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Building shots

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A building shot is any shot played with the purpose of creating opportunities to win the rally.

Think of it like this: you are building the foundations of an attack.

The idea of building shots

Against a good defender, you cannot play all-out attack in singles (smashing everything). You will simply lose, because your opponent is under no movement pressure and your smashes allow him to apply movement pressure to you.

Before you can attack, you need to create an advantage in the rally. You do this by applying movement pressure.

First, gain an advantage

It’s like a dance: you move your opponent around, and he moves you around. If both the dancers maintained perfect steps, the dance would go on forever.

But this never happens. Eventually, one player will be slightly late to recover. If you can compromise your opponent’s recovery to a central base, then you gain an advantage. It might seem like a tiny advantage, but you can make it grow.

This is the first purpose of building shots: to create an advantage.

If your opponent gains an advantage first, then you should usually play to neutralise his advantage. Again, you’re choosing building shots rather than winning shots: you’re trying to improve your situation, from bad to neutral. It’s important that you see these as defensive building shots, and not just defensive shots: your purpose is to build a situation where you can win, not just to return your opponent’s shots.

Then, once the situation is neutral again, you play to gain an advantage.

Next, increase your advantage

Don’t go for a winning shot unless your chances are good. Playing a smash, for example, is an immediate threat; but it offers your opponent a chance to defuse the situation by lifting high and deep to the centre, or to counter-attack with blocks, drives, or shallow lifts. If you go for a winning smash and fail, your opponent has good chances to gain the advantage himself.

Often the threat is greater than the execution. Withold your threat of outright attack, and increase the pressure on your opponent’s movement instead. Meanwhile, he still has to cover the threat of smashes.

Once your opponent’s recovery is compromised, you can play to compromise it further. Continue hitting to the four corners, trying to choose shots that your opponent will find difficult to reach. You are in control of the rally, because your opponent has failed to reach a good base position; maintain this control and force your opponent farther and farther out of position.

This is the second purpose of building shots: to maintain and increase an advantage.

Key tip

To a chess master, a single pawn is usually a winning advantage. A pawn has the potential to become a mighty queen, and this threat allows the master to force his opponent into further concessions.

Learn to play badminton as masters play chess: recognise your slight advantages, and exploit them to force your opponent into greater concessions. Only go for the kill when you have established good winning chances.

Finally, play the winning shot

Once you have created a large enough advantage, you should stop playing building shots and start looking for winning shots.

These won’t necessarily be different shots than you were previously playing; you can often win by movement pressure. But they are played with a different purpose, and you need to understand that. This difference of purpose affects many subtle details, such as your choice of shot trajectory.

Sometimes you can skip a step

I’ve just described the most methodical way to play a singles rally:

  1. Neutralise any advantage your opponent has gained; use defensive building shots.
  2. Gain an advantage yourself, by using building shots .
  3. Maintain and increase your advantage, still using building shots.
  4. Once you have a large enough advantage, switch to winning shots.

Obviously this process can be interrupted; you might lose control of the rally, and be forced to start all over.

I recommend that you adopt this method as your basic approach to singles rallies. Overall, you will win more points if you play methodically than if you play instinctively and emotionally.

Nevertheless, it often pays to be greedy. When your opponent has an advantage, you can sometimes immediately steal the rally from him with a well-judged counter-attack. For instance, let’s suppose your opponent has just played a good attacking clear to your forehand; you are forced to take the shuttle from behind your body. What are your options?

Defend

The standard response would be to neutralise his advantage first. For example:

  1. Your opponent plays an attacking clear to your forehand.
  2. You play a high defensive clear to the middle.
  3. The rally continues, with a neutral situation.

By playing a high clear, you are following the first step of the method described above: neutralise your opponent’s advantage.

Counter-attack

Depending on the nuances of the situation, however, you may be able to skip the first step and immediately play for an advantage yourself:

  1. Your opponent plays an attacking clear to your forehand.
  2. You play a fast cross-court drop shot, using slice.

By playing this shot, you have placed yourself under more movement pressure; but your opponent is under movement pressure too. Depending on the situation, you may have a good chance to gain an advantage.

Most of the time, you’d be better off playing the safer shot. But keep your eyes open for opportunities to skip a step, stealing control of the rally from your opponent.

Attempt an outright winner

Sometimes your opponent’s attack will have a fatal flaw, which you can exploit with an immediate winning shot. For example:

  1. Your opponent plays an attacking clear to your forehand.
  2. You jump out into the corner, taking the shuttle from behind your body, and win the rally with a cross-court half-smash.

In this example, you moved straight to the final step (winning), skipping over steps one, two, and three!

I must emphasise that this is the exception, not the rule. Don’t go for winners out of vanity! Most of the time you will be better off defending first.

Nevertheless, you should watch out for opportunities to win the rally with a sudden burst of speed and aggression. If your opponent has left an opening, use it!

Creating space

By hitting to the corners, you create space in your opponent’s court.

You can use this space to put pressure on your opponent’s movement. For example: playing a clear or lift creates space in the forecourt; your next shot could be a drop or net shot.

This is another way to think about building shots: most building shots create space in your opponent’s court.

The only exception to this rule is when you play a fast shot (smash or drive) directly at your opponent. This can be a building shot too, because you’re hoping for a weak response that you can attack; but it doesn’t create space.

The remaining content of this section

In the following pages, I will examine each building shot in detail, and try to reveal its tactical nature.

Several aspects of this analysis will be common to all the shots. For example, any shot can be hit straight, cross-court, or to the middle. The tactical effects of choosing these angles, however, are not the same for every shot. It’s good to be aware of general principles — such as hitting towards the middle for defence — but you must also understand the nuances of an individual shot.

Don’t forget that the shots are all intimately connected. If you want to understand the tactical essence of a fast drop shot, for example, then you need to understand net shot tactics too.

Finally, be aware that this analysis is largely opponent-neutral. It’s an attempt to reveal an objective tactical structure — a framework for badminton singles tactics. Both players, however, will have particular strengths and weaknesses; and you need to adjust your tactical assessment accordingly. If that means deviating from the framework I describe, so be it!