Why is a High Serve Used in Singles?

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Elderly man Hand holding a badminton racket Background blur tree in park.

In badminton, a high serve is a technique where the shuttlecock is hit high and deep to the back of your opponent’s court when serving. This type of serve is most commonly used in singles matches and sometimes called a long serve. It’s a fundamental skill in singles play, and in this article, we’ll delve into why it’s such an essential part of the game.

If you want to learn more about the high serve and how exactly to play one, make sure that you read our article, Badminton Serves: Types of Serves and How to Play Them.

A schematic diagram demonstrating the flight path of a Forehand Serve in badminton
A schematic showing the serving drill Back-Line-Challenge which is a drill to practice the long forehand serve and aims to get the shuttle landing on the back line

Why is a high serve used in singles

Picture this: you’re standing at the service line, ready to begin the rally. You raise your racket, make contact with the shuttlecock, and send it soaring high and deep into your opponent’s court. But why choose the high serve in singles over other options? Let’s break it down:

  • Smashes will be weaker from the back of the court

  • It is hard to hit a vertically falling shuttle

  • It gives you time to be ready for the return shot

So the answer to, why is a high serve used in singles, is that overall, it’s quite a safe shot to play. 

Perhaps the most reassuring aspect of the high serve is its reliability. It minimizes the risk of errors and provides you with better control over the pace of the game. In a sport where precision and strategy are paramount, having a safe and effective tool like the high serve can be a game-changer.

Advantages of the high serve in singles

Now we will go on to describe exactly why these points are advantages to using a high serve in singles.

Smashes will be weaker from the back of the court

So yes, smashes from the back of the court are often weaker than other smashes. But why?

A badminton player playing a drop shot

Distance: When a player attempts a smash from the back of the court, they are hitting the shuttlecock from a much greater distance compared to when they’re closer to the net. The longer distance means that the shuttlecock loses some of its speed and momentum by the time it reaches the opponent’s side. This inherently makes the smash less powerful.

Angle and Trajectory: Smashes from the back often have a more predictable trajectory and angle. Since the shuttle has a longer path to travel, it’s easier for the opponent to read where the smash is likely to land. This makes it easier for them to position themselves to defend or intercept the shuttlecock.

Accuracy and Placement: Smashes from the back of the court are often less accurate because it’s challenging to control the direction and angle of the shot with precision whilst still getting enough power to be a strong smash. Opponents can anticipate the smash’s general direction and respond accordingly.

In summary, the smash is weaker when hit from the back of the court due to the combination of increased distance, more time for the opponent to react, predictable trajectory, and decreased accuracy. This is why players often prefer to use other shots, such as clears or drops, when they are positioned deep in their own court and reserve the smash for opportunities closer to the net where they can maximize its power and effectiveness.

Vertically falling shuttles are hard to hit

When a good high serve is used, the shuttle, when falling back to earth, will be falling vertically down. Hitting a vertically falling shuttlecock in badminton can be challenging for several reasons:

Unpredictable Trajectory: When the shuttlecock falls vertically, its trajectory can be somewhat unpredictable. It may wobble or deviate slightly from a straight line due to air currents or small variations in its spin. This unpredictability makes it challenging to make clean, consistent contact with the shuttle.

Limited Hitting Surface: Hitting the cork of the shuttlecock cleanly is crucial for generating power and accuracy in badminton shots. When the shuttle is falling vertically, the hitting surface becomes smaller and more challenging to target. Players must be incredibly precise to strike the shuttle’s cork effectively.

Feather vs. Cork: A shuttlecock consists of a cork base and feathers. Hitting the cork is essential for powerful and accurate shots. However, when the shuttle is falling vertically, there’s a higher chance of striking the feathers instead of the cork, especially when you are trying to smash the shuttle. Hitting the feathers can result in a weaker and less controlled shot. That is why it is easier to hit a clear from a vertically falling shuttle as you hit the shuttle from underneath moving upwards, not from on top moving down like when performing a smash.

An image of three shuttlecocks

Lack of Timing: When the shuttlecock is descending vertically, it’s moving in a way that’s different from most other shots in badminton. Players are used to hitting shuttlecocks as they travel horizontally or diagonally across the court, which allows them to time their shots more easily. When the shuttle is falling straight down, it can be challenging to gauge the exact moment to make contact with the racket.

Psychological Pressure: Knowing that a vertically falling shuttle is challenging to hit cleanly can put psychological pressure on the player attempting the shot. This added mental stress can lead to errors in technique and execution.

In summary, hitting a vertically falling shuttlecock in badminton is difficult due to the unusual timing, changing speed, unpredictable trajectory, limited hitting surface, and the risk of hitting the feathers instead of the cork. Players must have exceptional timing, precision, and concentration to execute effective shots in such situations.

Ready for the return shot

When you play a high serve, it gives you the advantage of time. Time to get ready for your opponent’s next shot.

Time to React: Because the shuttlecock takes more time to travel from the back, you have more time to react and prepare for the smash. You can position yourself better to defend or even return the smash effectively. Precious milliseconds to anticipate the smash, position yourself more strategically, and prepare for the return can often make a big difference in such a fast sport.

Exploiting Footwork Weakness: Having sent your opponent right to the back of the court, if your opponents footwork to return back to the center of the court is bad or slow it may mean that they don’t recover well for your next shot, putting them on the back foot.

In summary, playing a high serve to the back of the court can give you extra time to be ready for the next shot, ensuring that your return is effective.

Tactics for using a high serve in singles

Now that we’ve established the significance of the high serve, let’s delve into some tactics to elevate your singles game.

Serve to the Middle

By serving to the middle of the court and not the corner, you can limit the angle of reply. What this means is that you can stand centrally on the court which enables you to reach all the shots from your opponent better. 

Whereas, if you serve out wide you cannot stand centrally and must stand more to one side in order to cover the straight smash.

This is because the straight smash is quicker and harder to react to as it has much less distance to travel.

In covering the straight smash, you are also exposing the opposite side of the court to a good shot as you are further away, making it harder to return.

A schematic diagram showing a long serve in singles to the middle of the court

Serve to the Backhand

I know we just praised the middle serve, but sometimes, a dash of unpredictability works wonders. 

Serve to your opponent’s backhand occasionally. Backhand shots are typically less threatening and are unlikely to be a strong attacking shot.

If they opt to take the high serve on their forehand, they’ll be moving out of position, making it harder for your opponent to get back to the middle, leaving more of the court exposed for your next attack. 

In addition their momentum will be carrying them further out of court exposing more of the court for you to attack.

A schematic diagram showing a long serve in singles out wide to the backhand of your opponent

Your opponents smash is weak

Another valuable tactic is to use a high serve when your opponent’s smash lacks power. This allows you to control the rally and exploit their weaknesses effectively.

When not to use a high serve

1) Don’t use a high serve if your opponent has a particularly good smash that is also very accurate. Serving high immediately hands them the attack and puts you on the defensive.

2) At the international level, high serves are the most common serve in women’s singles, but are used only infrequently in men’s singles. The shift in the point-per-rally system reduced the endurance factor in men’s singles and encouraged more aggressive play. Nevertheless, high serves are occasionally used even in world-class men’s singles. Strategic diversity keeps the game exciting and unpredictable.

Why do men not use a high serve in singles?

In men’s singles, a fascinating transformation occurred with the introduction of the point-per-rally system in 2003. Games became shorter, and players realized they could unleash their energy in aggressive, powerful smashes instead of reserving it for marathon matches. This shift is evident in the decreasing use of clears, an increase in smashes, and a growing appetite for risk-taking.

In contrast, women’s singles maintain the high serve tradition because smashes, though still powerful (see our article celebrating the 9 fastest female smashes), are less effective than staunch defense. Smashing from the back is inefficient, making the high serve a strategic choice.

Today, you’re more likely to see men using a backhand short serve, disguising and adding in flicks or drives, to keep opponents guessing. A short serve delays your opponent’s attack, and the occasional flick will deter your opponent from standing too close to the net. To see exactly what we are talking about, see our article on Badminton Serves: Types of Serves and How to Play Them.

In conclusion, while the high serve’s popularity may ebb and flow in various levels of play, its significance in badminton remains undeniable. Whether you’re an aspiring player looking to elevate your game or a seasoned competitor seeking a tactical edge, mastering the high serve is a journey worth undertaking in the dynamic world of singles badminton.

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