The short serve, especially in doubles, is a key technique everyone should learn. A good short serve can give you an advantage from the start of the rally. Here we’ll be talking mainly about the backhand serve in relation to doubles. To learn how to improve the forehand short serve then click here to our article covering that question.
So how do you improve a short serve in Badminton? Here is a summarised list of steps you can take to improve your short serve.
- Stand close to the line, gain more ground
- Have a serving routine, consistency is key
- Have a very short grip
- Hit the shuttle off the sweet spot
- Squeeze with the thumb
- Aim for the “T”
- Keep it simple and practice, practice, practice
Most players never realise that will small adjustments you can make drastic improvements to their serve. If you want to learn these tips and improve your serve then read on.
This article looks at how to improve the serve. If you want to learn the backhand short serve in more detail please click here for our article covering the technique.
1. Stand close to the line
Badminton is a game of small margins. The speed of the game requires quick reactions and even quicker decision making. When you see the best doubles players serve they stand right up at the front on their box in the corner adjacent to the receiving area. The idea of this is to decrease the distance the shuttle needs to travel from their box to their opponent’s box.
You should aim to stand as close to the line as possible without stepping on the line, this is a fault when serving. You want to serve and get the shuttle over the net and dropping as soon as possible to give the opponent less time to react and attack the serve.
In singles, it’s a little different. Most singles players stand a stride or two away from the front line to serve, even when serving short. This is because they don’t have a partner covering the back if the opponent lifts or pushes the shuttle.
In doubles, you want to stand as close to the line as possible. Also, try and reach out with your arms as much as you can when serving to gain even more ground. This is completely legal and you see players like Zhang Nan do this really well.
2. Have a serving routine, consistency is key
The short serve is a difficult shot to play well not just because of the accuracy needed but because there’s normally a lot of pressure from the opposition. A loose short serve will be punished by good players.
The best way to keep a consistently tight serve is to have a routine. Keep your setup the same every time. Everything from how to hold the shuttle, where you stand, how long you take in the service motion, how high you hold the shuttle, everything. Another great example of this in the elite game is Lee Yong Dae. He has a very specific routine he does before he serves. Other players know this and clever players try to disrupt his rhythm by delaying being ready etc.
You need to be relaxed when you’re about to serve. Having a routine will help relax you as you’ll feel 100% ready when it comes to actually deliver the serve. Badminton is a mental game as much as it is a physical game, so take the pressure off by being ready.
3. Have a very short grip
Most coaches will tell you to have a short grip when serving. This is because the shorter the grip you have the more control you have over racquet. It’s a bit like hammering nails. If you hold the hammer at the end of the handle and hit the nail you’ll hit it very hard but it will be difficult to control the hammer and hit the nail dead on. If you hold the hammer nearer the top of the handle you won’t hit the nail as hard but it’s much easier to hit the nail and not miss. You have more control.
So having a short grip is key but the short grip you have when you play normal rally shots and the short grip you have when serving can be slightly different. When playing rally shots you want your grip to be, at most, up to the top of your grip.
When serving backhand short serve it can help to go even shorter and rest your thumb on the throat (the triangular cap that connects the handle to the shaft). The throat has a flat surface so it’s easy to grip. Because you’re essentially holding the actual racquet and not the handle, you’ll get even more tactile feedback when hitting the shuttlecock. You’ll feel the serve it more as you hit because the racquet handle and grip can’t dampen the shot.
Try it and practice your serve with this very short grip. Even with this grip you’ll be able to do a flick serve as well. Despite holding the racquet very short you can still get a lot of distance hitting the shuttle with less effort. Some people find it a lot easier to flick with this short grip because there is less racquet momentum needed. You provide more power with the power of your thumb.
4. Hit the shuttle off the sweet spot
This is something that is relatively unknown when serving, especially in western countries that play Badminton. Hitting the shuttle off the sweet spot will give you a more consistent serve then hitting the shuttle cleanly.
The sweet spot is the area on the racquet where you’ll get the most power return when hitting the shuttlecock. It’s normally a little higher up than the middle of the racquet head.
When you hit the shuttle off the sweet spot you’ll get less repulsion from the strings. You’re hitting with an area of the strings with less tension and this is the key. Putting less energy into the shuttle makes it easier to not over hit the serve. It might take a little while to get used to if you haven’t tried this before, but trust me, it helps a lot.
Mathias Boe of Denmark is a great example of using the technique at the highest level of men’s doubles. If you look closely when he’s serving he hits the shuttle near the top of the racquet head. This is a good spot to use. Another good spot is to hit the shuttle on the strings near the top side of the racquet, this has the same effect. See images below for examples of both hitting zones.
5. Squeeze with the thumb
You see it a lot with beginners, they use a lot of arm and elbow movement to deliver the serve. This isn’t necessary. The backhand short serve should be as simple and replicable as possible. If you add a lot of movement into the serve then there is more room for error. All the effort you need to deliver the shot comes from the grip of the thumb.
Holding the racquet loose but firm you should have enough that when you “squeeze” the grip you can hit the shuttle. It doesn’t need a lot of speed or backswing. Bend the elbow back slightly to bring the racquet back then forwards and squeeze the thumb lightly to hit the serve.
6. Aim for the “T”… sometimes
So we’ve talked about how to improve the actual technical part of the backhand short serve. But what’s just as important as how to serve is where to serve. All coaches would teach people to serve to the “T”. The T is the spot where the front service line connects to the middle service line.
This is the optimal spot for serving in doubles because it creates the shortest distance between the server and the opposition’s box. This means less time for the opponent to react. It almost limits the angles the opponent can return with. When you serve to the T accurately then every shot the opponent plays has to go past the front player because the front player is stood right in front of where they’ve just served too. This makes it difficult to gain any advantage when returning the serve. This is why you see top players push and attack the serve so aggressively because the other possible returns they can play are more difficult and less advantageous.
There are times when we want to vary the service placement though. If the opponent is very good at attacking the serve even when you or your partner is serving well then you might need to vary the placement. You should always aim to serve and land the shuttle as close as possible to the front service line. Variation should be where along that line you aim for.
Aiming your serve to the T, the middle of the service line and into the tram lines will produce a different response from the opponent. Opponents quick on the serve when being served to the T might struggle to get the wide serve (serving and aiming for the outer tram lines). Use these variations to try and persuade the opponent into producing a specific return you can anticipate. Serving wide might make somebody play the return with a forehand instead of backhand, serving at the body might catch someone off guard etc.
7. Keep it simple and practice, practice, practice
Like anything we want to get better at, deliberate practice is the key. The best Badminton servers in the world are the best because they are consistent and practice a lot. Gail Emms has been quoted to practising her serve with 1000 shuttles every day. That is how important the serve is and what it takes to improve it.
So take some time in your training and practice to improve your serve. Practice varying the placement, practice the grip and don’t throw in the towel without giving yourself the chance to see improvement. Improvement doesn’t happen overnight, it’s gradual. You might have to take two steps back before you can take one step forward but it’s better than getting stuck with bad habits.
Matthew Syed is a British journalist, author and broadcaster. He was the English number one table tennis player for years. In Matthew Syed’s book Bounce (affiliate link) he talks about what it takes to be the best and looks at world beaters like David Beckham and Serena Williams. He has this quote:
“Ericsson has said. “Expert practice is different. It entails considerable, specific, and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well—or even at all. Research across domains shows that it is only by working at what you can’t do that you turn into the expert you want to become.” So far the focus in this book has been on the quantity of practice required to reach the top, and we’ve seen that it’s a staggering amount of time, stretching for a period of at least ten years.”
— Matthew Syed, Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success
I’m new and/or don’t know how to serve backhand
In that case, we’ve got you covered! We have a fully detailed article on the backhand short serve here. Being new to the sport of never having performed a certain shot makes it easier to learn a new technique the right way, the first time.
Badminton is an ever-evolving sport and players and coaches are always looking at ways to improve the game. The Badminton serve is something that has evolved a lot of the history of the sport and it’s still changing now. Here are some of the more advanced techniques I’ve seen players use or start to use.
The Toppling Serve
Most people agree that this serve was first invented by Lee Yong Dae of Korea and years after you see more and more players starting to use it. Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo of Indonesia has started to use it and it’s becoming more popular.
The toppling serve a short backhand serve that makes the shuttle spin and topple when passing over the net. This makes it difficult to return as the receiver has more chance of mishitting the shuttle whilst it’s spinning around.
It’s inspired from what is famously known as the S Serve or the Sidek Serve. The S Serve was invented by a famous Indonesian doubles player called Misbun Sidekick. One of three brothers who played at the highest level of Badminton. The S Serve resulted in a changing of the ruleset to effectively ban this type of serve. It involved holding the shuttlecock by the cork and hitting the feathers when serving. This made the shuttle spin incredibly erratically and was nearly impossible to return when done right. For more about the S Serve see our article talking about the history of it here.
The toppling serve is inspired by the S serve but is legal in today’s game. You serve the shuttle with a normal backhand short serve, you hold the shuttle by the feathers etc everything is the same. The only difference is that when you serve you need to chop the shuttle. Chopping the shuttle means hitting the cork first but then follow through by striking the feathers after. It’s like playing a spin net shot where you topple the shuttle. Below is a video with Sukamuljo using this serve.
The Sliced Serve
Not too different from the toppling serve. The sliced serve is a less extreme variant of the backhand short serve. It involves hitting the shuttle by slicing the shuttle underneath. The idea is to create more spin when the shuttle flies to make it drop faster. This is an easier technique to conquer than the toppling serve but still very effective.
Using the sliced serve well decreases the amount of time the shuttle is travelling upwards. Making the shuttle come down faster once crossing the net makes it harder for opponents to attack the serve when it’s dropping below net height.
What is the short service line in Badminton? The short service line is the line adjacent the net at the front of the court. Every serve, including doubles and singles, must pass this line to be considered “in”.
What is a serve in Badminton? The serve is the beginning of the rally. There are backhand and forehand serves, there are short and long serves. It’s the shot that starts off every rally. One person must serve from their own box to the diagonally opposite box of their opponent.
Can you smash a serve in Badminton? It’s possible to play a smash from a high serve in Badminton. If the other player is serving short or serving low then it’s going to be nearly impossible to play a smash. If the opponent serves high enough for you to smash it then it’s perfectly legal to do so.
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.
Written by Liam Walsh who lives in Manchester, England. Working as a Software Engineer but moonlighting as a dad, Badminton player/coach and creator of BadmintonsBest.
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