around the court to tire them out.
Often, that means moving them diagonally from the far rear corner to the opposite front corner (or vice versa), but any combination between net shots and clears tends to work as it moves the player between the front and rear court.
The challenge with this tactic for intermediate players is that you’ll need to be able to produce enough power to consistently send your opponent all the way to the back of the court. If your shot is too weak, you’re inviting a good opportunity to smash.
Another approach to wearing your opponent down is playing cross net shots to move them between the front corners. Many intermediate players don’t train as much as they’d like and tend to be worn out quite a bit when performing several lunges in a row.
Besides how you tire out your opponent, it also matters when you choose to do it. If you attempt it too early, it won’t affect their mental energy as much as a final knockout blow can when their mind is tired, too.
During longer sessions, I’ve found it fun to save energy at first while everyone else is hammering at full pace. The tables slowly turn as they run out of energy.
That brings me to the next badminton strategy.
2. The badminton strategy with a twist: catching your opponent off-guard
It’s hard to argue with how cool it looks when we see a pro player deceive another and leave them stranded going in the wrong direction.
We feel like a king (or queen) when we pull it off, but most often for us intermediate players, it becomes a half-assed attempt as we haven’t practiced deception enough to pull it off perfectly on command.
We’re betting on luck like it’s a casino.
Another safer, approach is to condition your opponent to expect a certain combination of shots, and when they do, we catch them off guard by introducing something new and fresh to the game. You’ll often see that when players switch their low serve up for the occasional flick serve.
Another example is smashing straight down the line every time to save energy on a potential follow-up in case your opponent blocks it. When you notice them starting to anticipate it and block your smash a little too well, it’s time to introduce a cross court smash to catch them off-guard.
However, the most effective example of catching your opponent off-guard is also the simplest one: switch a portion of your smashes to drop shots or even flat clears to keep your opponent guessing. Since the first bit of the stroke is the same for all three shots, it’s easier to mask.
3. The game changer: win points with patience
Those of us who aren’t young anymore are often told to keep our rallies short against fitter players.
The idea is good but can also lead to putting unnecessary pressure on yourself in order to hit aggressive, perfect shots all the time. That often leads to unforced errors, frustration, and giving away easy points.
Think about it: when was the last time you lost several points in a row and got annoyed with yourself?
Not long ago, I bet.
It happens to all of us. Including your opponents.
It starts as “I just need a quick point or two!”
By then, it’s already too late. We attempt to force the point by playing the perfect shot, but after a few failed attempts, we are more desperate than ever.
We get frustrated and the spiral of doom is real.
There is no such thing as a quick point within our control or we would’ve already taken advantage of it. We are essentially throwing a “hail mary” and hoping to get lucky.
Instead of the perfect shot, a slightly safer variant will keep you in the game and help tire your opponent out until they get impatient and attempt the same thing.
Often, the longer you get into the rally, the more impatient your opponent gets as it can feel hard to justify investing loads of energy into just one rally (not to mention that they might be tired already).
Sure, they’ll get a few wins here and there but compared with the number of points they lose, it’s rarely worth it. It’s all about being more patient than the opponent by building the rally until a winning opportunity presents itself.
The magic is in knowing that your window of opportunity will come if you keep executing your plan, even if you don’t know when your opponent will slip up.
This is easy to discuss in an article but hard to follow through on when the adrenaline is pumping on court. I’ve found it easier to remember by framing it as earning your opportunity. For example, play a great net shot to earn the lift that allows you to hit a smash winner.
4. The breather: hitting the midcourt to avoid creating angles that make you run
Imagine playing a beautiful cross court jump smash…
It can change from “the shot of the day” to a terrible decision in a matter of seconds if your opponent gets it back over the net. When you’re tired and your legs feel squiggly, one of the worst things is spending your energy rushing to follow up from the furthest corner on the court.
If you’re in dire need to slow things down and get a break, you can make the court smaller by playing the midcourt.
On one hand, both you and your opponent will save energy as it resets the rally. On the other, it helps you stay patient and prolongs the rally as long as you don’t do it too often enough to become predictable.
5. The controller: picking your moments
Players often argue not to let your opponent see how tired you are, in order to get a leg up in the psychological battle that takes place during a game.
At our intermediate level, opponents are less likely to be skilled or focused enough to keep tabs on that with everything else going on during an entire game, unless you make it obvious.
That means if you’re playing an opponent you consider fitter than you, matching them in select rallies can be an effective way to give the illusion that you’re playing at their pace throughout the entire game (as pointed out by HK Vittinghus in a Q&A with his Patreons, which he generously allowed me to share).
One way to approach that is playing rallies where you work on tiring your opponent out, while selecting others where you match their game pace.
It would be easy to suggest a formula like doing it in every fifth rally, but I’ve found it works better to judge during the game itself depending on your energy level and the rhythm of the game.
If your opponent is in the zone, you might be better off dragging things out to distract them and wait a few rallies before matching their pace, rather than doing it in, say, every fifth rally.
6. A forgotten tactic in singles: the return of serve
The return of serve is a critical tactical part of doubles strategies as many rallies are won within the first few points. In singles games that’s rarely the case and like the serve, it often feels like a necessary evil to get the game underway.
That’s fine if you’re looking to make things exciting, but if you’d edge out a few extra points at the end of a difficult match, it can be an effective singles tactic in your game plan. Especially, if you don’t introduce it until late in the game as your opponent won’t see it coming.
As a return of serve, net shots can be tricky as you may be too far behind the service line to make for a smooth and controlled shot. If you know that your opponent is better at the net than you, you might be better off playing flat lifts or clears rather than taking your chances that early in the rally.
Creating a simple game plan with your badminton tactics
Having an intellectual understanding of tactics in badminton doesn’t help us on court. We need to get some practical use out of them.
The pros tend to make a detailed game plan before meeting every opponent. We don’t have that luxury at the intermediate level as we don’t know who we’ll be playing in advance and it’s difficult to find any detailed information about them, even if we were.
For most of us, it’s overkill to attempt to make one before every game. Instead, I’ve found that having a few go-to tactics can be an effective alternative. Some that are simple enough to remember mid-game that we can easily execute depending on how the game unfolds.
One of my favorite examples, due to its simplicity, is not playing drop shots at first but instead smashes and half-smashes. Then halfway through the game or so, smashing a couple of times followed by a drop shot (provided that the smashes didn’t win the point already).
That is so simple you can even adjust mid-rally when necessary.
Adapting to your opponent: the most powerful badminton tactic of all?
I was hesitant to include this badminton tactic as it can almost feel like a “non-answer”.
Once I get into a game, I often stick with what I know and work to pull through rather than systematically adapt to my opponent, despite knowing how effective it is.
It’s easier to play 2D badminton and only smash or play our strongest shot in order to score points if we play an opponent that is a weaker player than us.
It gets trickier when we play someone that clearly has an edge on us. Maybe they are stronger all around, or fitter and faster than us, and we can’t just play the way we prefer.
I’ve noticed that the best pro players seem to be comfortable losing a few points at the very beginning of a match, and I sometimes think that whoever first gets to five points will lose the set.
Instead of looking at it as losing points and stressing out, I’m guessing that they invest it in finding their rhythm and getting used to the conditions on court. Once they feel comfortable and get a sense of how their opponent plays on that day, they adapt and strike. It’s a subtle systematic difference.
At the intermediate level, many players tend to struggle with backhand shots — one that you could attack effectively.
- Effective singles tactics in badminton have subtle differences compared to those used in doubles and tend to be more focused on movement and endurance forcing errors through fast play
- A list of tactics is a good place to start but knowing what to do intellectually isn’t the same as doing it in the heat of the battle
- Having predefined game plans can help spice up the game and surprise your opponent without having to remember a ton of tricks while you’re on court