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Is Tennis or Badminton Harder? (The Answer Will Surprise You)

Tennis and Badminton are often compared to one another in various ways. They’re both racquet sports, they both require great speed and agility, to play well you need to have good hand-eye coordination and so on. Like many sports, they’re easy to start but difficult to master.

So is Tennis or Badminton harder? If you take the various areas of comparison for each sport we find that Badminton is a lot harder physically when it comes to speed, agility and explosive power. Badminton also has a lot more variations of strokes compared to Tennis so there is more to learn. The smaller court and faster projectile mean you need to have fast reactions as well as fast feet.

It’s hard to say one is definitely harder than the other. They’re two separate sports with their own different dynamics. They both have unique aspects that make them harder in different ways. Let’s have a look at what we can compare in more depth.

Fitness and physical demand

The easiest comparison we can make between Tennis and Badminton is comparing the endurance and how physically demanding each sport is. It’s the easiest thing to compare between any sports. You need to be incredibly fit for both Tennis and Badminton when played at the top level. But even at lower levels of play, you need to have some endurance, speed and power for both. Let’s have a look at how each sport compares.

Footwork and covering the court

Good footwork is one of the building blocks for any racquet sport like Tennis and Badminton. They both have different types of footwork though. Badminton has a mixture of short, sharp chasses and running and jumping. Tennis requires some chasse movement but predominantly requires a lot of running and sometimes sliding.

A Tennis court is roughly 1.5x larger than a Badminton court (see our article on comparing Tennis and Badminton courts). Tennis players, especially singles players, play from the baseline and because the ball can bounce out of the court they need to cover not just the size of the court but beyond it. Tennis has you cover potentially longer distances after each shot during the rally.

In Badminton, if the shuttlecock goes out, one player hits the net or is faulted or scores a point the rally is over. The shuttlecock can’t travel outside of the court so you know as a Badminton player the size of the court you need to cover. Badminton requires fast reactions and even faster movement to cover this albeit smaller court. Badminton has you cover long and short distances at high speed during a whole match. You need to have explosive power and agility to cover the whole court in Badminton.

Naturally, you cover less court overall when you play doubles rather than singles in both Tennis and Badminton. The amount you cover depends on the length of the rally and the standard you play at.

Length of games, matches, rallies and breaks

Tennis matches at the elite level can last anywhere from one hour to well over three hours. That’s a long time on the court. The longest tennis match in history lasted eleven hours and five minutes! Nicolas Mahut and John Isner battled it out at Wimbledon over three days before eventually, Isner won.

This is obviously a very rare case and because of how the rules are set then it could have gone on forever. Badminton matches on the other hand can last anywhere from 30 minutes to just under two hours. The length of Badminton matches varies greatly because of the different disciplines and the general style of play.

Badminton styles vary a great deal more in Badminton between singles, doubles and mixed then Tennis does. Men’s doubles matches are fast and furious and can be over in less than 30 minutes. Women’s doubles has a more consistent flow. The top pairs all have excellent defences which make the matches last longer. So the amount of time on the court can depend on which discipline you play.

The longest Badminton match was two hours and 41 minutes long. Naoko Fukuman and Kurumi Yonao from Japan battled with Nitya Krishinda Maheswari and Greysia Polii of Indonesia in the Badminton Asia Championships. The Japanese pair came out on top in a brilliant display of endurance and resilience.

Tennis matches definitely last longer than your standard Badminton match, even at the top level. There was a study by The Wall Street Journal that looked at various Tennis matches and measured the active play time against the overall match length. They found that Tennis matches have on average a 17.5% active play time. The rest of the time is players going from point to point, towelling down, breaks and changing ends.

If you look at a Badminton match in comparison there isn’t a lot of wasted time. They do have time between each point but umpires are policing the “continuous play rule” more strictly than ever before. This rule states that play must be continuous with little time wasted between points. They also have only two minutes between each game and just 30 seconds when the first player gets to 11 points. I studied various matches and found that Badminton has much higher active play time. It’s between 40-50% on average which means an hour-long match could have as much as 30 minutes of the shuttlecock being in play.

It’s worth mentioning briefly the rally lengths of each sport. On average Tennis rallies last longer than in Badminton. Because the player has a larger court, slower projectile and the ball can bounce rallies tend to last longer. Badminton rallies can be long though, especially in doubles with equally matches pairs with strong defences. In Badminton, a 30-second rally would yield about double the amount shots then a 30-second rally in Tennis. So Badminton has a much higher intensity. Players have very little time between shots. Watch the video below, it shows the longest rally in Badminton history. The rally lasts more than 4 minutes and 30 seconds! They play a total of 255 shots. That definitely takes some endurance.

The technique, mastering the shots

Tennis and Badminton are both racquet sports so naturally one of their hardest traits is mastering all the shots. Both sports have evolved over the years and thanks to new technology with racquets, balls and shuttlecocks new ways of playing have emerged. Let’s look at some strokes from each sport and difficult some of them can be.

Tennis shots

Handling a powerful shot coming at you requires strong wrists. Tennis racquets and Tennis balls are much heavier than a shuttlecock and Badminton racquet. So just controlling the weighted force behind certain shots is difficult in itself.

Controlling spin is a challenge in Tennis. Playing the ball requires observing the spin of the ball and being able to counter or control the spin. This is a difficult skill. Playing the ball with different slices and spins creates a lot of variation. The weight of the ball means you need a good technique to handle the return properly. Here is a list of some Tennis shots:

  • Topspin shots
  • Slice shots
  • Overhead serve
  • Lob shot
  • Drop shot

Badminton shots

Badminton has a wide variety of shots and you can play them from different positions. Unlike Tennis, you play Badminton shots from different heights. From playing an overhead smash to defending a smash down by your feet. Badminton has you twist and turn, jump and lunge and still play shots whilst doing it.

Badminton requires both power and finesse. It’s explosive and the variety of shots show that you need aggression and control. Here is a list of some Badminton shots:

  • Forehand serve
  • Backhand serve
  • Clear
  • Lift
  • Drop shots
  • Smash
  • Netshot
  • Drive shots

These are just some of the shots in Badminton. It’s worth bearing in mind that there can be variations of each shot. The Badminton smash is a good example where there is the power smash, the stick smash, the half smash and sliced smashes etc. This is where deception then plays a big role in Badminton. It’s very difficult to master but if you can make one shot look just like another you can keep your opponents on the backfoot. You can deceive them, send them the wrong way and disrupt their footwork.

It’s impossible to master all the shots in Badminton as there are just too many. Top players can execute all of them but I doubt any one player has mastered them all. We can always improve and everyone finds certain shots easier to pick up than others.

Tactics and mental strength

Sports require a lot of physical ability and talent, but this is just one layer. Tactical awareness and planning and mental fortitude are needed to succeed in sports. Tennis and Badminton players use these skills in various ways. Let’s look at how these compare in both Tennis and Badminton.

Rally scoring and serving

So both Tennis and Badminton use rally point scoring which means each player can score even when they’re not serving. This creates a different dynamic when developing tactics and how the sport is played. For Badminton, this means keeping the initiative and being on the attack is so important. Playing defensively has little advantage when you can score when you’re serving or not.

In Badminton, it’s clear to see when a player is on the offence or the defence. This is because of the height of the net and the easiest way to score a point is to land the shuttlecock on your opponents’ side of the court. If you’re on the defence it’s obvious as the opponent is trying to hit the shuttlecock down into the ground. When you’re attacking you’re trying to do the same. In Tennis, this dynamic does not exist. Most of the time the players are on level footing and looking to create openings by out-manoeuvring their opponent.

Serving is, again, crucial to both sports but for different reasons. In Badminton, the service is different for doubles and singles. In doubles, the objective is to protect yourself by serving well enough so that your opponent can’t attack or win the point straight away. Because most people’s tactic is to serve short and tight over the net you need to be able to serve well even under pressure.

In singles, there is less pressure from the opponent when serving because there is more court area to serve to. You’re able to serve long or short and you’re opponent can’t really gamble on one or the other because they have no partner help them after they return the serve. In Badminton, it can almost feel like a disadvantage when serving because of this. You need to be mentally strong when serving and hold your nerve when playing against aggresive opponents.

The big difference between Tennis is that your service is your biggest advantage. In Badminton, you alternate serving when you or the opponent scores a point. If you don’t score you don’t get to serve. In Tennis one player serves for one game and then they switch after that game. Serving in Tennis is such a massive advantage because there are so many ways you can set up the rally and there are a lot fewer restrictions when serving in Tennis compared to Badminton.

In Tennis, you serve with an overhead smash effectively. There are so many variations you can do whilst serving though such as slicing it, playing it straight, playing it super fast or slower etc. It’s so advantageous that they the “ace” which is when one player serves and the other isn’t even able to get it back.

The cost of mistakes

A single Badminton match is the best of three games, each game is played to 21 points. A single match of Tennis is usually the best of three or five sets, each set is the first to six games. In Tennis, there are more opportunities to come back if you’re losing in a match. This is because there are a lot of games in Tennis. If you’re losing a set 3-0, the opponent needs to win another four points to get another game but you also only need to win four points to get a game back.

The cost of mistakes in Badminton is less forgiving. Because there are only three games if you find yourself 10-0 down in the first game it’s a long way back to try and win the game. You need to score twice as many points as your opponent to win that game. Often matches can be decided early on when one player gets a good string of points. This makes Badminton a very difficult sport for players who are inconsistent. In Tennis, you can afford some mistakes here and there but still be able to come back in a set.

Matches and the nature of each sport

Tennis and Badminton have so many unique aspects and attributes. Many of these determine the nature of how people play the game. The sports have been around so long that people have found optimal ways of playing shots, footwork and tactics that just work well for each sport. Let’s have a look at how the nature of each sport makes them difficult to master.

Tennis, a test of endurance

Tennis requires stamina and endurance. Despite the relatively low active playtime players are on the court for a long time. Matches are draining, long rallies covering large distances on the court requires good aerobic capacity. We’ve already mentioned the long match times elite players can experience.

Just being on the court for a couple of hours without a lot of play time is still a long time in general. The key with Tennis is being able to “break” your opponents serve. In Tennis, it’s more advantageous to be serving as it gives you a chance to set up the rally. If you can’t break your opponent’s service game then matches can really start to drag.

The modern game has faster serves and faster shots in general. This means being able to cover long distances quickly is a must. Like a sprinter, you need to be quick out of the blocks to cover the shot. Agility is useful but not key as players have more time to see and react to shots coming.

Badminton, a test of speed, power and calculation

Badminton is the fastest racquet sport in the world. At the top level players hit smashes at well over 350kmph! The fastest Badminton smash ever recorded was 493kmph in test conditions, 426kmph in competition level. The video below shows Mads Pieler Kolding hitting the famous 426kpmh smash.

And below is the video showing Tan Boon Heong hitting the biggest smash in history. This was under test conditions testing Yonex’s Nanoray Z-Speed.

Badminton is all about speed and power but equally about tactical awareness and precision. Beginners find Badminton easy to pick up and get going. As they get better they learn to increase the speed at which they play. The tempo of Badminton can change from rally to rally but the most successful players play at a high pace. They take the initiative and play aggressively to actively win points. It’s nearly impossible to win Badminton playing defensively. Players train to be faster on their feet, quicker with their racquet and plan three steps ahead.

Players need a lot of anaerobic capacity to play Badminton effectively. Rallies are bursting with power and energy. You need the stamina to be able to perform at 100% of your work rate to win. The activity level is similar to HIIT training. You have short-long bursts of high intensity and then you have a short rest. Players need a good combination of speed, power and stamina, that’s a tough balance to get right.

Badminton is also a game of fine margins. It’s the difference between the shuttlecock landing in or out or the shuttlecock hitting the net and rolling over or rolling back. Badminton requires a lot of precision and accuracy. Players need to be able to put their opponents under pressure by pushing them around the court to outmanoeuvre them.

Wrapping it up

Comparing Tennis and Badminton is like comparing apples and pears. They have similarities as racquet sports and they’re challenging sports in their own rights. Everything measured up I still believe that Badminton is the more difficult sport. It’s both physically demanding and technically demanding. It’s a game of fine margins and expert tactics with so many different play styles it’s impossible to master.

Related questions

Is playing Badminton easy? Badminton played at the highest level is not an easy sport. Badminton played leisurely with friends and fun absolutely is. It’s easy for people to get started with Badminton. The lightness of the shuttlecock and racquet compared to other sports make it easy for beginners to get started hitting the bird.

Is Badminton good exercise? Badminton is excellent exercise at any level. If you’re a beginner or a more advanced player it’s a sport that gets you moving. Humans are adapted to constant movement, we’re not made for sitting still. Badminton gets you moving in most ways you can imagine so it’s very well rounded exercise.

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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