The Badminton Bible

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All original content copyright © Mike Hopley

Hitting to the same corner

Hitting to the same corner is a tactic that players often neglect.

Although it might seem better to hit different corners every time, it can actually be more effective to maintain pressure first on a single corner, before eventually switching your attack to a different corner.

The most difficult change of direction

When you hit to the same corner, you force your opponent to make the most difficult change of direction, because all of his movements must be reversed. As a result, he must completely destroy his momentum before moving again.

When moving to any other corner, however, your opponent can maintain at least one component of his momentum. In other words, the change of direction is easier for him.

For example: suppose that your opponent is recovering from his forehand rear corner. Let’s consider what happens if you hit the shuttlecock to one of the other three corners:

  • He can use his forward momentum to help reach his forehand front corner.
  • He can use his sideways momentum to help reach his backhand rear corner.
  • He can use all his momentum to help reach his backhand front corner.

However, if you hit the shuttlecock to his forehand rear corner again, then he cannot use any of his momentum: he must completely reverse his recovery movement, and move back to where he just came from.

Which corner to use

This tactic tends to be most effective when you use a rear corner.

It also works for front corners, but carries an element of risk: it’s usually dangerous to play several net shots in a row. After your opponent plays a net shot, he is usually well-positioned for reaching your net shot.

It’s rare to see a protracted sequence of net shots; net shot rallies are unstable in that one player will soon play a net kill or a tumbling net shot that is impossible to return.

If your opponent keeps lifting, however, you could keep playing drop shots to the same corner. A lift-drop-lift-drop sequence is more stable than a net-net-net sequence.

Psychological manipulation

Hitting several times to the same corner is also a psychological tactic. That might seem a strange thing to say, but bear with me while I explain.

Key tip

Your opponent is a flawed human being, not a badminton-playing robot.

You should exploit every human weakness you can, including the psychological tendency to make firm conclusions from inadequate evidence.

Hitting to the same corner establishes a pattern. Your opponent will recognise this pattern, and may allow it to influence him.

After you have played two or more shots to one corner, your opponent will often anticipate another shot there, by moving his base position closer to the corner (in other words, he does not make a full recovery movement).

Your opponent may not even be aware he is doing this. You, however, should observe the subtle change in his base position. Once he adapts, you should hit to a different corner; this will cause him problems, because his base is too far away.

It’s essential that you do recognise the change in his base. If you keep playing to the same corner even after he has adapted, he will gain the advantage (because he’s now better positioned for that corner).

Why does this tactic work? If your opponent were purely rational, he would always recover to a position that best covers your possible replies (or at least he would try to).

But your opponent is not purely rational. His behaviour is influenced by his psychological state. In this case, there are several possible causes:

  • Laziness
  • The desire to punish you for what he believes is a poor tactic
  • The subconscious influence of observing a pattern

Laziness

Many players are fundamentally lazy.

If they think they can guess where you will play the shuttlecock next, then they will not bother to cover other shots.

This is a combination of physical and mental laziness. Players are physically lazy because they don’t want to make the physical effort for a full recovery; and mentally lazy because they don’t want to make the mental effort to be ready for all the different shots.

Anticipation can be a good thing, because it allows you to gain an advantage: if you are able to predict your opponent’s shot, then you can reach it earlier.

But anticipation can also become a lazy habit: you try to anticipate your opponent’s shot, even when he’s quite likely to play a different shot. In this case, your anticipation is wilful: it’s motivated by laziness, and is tactically unsound.

Overcoming laziness takes a great deal of highly disciplined training. And even the best players, who have had this training, still sometimes get a little lazy.

The dogma of elegant variation: frustrating your opponent

Many players believe that you should always vary your shot placement. In extreme cases, they insist on never playing the same shot twice in a row.

I call this the dogma of elegant variation. Variation is not inherently good! You should only vary your shots with a clear tactical purpose.

In particular, many players have a firm conviction that you should always hit to a different corner in singles. They don’t have any good reason for believing this, but they believe it nonetheless. If your opponent is one of these players, then you can exploit his foolish belief.

Let’s say you play several clears to his forehand rear corner. He will become frustrated, because he believes your tactic should not work: it violates his faith in elegant variation. This places a psychological burden on him: the burden to prove you wrong.

If you can manoeuvre your opponent into this state of mind, then you gain an advantage. He is no longer able to just play badminton; now he has something to prove. Now he wants to refute your tactic. This is a dangerous state of mind, because it leads to impaired judgement.

In this state of mind, your opponent’s most natural action is to bias his base farther towards his forehand rear corner. This is an emotional decision, based on the desire to punish your tactic. He is hoping that you will play another clear to that corner, so he can punish you for such simplistic tactics.

Of course, you have no intention of doing that. You observe the change in his base position; this is exactly what you’ve been waiting for. Now you immediately place the shuttlecock in a different corner (I recommend using the long diagonal).

As well as winning a point, you have landed a psychological blow: you’ve unsettled your opponent. He doesn’t understand what happened. He’s troubled by the rally, because it violated his expectations: he feels he ought to have won it.

The subconscious influence of patterns and rhythms

Even if your opponent is aware of your tactic, and understands the ideas behind it, it may still work.

Whether we like it or not, we are all influenced by the patterns that we observe. Human brains are unmatched for their ability to extract patterns from complex perceptual input, and most of this pattern recognition occurs subconsciously (we’re not aware of it).

If your opponent is tactically aware, he may consciously think, I know what he’s doing. He’s trying to trick me by playing the shuttlecock into the same corner, and then he’ll switch to another corner.

Yet subconsciously, his brain is still spotting patterns. A primitive part of his mind is shouting: Look at the pattern! Look at the pattern! Look at the pattern!

This subconscious message is reinforced by the repetition of rhythm. By hitting to the same corner, you are not only establishing a pattern, but also reinforcing this pattern through a rhythm of foot movements and hitting actions. Each time, the rhythm of his movement is the same: back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

How often have you found yourself tapping your feet along to a song, when you don’t even like the music? Your conscious mind says, I will show my disdain for this awful music; but your subconscious mind says, Ooh! Rhythm! Let’s beat along to it!

The same can be said of badminton. A player may be consciously aware that you are attempting to trap him by repeating a rhythm. He knows that, if he falls under the spell of that rhythm, you will shatter the rhythm to your advantage (hitting to a different corner).

But his subconscious mind, which he cannot control, is following the rhythm. Your tactic, therefore, has created a conflict between the conscious and subconscious parts of your opponent’s mind. Often the subconscious will win, and he will be influenced by the pattern and rhythm you’ve shown him.

Players can train to protect themselves from this tactic. With sufficient training, many movements become automatic. Effectively, the training imposes its own patterns and rhythms upon your subconscious mind: this protects you against being manipulated by your opponent.

No protection is perfect, however. Better-trained players are much less vulnerable to being manipulated in this way; but they will occasionally falter, especially when their psychological state is already compromised (for example, when they have played a few bad shots and are becoming annoyed with themselves).

If you observe that your opponent’s psychological state is compromised, look for a tactic that could exploit this weakness. Hitting to the same corner is a good option.