Most of the time, you should play a low serve.
Play flick serves occasionally, to discourage your opponents from anticipating your low serve.
The purpose of serving
In doubles, the server has a simple objective: gain the first attack.
To gain the first attack, you need to choose serves that pressure your opponents to lift (or clear) the shuttlecock, or play another weak shot — such as a loose net shot, which you kill.
To evaluate the success of your serving, ask yourself whether your side is getting the first attack when you serve. Don’t expect to win a rally outright on the serve; if you get them to lift, then you have succeeded in your role as server.
What if my partner messes up the attack?
Here’s a common, frustrating situation in average-standard club badminton:
- You play a low serve.
- The receiver lifts the shuttlecock (fairly high).
- Your partner plays a weak clear.
- The opponents smash and you lose the rally.
It’s important to realise here that you did your job. You created the opportunity for your partner to attack — and that’s the most you can expect from serving.
If this keeps happening to you, then don’t change your serving tactics: your serve is a big success! You might want to change your partner, however.
The low serve is the best serve
Professional doubles players use the low serve more than any other serve. This is because the low serve is more difficult to attack than other serves: it’s the only serve that starts to fall below net height immediately after crossing the net.
If you play a flick serve, then your opponent can smash it or play a drop shot. If you play a good low serve, however, his attacking options are much more limited.
Play the serve straight
Most of the time, you should play the serve straight to the service T. Playing the low serve straight has two advantages:
- It takes the least time to cross the net.
- It limits your opponent’s angles of reply the most.
The straight low serve has the shortest distance to travel, and therefore takes the least time to cross the net (okay, so the wide serve travels faster, but this is outweighed by the much longer flying distance). This means that your opponent has less time to react when you play the low serve straight.
Serving straight also limits your opponent’s angles of attack. For example, any net shots or pushes must pass through your hitting area; this gives you a good chance to intercept them.
Playing the serve directly at the receiver is also a good option (aim for his front foot). He has slightly better angles of reply here, but it’s difficult for him to decide whether to play a forehand or a backhand. Consequently, his grip change may be slower and he may take the shuttlecock a fraction late.
Don’t serve wide, except as a surprise
Many players prefer the wide low serve, because they feel they are attacking the empty space.
This is more illusion than reality: you are actually giving your opponent good angles of attack! Playing a wide serve opens up your court to straight replies into the tramlines. The straight net shot and push are especially difficult for you to deal with.
The wide serve is useful as an occasional variation, however. By playing it every now and then, you plant doubt in your opponent’s mind and give him one more serve variation to worry about. Then you can go back to the straight low serve, knowing that he will be slightly slower to react.
Use the flick serve as a variation
Although the flick serve is not objectively as good as the low serve, it’s useful to play flick serves occasionally in order to prevent your opponent anticipating your low serve.
If you always serve low, then a smart opponent will start to gamble on your continuing this pattern. This will allow him to react quicker when you serve, and attack it decisively.
If you use occasional flick serves, however, your opponent will need to be ready for both types of serve: both physically ready (how he stands) and mentally ready (how he reads your serve).
- Key tip
The purpose of flick serves is to limit your opponent’s attack of your low serves.
If you use flick serves as your usual serve, then they become pointless!
Both straight and wide flick serves are effective
Arguably, the wide flick serve is better than the straight flick serve, because:
- It forces the receiver to move farther.
- If he attacks, his shots will be coming from a corner rather than down the centre (this is easier to defend against).
This seems to be confirmed by professional matches, where (I think) flick serves are more commonly played wide than straight.
The wide serve is more difficult, however, so only play it if you can consistently make the full distance and height!
Beware using the drive serve
There’s a reason that this serve is almost never seen at the professional level!
The drive serve is a high-risk tactic: if your opponent fails to react quickly enough, then you win the rally; but otherwise, you lose.
At low levels of play, many receivers have difficulty returning drive serves, and they can be used to win cheap points. Against more skilful and experienced receivers, however, you will simply lose. Even weak players will usually adapt to the drive serve after the intial shock.
By all means experiment: play a drive serve and see what happens. But be ready to protect your eyes!