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The central base position

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After you play a shot, you should recover towards a central base position. This helps you to cover the whole court.

The idea of a central base

When playing singles, you need to be able to cover all parts of the court. This means you must stand in a roughly central base position.

This is obvious when you consider the alternatives:

  • You stand at the front. Now you can’t reach shots to the back.
  • You stand at the back. Now you can’t reach shots to the front.
  • You stand on the left. Now you can’t reach shots to the right.
  • You stand on the right. Now you can’t reach shots to the left.

A competent opponent will usually be able to place the shuttlecock in any part of the court. If you are too far away from the centre, then you create a huge gap. Your opponent will place the shuttlecock into that gap, and you won’t be able to reach it.

The base must be flexible

The exact position of your base will vary considerably, depending on what’s happening in the rally.

Your base can be affected by several factors:

  • What shot you just played
  • How much time you have for recovery
  • The strengths and weaknesses of both players

The base depends on what shot you played

If you played a net shot, your base will remain somewhat towards the front of the court. The tighter your net shot, the closer you will stand to the front. If you play a very tight net shot, then you can commit to the net, knowing that your opponent’s lifts must travel very high (this gives you time to move back).

If you played a clear towards your right side, then you will bias your base a small step to the right, covering the straight angles. Straight shots take less time (they travel a shorter distance), so you need to react to them faster.

Here are some guidelines to help you match your base position to the shot you just played:

  • If you played a shot to one side of the court, bias your base to the same side.
  • If you played a clear, lift, or (fast) drop shot, bias your base towards the back.
  • If you played a net shot, bias your base towards the front.

There isn’t much choice about base position when you play a smash: you hardly have any recovery time!

Some players, who have been taught that they should always recover to the centre, may be puzzled by my advice about clears, lifts, and drop shots. Surely they should recover to the exact centre, so they are equidistant from the net and the back line?

No. That is a hopelessly simplistic positional idea. Recovering to the exact centre is usually too far forward.

At the net, you have the full reach of your racket to play net shots and lifts. But in the rearcourt, this is not true: you do not want to be reaching behind you to play clears, smashes, and drops!

Key tip

Your feet often need to land beyond the back line, but they don’t need to reach the net: only your racket needs to reach the net.

Adjust your idea of a central base to account for this important distinction.

If you always recover to the exact centre, then your opponent will win easily by playing lifts and clears. You just won’t be able to get back in time.

You may not have time to reach your ideal base position

Often you will not have time to reach the best possible base position. As your opponent starts to hit the shot, you must begin your split drop. This effectively creates your base position.

This situation commonly occurs after you play a cross-court drop shot. Your ideal base would be towards the same side of the court as you placed the shuttlecock; but in reality, you don’t often have time to get there. Your base position will probably be slightly on the other side.

Many players, instead of using the split drop, keep on moving towards their ideal base. This is a fatal mistake, because your opponent now has the option to win the rally immediately by placing the shuttlecock away from your direction of movement. Because you are moving, you are not ready to change direction; and consequently you cannot reach the shuttlecock.

The base can be adjusted to account for strengths and weaknesses

The simplest and most common example is this: you bias your base slightly to the backhand side, because you want to play round-the-head forehands instead of backhands. This tactic is used by players of all standards, right up to world-class.

That’s an example of covering your weakness: your overhead backhands are weaker than your forehands, so you adjust your base position slightly to help cover the backhand rear corner.

You can also adjust your base position to cover your opponent’s strengths. If you know your opponent relies heavily on his cross-court drop shots, and his other shots are less effective, then you can adjust your base slightly forwards and towards the cross-court.

You can apply exactly the same tactic if your opponent is predictable in certain situations. Even if all his shots are equally strong, he may choose to play one favourite shot again and again (a tactical weakness). If you spot this pattern, exploit it by moving your base farther towards the expected shot. This is known as anticipating your opponent. The more predictable he is, the more you can gamble. This is an example of adjusting your base to exploit your opponent’s tactical weakness.

The reverse logic applies too. If you are especially good at reaching one part of the court, you can move your base slightly away from this area to help cover others (adjusting your base to account for your technical strength). Similarly, if your opponent is weak at a particular shot, you can move your base slightly away from that shot (adjusting your base to exploit the opponent’s technical weakness).