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Can You Serve Overhand in Badminton?

It’s the default in Tennis and you can even see it done in squash and table tennis. Serving overhand in other racquet sports is normally legal. A good serve can be all the difference in racquet sports.

Most people picking up a racquet for the first time will naturally look to serve underarm in Badminton. It feels natural, the shuttlecock has to go over the net so it makes sense to serve underarm.

But it begs to question, can you serve overhand in Badminton? Due to a rule change in 2018, there are two rule sets for Badminton provided by the BWF. The new and an alternative ruleset. The alternative ruleset doesn’t allow for overhand serving at all. With the new ruleset you technically can, it’s just not very advantageous or optimal.

So what’s in the rules of Badminton that disallows overhand serving? And what’s the difference between the new and alternative rulesets? Let’s have a closer look.

The rules for serving

The rules for serving in Badminton are detailed in the statutes provided by the BWF. For beginners, the rules can sound complicated but once you get playing they’re not difficult to understand.

There are a few rules around serving to provide a fair start for both server and receiver. Here we’ll just talk about the ones that relate to the topic; why you can’t serve overhand.

There are two rulesets now provided by the BWF that govern the laws of Badminton. The current ruleset and an alternative ruleset. This came about due to a change in the laws for serving made back in March 2018.

The rule that changed was point 9.1.6.a which stated; “the whole shuttle shall be below the server’s waist at the instant of being hit by the server’s racket. The waist shall be considered to be an imaginary line round the body, level with the lowest part of the server’s bottom rib.” This is the first law that prevents you from serving overhand because the shuttlecock must be below your waist.

The second law that was omitted when the rule change was 9.1.6.b which stated; “the shaft and the racket head of the server’s racket at the instant of hitting the shuttle shall be pointing in a downward direction.” This rule eliminates the ability to serve overhand as your racquet has to be pointing down.

Both of these rules are now apart of the alternative laws for Badminton. These rules override only the corresponding points from the main Laws of Badminton document and the rest of the ruleset still applies.

The new rule 9.1.6 states; “the whole shuttle shall be below 1.15 metres from the surface of the court at the instant of being hit by the server’s racket.” So now the rule is dubious because the height of 1.15 meters can be measured. The waist height of each person is different and caused a lot of controversy in matches.

A law that has not changed is 9.1.8 which states; “the flight of the shuttle shall be upwards from the server’s racket to pass over the net so that, if not intercepted, it shall land in the receiver’s service court (i.e. on or within the boundary lines)” So the fact that the shuttlecock has to travel upwards first is also another barrier to serving overhand. It’s pretty much impossible to serve overhand without infringing this rule.

Why do these rules exist?

All these rules combined are meant to provide a fair opportunity for server and receiver at the start of the rally. Without them, the server would always have the overwhelming advantage which would ruin the game.

For example, being unable to serve overarm eliminates players being able to just play a smash as their serve from the net which would be impossible to return. Combined with the law that states the shuttle has to travel upwards first means the server is in control of the shuttle but the receiver is in control of the responding shot.

If the server serves well it should make the return difficult or at least controlled. And if the server serves poorly the receiver had a chance to take the initiative.

Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s a pair of Malaysian brothers, Rashid and Misbun Sidek, developed a serve which would go on to be called the S-serve. They’ve become famous in the world of Badminton for their achievements both on the court as players and off the court as coaches.

The S-serve was developed by the two and was later banned by the BWF for providing an unfair advantage. The serve involved hitting the shuttlecock by the feathers instead of the cork. This would cause the shuttlecock to spin uncontrollably and behave erratically as it was coming over the net. This made it almost impossible to return. This lead to the BWF introducing the rule that states you must hit the base of the shuttlecock first.

You can technically serve overhand

The differentiation in rules for serving only exists for the elite level of Badminton. The alternative ruleset provides strict conditions that the servers racquet head and shaft must be discernibly pointing downwards. That alone makes serving overhand impossible. However, that rule is omitted in the new ruleset.

With that omission, it technically becomes possible to serve overhand as long as when you hit the shuttle below 1.15 meters from the floor.

It’s obvious why the rule had been omitted because to serve overhand you would have to sit or lie down. You could then play the shot overhead from there. Obviously, when you see it in practice it looks ridiculous and provides absolutely zero advantage as the shuttle still has to travel upwards.

So technically you can but I doubt anyone ever would.

How are you meant to serve? The basic forehand and backhand

So if you can’t serve overhand in Badminton, how are you meant to serve? There are two types of serve commonly used in Badminton. These are the forehand and backhand serves. You can use either and you can serve short and long with both.

We have full articles on serving in general, forehand serve and backhand serve. But here is the basics of each serve summarised.

Backhand short serve

Using a backhand grip, hold the racquet with the head pointing down at an angle of around 30-45 degrees from horizontal. Hold the shuttlecock by the feather in the non-racquet hand at around waist height (for most people this will be below the 1.15 meters anyway) in front of the racquet. Execute the serve with a simple pullback of the racquet then forwards to hit the shuttle. That’s the basics.

This serve is mainly used in doubles and has now become more popular in singles too. Read the full guide we have here which covers more like serving in doubles versus singles, where to stand and where to serve to etc.

Backhand flick serve

The setup for this serve is the same as the backhand short serve. The only difference is where you serve to. You’re aiming to serve to the back service line for singles or doubles. To do this you simply have to drive the shuttle upwards.

The aim is to get the shuttlecock over and behind the opponent. This will make returning the shuttle more difficult.

Forehead short serve

Beginners will be more familiar with the forehand serve. It’s often the natural thing people do by default to start play. Hold the racquet with a forehand grip and raise the racquet up facing upwards around shoulder height. In the non-racquet hand hold the shuttle up and out in front of you at around shoulder height as well. Then drop the shuttle and swing the racquet with an underarm swing, striking the shuttle at around waist height. Try and land the shuttle near the front service line. This will take practice.

As with the backhand serve there is more to this. The full article can be found here. Make sure to let the shuttle drop low and use the energy from falling to do most of the work when hitting.

Forehand high serve

The high forehand serve is the same setup as the short forehand serve. Except with this serve you’re aiming to hit the shuttle high and deep into the opponent’s service box. Do this by driving the shuttlecock up with a faster swing.

One tip with this serve, it’s easier to get good length by holding the shuttlecock nice and high and letting it drop more to get more momentum when you hit the shuttle. This serve is only seen in singles these days and mainly in women’s singles.

Related questions

What are the types of service in Badminton? There are two ways of serving in Badminton. Forehand and backhand. With these two you can then serve short to the net or serve long to the back service line (the line differs for singles and doubles)

If you found this article useful or know someone who might find this useful please leave a comment and share. If you feel I’ve missed anything out or have other advice, please leave feedback and share your help with others below. Thanks again for reading.


Liam Walsh

Written by Liam Walsh who lives in Manchester, England. Working as a Software Engineer but moonlighting as a dad, Badminton player and creator of BadmintonsBest.


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