With defensive shots, you have much more freedom to choose different angles. Whereas cross-court attacking shots are usually a bad idea, defensive shots are more about finding the gap — wherever it might be.
Since the attackers usually bias their position towards covering the straight shots, some of the best defensive shots by the straight defender are played cross-court.
Defending against smashes
Lifts should always be played to a corner, never to the middle. If you lift to the middle, then the attackers achieve their best possible position! They will smash down the middle, making it almost impossible for you to find an effective counter-attacking angle.
If possible, you should normally play the lift to the opposite corner from the smasher: make him move! If you lift to the same corner each time, it’s much easier for him to get into a good smashing position.
The front attacker will usually be biased towards the same side as his smashing partner. The most effective drives, therefore, are usually placed towards the other side.
This means that the straight defender should play cross-court drives, and the cross-court defender should play straight drives.
Being realistic, however, the straight defender will not always be able to change the angle of the shot and play cross-court: it’s usually easier for him to play straight. Straight drives can also be effective counter-attacking shots (although not usually as deadly as cross-court drives).
In both cases, the defender must be aware of the front attacker’s position. He must be careful not to allow the front attacker to intercept the drive (especially with a forehand).
Drives to the centre are usually suicidal: the front player should cut these out easily.
Finally, note that the choice of straight vs. cross-court is affected by which side is the front attacker’s forehand. Often a straight drive past the opponent’s backhand can be safer than a cross-court drive to his forehand!
Blocks to the net
As with drives, these are best played away from the front attacker.
The cross-court defender should almost always place his blocks straight (away from the attacker). The straight defender would ideally hit the same place by playing cross-court, but again this is a more difficult shot. Straight blocks can be risky, but will work in favourable circumstances.
Unlike drives, blocks to the centre can be effective (a drive to the centre passes upwards immediately through his hitting zone; a block is in front of him). Blocks to the centre limit his possible net shot angles; between the two of you, you may be able to cover all his net shot replies.
Unlike drives, it may not matter much where the opponent’s forehand is. His backhand net play should be just as strong as his forehand net play!
Pushes are usually best played straight, by either defender.
This principle is not the same as drives, where the straight defender would usually prefer to play a cross-court drive.
The problem with a cross-court push is that it takes too long. A cross-court drive can pass the front player quickly, but a cross-court push usually gives him time to move across and intercept it early.
Pushes to the centre are an extremely silly shot. You’re just handing the shuttlecock to the front attacker!
Defending against drop shots
The straight defender should normally play his lifts cross-court, because:
- It makes the opponent move (so it’s harder for him to reach an ideal smashing position).
- You can then retreat a shorter distance to cover the cross-court.
If the straight defender plays a straight lift instead, then he must move back very quickly into a defensive position.
The cross-court defender should play his lifts straight, leaving the smasher little time to get in position.
As when defending against smashes, you should never lift to the middle (this gives your opponents the best possible attacking position).
If you can safely get away with a straight net shot, this is usually best because you are immediately in position to cover any net reply. If the drop shot is slow, then straight net shots also allow you to spin the shuttlecock.
When the back attacker plays a drop shot, his partner will move in to cover that part of the net. For this reason, cross-court net shots can be effective (placing the shuttlecock away from your opponent).
Net shots to the centre are also a good option, with the idea of limiting your opponent’s effective angles of reply.
The cross-court defender should almost always play his net shots straight.
Drives are usually best played straight, by either defender.
The straight defender may sometimes play cross-court drives, but this is a very risky shot unless you are in an excellent position: it’s likely to be cut out by the front attacker. Having said that, you can sometimes exploit the opponent’s rhythm of movement and racket carriage: there is often a moment when he lowers his racket, or shifts his weight as he moves forwards; sometimes a perfectly-timed cross-court drive can sail right past him. This trick is much more likely to work if you are hitting to his backhand.
Drives should never be played to the centre, unless you are reaching the drop shot extremely early and can attack directly at the front player’s body.
As when defending against a smash, pushes should almost always be played straight. A cross-court push takes too long to reach its destination and should be easily intercepted by the front attacker.
Pushes to the centre, as usual, are an extremely silly shot (the front player should hit this one right back at you, and hard).
As with drives, the exception to this rule occurs when you are taking the shuttlecock extremely early and can play the push downwards or at least flat. Here, since you are actually attacking, a push to the centre might even be the best angle: it’s the opponent’s shot, not yours, which must now travel upwards.