Badminton Serves: Types of Serves and How to Play Them

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A badminton player serving a feathered shuttle over the net to opponents

A badminton serve is probably the most important shot. The first shot of every rally you probably don’t even think about it as a shot. But if you can’t serve well, you can’t win. The shuttle isn’t moving, no one is affecting how you hit it, but still, why is it so hard to hit a perfect serve every time?

But before we talk about how to play one, what exactly is a serve?

A serve in badminton is the first shot of every rally. It is when one person, with the shuttle in hand, hits the shuttle from their side of the net to the opponent’s side.

To begin, the serve must be hit in an upwards direction meaning you are not allowed to play a tennis style serve. The person serving must stand inside a service court with the person receiving the serve standing inside the box diagonally opposite. And when hit, the shuttle must travel diagonally into the opposite service court.

So far we have talked about how to serve, but how about when you are the receiver? Here are some general things that you can do to return a good serve.

For a more detailed look into where to stand and how to score, check out our article on How to Score a Badminton Match.

There are four main types of serves, both of which can be played with both a forehand or a backhand grip. 

In this guide, we’ll unravel the secrets of badminton serves, demystifying their various forms and teaching you the techniques to execute them flawlessly. Whether you’re a beginner stepping onto the court for the first time or a seasoned player aiming to refine your skills, our comprehensive breakdown of each serve type will be your trusted companion. We will discuss the different types of serves, how and when to play them as well as some useful tips, tricks and drills to make your serve a potent weapon. 

Types of Serves and How to Play Them

  • Forehand Serve
  • Backhand Short Serve
  • Backhand Flick Serve
  • Backhand Drive Serve

Forehand Serve

A forehand serve is an underarm serve that is hit with a forehand grip. If you are unsure what a forehand grip is (or any of the grips), make sure you familiarize yourself using our article The Badminton Grip: How To Hold A Badminton Racket And More.

This type of serve is most commonly used in singles matches and sometimes called a long serve. However, it can be used for both a long or short serve.

When used as a long serve you usually want the shuttle to land right at the back of the court with the shuttle dropping steeply downwards.

The shuttle is held in your non-racket hand with the cork facing the floor. Holding your racket, you can then hit the shuttle underarm to anywhere in the opposition’s service court.

A schematic diagram demonstrating the flight path of a Forehand Serve in badminton
A schematic showing where the shuttle should land for a Forehand Singles Serve

How to hit a Forehand Serve

1) Get Ready

Stand sideways with your non-racket foot closest to the net. Hold the shuttle in your non-racket hand out in front of you. You should hold the shuttle by the cork with the cork facing the floor. You should hold your racket using a forehand grip, down and behind you so that you can swing through underarm and hit the shuttle. 

2) Decision Time

Decide where you want to hit the shuttle. Whether it is a short serve to the front or a long serve to the back. 

3) Hit the shuttle

With your wrist cocked (bent slightly) swing your racket underarm. As you swing your arm, rotate your waist so that it is facing the net as you hit the shuttle. As you approach the shuttle with your racket, release the shuttle with your other hand so that it begins to fall to the ground. As you hit the shuttle, flick your wrist in the direction that you want to hit the shuttle. 

If you want to hit the shuttle high and to the back, make sure you flick your wrist upwards.

The power that you hit the shuttle with will depend on whether you want to hit a short or a long serve.

As you finish the shot, your back leg should naturally bend at the knee, your heel will come off the ground and you will be on the toes of your back leg. 

A good comparison for a forehand badminton serve is a golf swing. 

Backhand Short Serve

A Backhand short serve is a serve that is hit using the backside of your racket using a backhand grip. If you are unsure what a backhand grip is, make sure you familiarize yourself using our article The Badminton Grip: How To Hold A Badminton Racket And More.

This type of serve is most commonly used in double matches however, more and more singles players are now beginning to use a backhand short serve in singles too. This is because a short serve doesn’t give away the attack and can even force your opponent to give it to you.

A short serve is more often used in doubles as the court is shorter and wider than the singles court.

When used as a short serve you usually want the shuttle to land as close as possible to the front of the court with the shuttle passing just above the net. Ideally the shuttle is traveling downwards below the height of the net as soon as it passes onto your opponent’s side of the court, making it very difficult for your opponent to hit an attacking return.

The higher the shuttle passes over the net, the easier it will be for your opponent to play an attacking shot back.

A short serve, when executed well, prevents your opponent from playing an offensive shot.

A schematic diagram demonstrating the flight path of a backhand Short Serve in badminton
A schematic showing where the shuttle should land for a Backhand Short Doubles Serve

How To Hit A Backhand Short Serve​

1) Get Ready

Stand facing the with your racket foot forward and your non-racket foot back. Your weight should be distributed evenly between your legs. Hold the shuttle in your non-racket hand out in front of you. You should hold the shuttle by the feathers with the cork facing you. You should hold your racket using a backhand grip, in front of you pointing at the floor with the center of your string next to the shuttle. Hold your racket loosely in your hand.

2) Decision Time

Decide where you want to hit the shuttle. 

3) Hit the shuttle

With your racket arm bent at the elbow, move your racket back towards you. As you move back towards the shuttle, let go of the shuttle, flick your wrist and squeeze your racket handle with your fingers to hit the shuttle in the direction you want. The power comes mainly from the squeeze of your fingers and the slight flick of your wrist. Aim to hit the shuttle just above the top of the net.

Backhand Flick Serve

A backhand flick serve is a serve that is hit using the backside of your racket using a backhand grip.

A flick serve can be used to surprise your opponent, as they would normally be expecting a short serve, as this is the most common doubles serve. A backhand flick serve starts off in the same way as a backhand short serve, but at the last minute you change pace and flick of the wrist giving the serve more power and height which should take the shuttle over your opponent and out of reach.

Often it is difficult for your opponent to run back and hit an effective return meaning that you can begin the rally with an advantage.

However, be careful, as if your flick serve isn’t good enough, you are handing your opponent an immediate advantage by lifting the shuttle to them.

A schematic diagram demonstrating the flight path of a backhand Flick Serve in badminton
A schematic showing where the shuttle should land for a Backhand Flick Doubles Serve

How to hit a Backhand Flick Serve

The general technique of hitting a backhand flick serve is the same as the backhand short serve. But instead of a small squeeze of your fingers and the slight flick of your wrist as you aim for the front of the court, you push your thumb and flick your wrist harder. 

To begin, ensure that your start position is exactly the same as your backhand short serve. This allows the flick serve to be unpredictable. Follow the same routine as the backhand short serve but then as you hit the shuttle really squeeze your racket handle, using your thumb for extra power, and flick your wrist.

The shuttle should sail over your opponents head, leaving them rooted to the spot, expecting a short serve.

Backhand Drive Serve

A backhand drive serve is a serve that is hit using the backside of your racket using a backhand grip.

A drive serve, like a flick serve, can be used to surprise your opponent, as they would normally be expecting a short serve. A backhand drive serve starts off in the same way as the backhand short and flick serves, but at the last minute you change pace giving the serve more power which should drive the shuttle fast, straight at your opponent.

The speed of the serve can catch your opponent off guard and be a winning serve because it is hit hard, low and flat so your opponent has less time to react to it. The most effective way to use the drive serve is to serve the shuttle to their backhand.

However, be careful, as if your drive serve isn’t good enough or they anticipate, you are handing your opponent an immediate advantage as they can hit the shuttle hard back at you, as the level of the shuttle is not below the net.

A schematic diagram demonstrating the flight path of a backhand Drive Serve in badminton
A schematic showing where the shuttle should land for a Backhand Drive Doubles Serve

How to hit a Backhand Drive Serve

The general technique of hitting a backhand drive serve is the same as the backhand short and flick serves. But instead of squeezing your fingers and flicking your wrist, you do not flick your wrist, but keep it locked when you are hitting the shuttle.

To begin, ensure that your start position is exactly the same as your backhand short and flick serve. This allows the backhand drive serve to be unpredictable. Follow the same routine as the backhand short serve but then as you hit the shuttle really squeeze your racket handle, using your thumb for extra power, and keep your wrist locked.

This will drive the shuttle straight at your opponent. The idea is that your opponent won’t anticipate this serve and either miss it, make a mistake or play a shot back that is easy for you to attack.

Serving Rules

Now we will move on to talking about the serving rules in badminton. 

There are 6 serving rules in badminton for both doubles and singles:

  1. Both feet must be touching the floor
  2. No touching of the court lines 
  3. Hit the cork on the shuttle, not the feathers
  4. The shuttle must be served from below 1.15 m
  5. Serving in one continuous motion
  6. Serving time limit

Both feet must be touching the floor

So the rule says that:

Both feet must be in contact with the floor when striking the shuttle

Quotation Marks
Quotation Marks

This means that as you serve you cannot lift either foot off the ground until you have hit the shuttle. 

Only part of each foot needs to be in contact with the ground, so you may have a foot on your toes for instance.

And this rule is actually the same for the receiver also. So both the server and receiver must have both feet in contact with the floor before the shuttle is struck.

No touching of the court lines

When serving or receiving, your feet must not be touching any of the court lines

Quotation Marks
Quotation Marks

There are no restrictions as to where you can stand in your service box, as long as you are not touching any of the lines of the court.

This does however mean that you cannot stand outside of the court.

Hit the cork on the shuttle, not the feathers

The rules state that the base of the shuttle (otherwise known as the cork) must be hit first when serving.

The server’s racket shall initially hit the base of the shuttle

Quotation Marks
Quotation Marks

By not allowing you to hit the feathers, it prevents players from being able to create strange spin on the shuttle and gaining an unfair advantage before the rally has begun.

The shuttle must be served from below 1.15 m

The Laws of the game state

The whole of the shuttle shall be below 1.15 metres from the surface of the court at the instant of being hit by the server’s racket

Quotation Marks
Quotation Marks

This is a relatively new rule as before the rule was vague.

It said that the server should be below your waist. This was defined as to be a height level with the lowest part of your ribcage.

This rule was subjective and also meant the service height changed depending on how tall you were.

But now, it has been standardized and it is clear allowing the improved application of the law.

Serving in one continuous motion

The fact that the serve must be hit in a continuous motion, is actually covered by two Laws

on completion of the backward movement of the server’s racket head, any delay in the start
of the service shall be considered to be an undue delay

Quotation Marks
Quotation Marks

the movement of the server’s racket shall continue forwards from the start of the service
until the service is delivered

Quotation Marks
Quotation Marks

This means that once you start your backswing, the serve must be one continuous motion. At no point when serving can you stop and start moving again.

Things that you can’t do while serving include, stopping at the back of the swing and then moving forwards again and moving forwards and backwards multiple times before hitting the shuttle

Serving time limit

Is there a time limit on the serve in badminton?

Officially there is no set time limit on the serve in badminton. 

However, the laws do state that:

neither side shall cause undue delay to the delivery of the service once the server and receiver are ready

Quotation Marks
Quotation Marks

How to Return a Serve

So far we have talked about how to serve, but how about when you are the receiver? Here are some general things that you can do to return a good serve.

Improve your footwork

If you have good footwork, then you have the best weapon to counter everything in badminton. If you can move backwards or forward with speed and agility ready to react to and return any of the four serves.

If you want to improve your footwork then check out our article on footwork drills for badminton or if it is agility you are looking for, check out are ultimate guide to agility training.

Be Ready

Just by being ready and on your toes, ready to move forward or backwards is half of what you need to do to react and return any serve.

Returning Forehand Long Serve in Singles

In singles, often the person who is the most consistent at keeping the shuttle in play wins the rally.

So the best way to return a forehand long serve, especially one that is to the back line and high in the air, is to play a good clear back, aiming to get the shuttle to the opponents back line.

To learn how to improve your clear, or learn how to play one, check out our article Badminton clears: Types of Clears and how to play them. 

Returning Backhand Short Serve in Doubles

The most effective way to return a backhand short serve is to push the shuttle to the midcourt into the tramlines either side of the server. Try to keep the shuttle as close to the net as possible so that the shuttle can drop below the net as soon as possible so that your opponent can’t attack the shuttle.

Alternatively, another shot that you can play off a backhand short serve is a net shot. This is a good shot as it almost guarantees that the next shot your opponent will play should be a lift which you or your partner can attack.

But if your net shot is not a good one, then you can leave yourself open for your opponent to attack you back as they will be close to the net after they have served.

If you want to make sure that your net shot is an effective one, or learn how to play one, check out our article Badminton Net Shots: Types of Net Shots and how to play them. 

Returning Backhand Flick Serve in Doubles

The most effective way to return a backhand flick serve is to be ready before the server plays their flick. By tensing your front leg and being on your toes, you can spring backwards to return the shuttle that has just gone over your head.  

If you have reacted slightly slower and the shuttle is behind you, the best thing to do is to play a clear high and to the back of the court to the rear court player’s back hand. This will mean that the opponent has to then go around the shuttle to play a forehand shot, or they have to play a backhand shot which will be easier for you to return. 

The high clear to the back court also gives you the time to recover from the flick serve and get ready for the next shot.

If you have anticipated the flick serve or reacted very quickly, you may want to consider the stick smash instead of playing a clear. If the flick serve is out to the tram lines, make sure that you play a straight smash again into the tram lines. Be ready to move forward in case they do get it back.

To learn how to stick smash, or even what one is, check out our article Badminton Smash: Types of Smashes and How to Play Them. 

Returning Backhand Drive Serve in Doubles

It is difficult to return a Backhand Drive serve as the point of a drive serve is to catch your opponent off guard. But there are two things that you can do when facing a drive serve yourself. 

The first is to make sure that you have your racket up so that you can react to the shuttle as fast as you can.

The second is to not play a massive swing at the shot. The best thing to do is to use the pace of the shuttle from the drive serve to carry the shuttle back over the net. Play a short sharp shot by just squeezing your racket handle.

If you swing at the shuttle then you may completely miss the shuttle or play a poor shot back. 

Tips for Improving Your Serve

A weak serve often creates a chance for your opponent to execute an attacking shot

Create a Routine

For a shot that doesn’t have a moving shuttle, or person for that matter, there is so much pressure felt when serving. Whether it is because your opponent is toeing (standing really close) the line, or because you put the last one into the net, we can still play a great serve if we have a consistent routine. 

By keeping your pre-serve routine the same every time we can feel relaxed and like its any other training drill. If we hold the shuttle the same way or stand in the same position, we can mentally be ready and the muscle memory from the 1000 practice serves will take over.

Hold the grip at the top

Holding the racket at the top of the grip will help you have more control over the racket than if you hold it at the bottom of the grip.

When holding the racket at the bottom of the grip you get more power but the higher you go up the handle the more control, perfect for serving. 

Move Less

When serving, you want force to hit the shuttle to come from your wrist and fingers. Many beginners either move their whole forearm from the elbow or even use their whole arm to generate the power to serve. 

This one, isn’t necessary, and two means that they add a lot of movement into the serve which can cause more room for error and cause them to mishit the shuttle and perform a bad serve.

So move less of your arm when serving, hold the racket loose in your hand and squeeze with your fingers when you want to hit the shuttle.

Position is Key

If you want an easy quick win to improve your serve, serve to the “T”. The “T” is the point where the center line meets the short service line (to learn more about the badminton court lines see our article The Badminton Court: Lines, Size and Everything Inbetween). 

It also limits the angles for the opponent’s return shot making it harder for the opponent to get their return shot past the server. This means that you, as the server, should have an advantage when it comes to the next shot. 

Practice, Practice, Practice

And lastly, the best way to improve your serve is to practice, practice and practice some more.

Try to have as many shuttles with you as possible, if you can, at least 20 – 30 would be great. But the more the merrier. This helps you have more efficient practices, as you don’t have to keep stopping to pick up shuttles and will spend more time practicing serving. 

Like anything in this world, practice makes … well better than before. 

Badminton Serve Training Drills

Here are five serving training drills that you can do to improve your serve. If you want to see a full description of each of the drills check out our article 7 Badminton Serving Drills: To Improve your Serve.

  1. Death by 1000 Shuttles (Solo Drill) – Simple, serve 1000 serves. Ok, 1000 might be a bit much, but the point is to learn consistency and the feel of a serve with no pressure.
  2. Serving Accuracy (Solo Drill) – Take a bucket (or something to mark an area) and put it on the other side of the court in a position you want to aim for. Try to serve as many shuttles into the bucket as possible. 
  3. Keepin’ it Low (Solo drill) – Take a couple of very old and broken shuttles. Place them onto the tape of the net, pushing them down slightly to keep them on. Now aim to try and hit the cork of the shuttles. This will help you practice keeping the shuttle close to the net.
  4. Flick ‘n’ Drive (Solo or Paired Drill) – Practice your flick and drive but making sure that it looks exactly the same as your short serve. If you have a partner, have competition with them. Serve 10 shuttles. Every time you manage to flick them without them smashing it back at you, you get a point. If they smash it, they get a point. To ensure that they don’t just jump back on every serve, if they jump back and you serve short, then that is a point to you too.
  5. Toeing the line (Pair Drill) – Practice serving to a partner. Only in this drill you can only short serve and they know it. They are allowed to stand as close to the service line as possible to return your serve so make sure that it is perfect. If they ping you, well your serve wasn’t good enough.

Conclusion

So as you can see from this article, there is a lot to know about the humble serve. I hope you have gained new insight into the badminton serve and a greater desire to go out and improve yours!

In this article we have talked you through what a serve is, the types of serves and how to play them. From there we went on to discuss the up-to-date serving rules, what you should and shouldn’t be doing. We have given you some useful tips on how to return a serve and how you can improve yours as well as some training drills to achieve this.

Now that you have mastered the serve, why don’t you look at our net shot article a great return shot, even from a good serve!

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