Rallies usually end with a fault. Whoever makes the fault loses the rally.
For example, hitting the shuttle out is a fault: you lose the rally.
Badminton has several rules about serving, most of which are meant to limit the advantage that can be gained from a serve.
In club badminton play, disputes over the legality of serves are common. It helps to know the rules before you argue over them!
With the exception of delays, breaking any of the following rules is a fault. In the case of delays, the umpire will normally warn the players first. If the players continue to delay, then the umpire would usually call a fault.
Once the players are ready for the service, the first forward movement of the server’s racket head shall be the start of the service.
Once started, the service is delivered when the shuttle is hit by the server’s racket or, in attempting to serve, the server misses the shuttle.
These rules define when the service starts, and when it is
delivered. These definitions get used in some of the rules below.
Neither side shall cause undue delay to the delivery of the service once the server and the receiver are ready for the service. On completion of the backward movement of the server’s racket head, any delay in the start of the service (Law 9.2) shall be considered an undue delay.
This is really two rules rolled into one. First, you cannot hold your serve indefinitely, hoping that the receiver will lose concentration or become uncomfortable. Similarly, the receiver cannot delay indefinitely.
How long is an
undue delay? The rules don’t say, because it’s left to the umpire’s discretion. In club play, you just have to be reasonable. I suggest you should not take more than five seconds to serve (once ready).
The second part of the rule is a convoluted way of saying something quite simple: when serving, you cannot pause between backswing and forwards swing. Many club players use this pause to upset the receiver’s timing. That is against the rules: it’s a fault.
You might be sceptical about my interpretation here, but I am following official guidance from Badminton England. If you pause between backswing and forwards swing when serving, you’re breaking the rules.
Of course, you don’t have to keep the same speed of swing, and you can also serve without using a backswing at all.
Note that this rule also forbids an extremely slow serving action, because that would constitute an undue delay.
Where the server and receiver must stand
The server and receiver shall stand within diagonally opposite service courts, without touching the boundary lines of these service courts.
You’re not allowed to put your feet on the lines, when serving or receiving. Note that this rule is only about touching the lines: you may lean forwards or sideways so that your racket is outside the service court.
Keep both feet on the ground
Some part of both feet of the server and the receiver shall remain in contact with the surface of the court in a stationary position from the start of the serve (Law 9.2) until the service is delivered (Law 9.3).
Both feet must stay on the ground until the server contacts the shuttle. Only some part of each foot has to stay on the ground; this allows you to shift your weight and even turn your body (as in a forehand high serve).
You may not drag a foot along the floor, however.
Hit the base of the shuttle first
The server’s racket shall initially hit the base of the shuttle.
This rule seems incongruous unless you know its history. It was introduced to prevent players using a particular style of low serve. The serve was called the Sidek serve or S-serve, after the Sidek brothers who popularised it in the 1980s. It was mainly used as a backhand serve.
The S-serve involved slicing sideways across the feathers of an inverted shuttle, making it spin chaotically so that the receiver had difficulty controlling his return. The S-serve was so effective that many people felt it was ruining the game; eventually, the serve was banned by introducing rule 9.1.4 (above).
Tournament video footage of the S-serve is hard to find, but here’s one example where both sides are mainly using S-serves (a good example is at 7:41). Note the wild, downwards-swerving path of many serves. The receivers make a large number of errors, and rarely succeed in attacking the S-serves.
Although the S-serve is against the rules, other spinning serves are not. You may still slice the serve, and you may even hit the feathers, providing you hit the base first. These techniques may cause the shuttle to spin, wobble, or swerve, although the effect is far less dramatic than an S-serve.
Serve from below the waist
The whole shuttle shall be below the server’s waist at the instant of being hit by the server’s racket. The waist shall be considered an imaginary line round the body, level with the lowest part of the server’s bottom rib.
This is an important rule: it’s the one that prevents you from playing a smash as your serve!
Note that the waist is not the same as the line of your shorts: it’s actually the lowest part of your ribcage. To judge how high you can serve from, feel for your lowest rib: the shuttle has to be below this.
The angle of the server’s racket
The shaft of the server’s racket at the instant of hitting the shuttle shall be pointing in a downward direction.
At first, this seems an unnecessary rule. We already have rule 9.1.5 to enforce a height limit; why do we need another one?
This rule is useful because it prevents players from applying heavy top-spin to their drive serves. These serves travel fast and flat, and can actually swerve downwards after passing the net so that they reach the receiver below net height. They are almost impossible to attack.
Drive serves can be perfectly legal, but this rule ensures that all legal drive serves will travel upwards as they pass the net — making them vulnerable to attack by an alert receiver.
The movement of the server’s racket shall continue forwards from the start of the service (Law 9.2) until the service is delivered (Law 9.3).
Many servers like to shake their racket back-and-forth behind the shuttle, as an attempt to disturb the receiver’s timing. That is a fault.
This rule, together with rule 9.1.1, ensures that the service action must be one continuous movement with no double-action feints. To be precise, you are allowed to serve with either of these actions:
- One backswing immediately followed by one forwards swing
- One forwards swing on its own (no backswing)
Where you have to serve
The flight of the shuttle shall be upwards from the server’s racket to pass over the net so that, if not intercepted, it shall land in the receiver’s service court (i.e. on or within the boundary lines).
A serve that hits the line is in.
The rule appears to suggest that, even if the receiver hits it back, a serve that was travelling out should be faulted. That is a misinterpretation of the rule: notice that the rule says
shall land, not
So the rule is technically correct, but it’s still badly worded.
Some silly stuff: even if you were three metres tall and could hit a serve downwards, it would still be against the rules, because the serve must travel upwards. You also are not allowed to use some sneaky trick serve that swerves around the sides of the net posts!
No second chances
In attempting to serve, the server shall not miss the shuttle.
If you miss the shuttle on serving, you lose the rally. I recommend practising your serve more.
Although it’s not explicitly mentioned anywhere in the rules, you also don’t get a
second serve. This is different from tennis, where the server gets two attempts to put the ball inside the service court.
Faults during the rally
Hitting the shuttle to the wrong place
[It shall be afault] if in play, the shuttle:
lands outside the boundaries of the court (i.e. not on or within the boundary lines);
passes through or under the net;
fails to pass over the net;
These are fairly obvious. Your shot must travel over the net, not underneath, around, or through it; and it must land inside your opponent’s court (unless he hits it back).
If the shuttle lands
on the line, it’s in.
Only the first contact between the shuttle and the floor counts. Shuttles often hit the line and then
bounce out; this counts as in.
When the shuttle touches something before reaching the floor
[It shall be afault] if in play, the shuttle:
touches the ceiling or side walls;
touches the person or dress of a player;
touches any other object or person outside the court;
(Where necessary on account of the structure of the building, the local badminton authority may, subject to the right of veto of its Member Association, make bye-laws dealing with cases in which a shuttle touches an obstruction.)
You lose the rallly if you hit the shuttle into the ceiling or walls. You also lose the rally if the shuttle touches you or your clothing.
The last rule is just a stuffy way of acknowledging that many badminton courts are not perfect. For example, many courts have beams or girders crossing low above them. Most clubs decide to play a let when the shuttle hits a beam. This is standard practice, and I recommend it.
You cannot claim a let for hitting the ceiling, however. Otherwise, whenever you were losing the rally, you could just hit the shuttle up to the ceiling and start again!
Surprisingly, the rules do not specify a minimum ceiling height. Playing badminton with a low ceiling ruins the game, as it makes defensive shots ineffective. In practice, all major tournaments use very high ceilings, but some local or regional venues do not.
[It shall be afault] if in play, the shuttle:
is caught and held on the racket and then slung during the execution of a stroke;
is hit twice in succession by the same player. However, a shuttle hitting the head and the stringed area of the racket in one stroke shall not be afault;
is hit by a player and the player’s partner successively;
With a little practice, it’s possible to catch the shuttle with your racket, using a scooping motion. For obvious reasons, you’re not allowed to do this during a rally.
Similarly, you may not hit the shuttle twice, on your own or with a partner — for example, first hitting it up above net height, and then smashing it down!
Note that a
bad contact is not a fault. Many players, especially older ones, call
no shot when they have made a bad contact — either hitting just the frame, or hitting both the frame and the strings. This is not a fault, and the rally should continue.
Hitting the net or invading the opponent’s court
[It shall be afault] if in play, a player:
touches the net or its support with racket, person or dress;
invades an opponent’s court over the net with racket or person except that the striker may follow the shuttle over the net with the racket in the course of a stroke after the initial point of contact with the shuttle is on the striker’s side of the net;
invades an opponent’s court under the net with racket or person such that an opponent is obstructed or distracted;
If you touch the net or the posts, you lose the rally. This commonly happens with net kills: if the shuttle is tight to the net, it can be hard to play a net kill without hitting the net with your racket.
You are not allowed to reach over the net to play your shot. Provided you make contact with the shuttle on your side, however, your racket may then pass over the net during your follow-through action.
It’s hard to be sure what the rules intend for edge cases, such as a tight brush net kill where the contact point is on your side but the top of your racket is intruding (just slightly) over the net. Even in officiated tournaments, these calls are made by eye, without the aid of video replays or electronic sensors (although video replays are sometimes used when the call is disputed). In practice, the court officials have a hard enough time judging whether the contact point was okay. To spot these edge cases accurately is beyond human ability.
In other words, I wouldn’t worry about it. Just make sure that you contact the shuttle on your side.
When lunging forwards to retrieve a tight drop or net shot, players often put a foot under the net. This is not a fault unless you obstruct or distract the opponent — for example, by treading on his foot!
Obstructions and distractions
[It shall be afault] if in play, a player:
obstructs an opponent, i.e. prevents an opponent from making a legal stroke where the shuttle is followed over the net;
deliberately distracts an opponent by any action such as shouting or making gestures;
Remember that you are allowed to follow-through with your racket over the net, providing you made contact on your side. If your opponent obstructs this — such as putting his racket in the way so that you would be forced to hit it — then you win the rally.
Note that your opponent is allowed to put his racket in the path of the shuttle. He is not allowed to block your stroke, but he is allowed to block your shot. It’s a subtle distinction: your stroke is the movement of your racket; your shot is the movement of the shuttle.
Deliberate distractions are not allowed. There’s a fine line here: the rule does not prohibit shouting (e.g. when you smash) or expressing yourself through gestures (e.g. a clenched fist after winning a point); but it does prohibit using these to distract your opponent.