Net shots are a crucial building shot, because they create opportunities to attack with smashes.
In men’s singles especially, the quality of net shots can often determine who wins the match. Tight spinning net shots often force a short lift, which allows you to attempt a winning smash.
The connection with drops and blocks
To truly understand net shot tactics, you need to understand how they are connected to other shots.
Before you can play a net shot, you need the shuttle to be near the net. So think backwards one shot: what must your opponent have done, that allowed you to play a net shot?
The three most likely shots are: a drop shot, a block return of smash, or another net shot.
Net shots after your opponent’s drop
If your opponent played a slow drop, then you can play a tight spinning net shot. This is probably a winning shot, not a building shot!
We’ll assume that your opponent knows better than to let you do this. So he played a fast drop instead. Here, you cannot play a tight net shot, because your contact point will be too far away from the net and too close to the ground.
But after you play your net shot, your opponent can play a tight net shot (providing he moves in quickly). He can do this because, after your net shot, the shuttle will be closer to the net; and he will also be taking the shuttle from much farther above the ground than you did.
This is the tactical essence of a fast drop. Fast drops can be deadly because they allow you to play the first tight net shot. Here is a typical sequence of shots:
- You play a fast drop shot.
- Your opponent plays a net shot.
- You play a tighter net shot, with spin.
- Your opponent lifts the shuttle.
Because of this, you might think it’s better to avoid net shots when you respond to fast drops, and play lifts instead. But playing a lift from this position imposes huge movement pressure on yourself: you must recover to a position slighty behind the centre of the court. Your opponent, however, is already in position!
When returning a fast drop shot, you will often be lunging and at full stretch, reaching your racket out forwards and sideways. In this position, a straight net shot is the easiest shot to play; at full stretch, any other shot is likely to be inconsistent.
At high levels of play, a straight net shot is by far the most common response to a fast drop shot. After you play a straight net shot, you are well positioned to cover the next shot.
So it’s a compromise: by playing a net shot you protect your base position, play the easiest shot, and apply more movement pressure to your opponent; but you also give your opponent the opportunity to play a much tighter net shot.
Net shots after your opponent’s block
After your opponent blocks your smash, you can play a net shot. To do this, you need to move forwards quickly after you smash.
This situation is more favourable than when your opponent played a fast drop shot, because you can play the net shot with a much higher contact point and with better balance. This higher contact point allows you to play a better net shot; and because you could also play a very flat lift from this position, your opponent must hang back and cover the rearcourt.
Consequently, it is often tactically sound to give your net shots some extra height, so that they pass well above the net tape. This might seem like another crazy idea, but it’s perfectly logical. By playing the net shot with extra height, you cause the shuttle to fall back down tighter to the net.
Of course, you must be careful not to overdo it. If you give the shuttle too much height, your opponent will have time to come forwards and kill it.
Most blocks are soft enough so that you can play your net shot from fairly close to the net. This allows you to add some spin (spinning net shots only work when played from near the net).
However, if your opponent plays a long block (a push), then your net shot will be less tight; and spin will be much more difficult and less effective. But you may be able to attack instead: although the shuttle is deeper in court, it’s also higher; and this creates an opportunity to play downwards-travelling drives.
Net shots after your opponent’s net shot
These can be the most deadly net shots, but also the most risky.
If your opponent has just played a net shot, then he is well positioned to cover another net shot. For this reason, it’s rare to see several net shots in a row.
Along with the risk comes a potential reward, however. Because the shuttle is already tight to the net, you can play an extremely tight net shot, with lots of spin.
It requires good judgement to know when to play another net shot, and strong nerves! You should only play this shot if you are able to take the shuttle early, and can threaten to play a shallow lift.
This kind of net play is a game where the stakes get higher and higher with each net shot, because the net shots are getting tighter and tighter.
Hairpin net shots
These should only be played as a last resort, or if your opponent is very slow to cover the forecourt.
Hairpin net shots are played from near the ground and close to the net, after your opponent’s tight net shot or slow drop shot. You play them because, from this position, you cannot lift the shuttle to a decent length.
You can apply some spin as an attempt to keep your net shot tight, but the spin will have died off by the time the shuttle crosses the net (so it won’t disrupt your opponent’s shot).
The effect of spin
Spinning your netshots decreases their accuracy, at least a little. But this is compensated for by two advantages:
- The spin makes your shot tighter (because of the added air resistance).
- The spin makes it more difficult for your opponent to control his shot, and often forces him to delay his shot by allowing the shuttle to drop.
Spinning net shots should only be attempted when you are close to the net. From farther back, they lose most of their benefits, and are much harder to perform accurately.
You can still slice your net shots a little from this position; just don’t try to make them spin. I suggest a slight under-cutting action (a slicing movement towards the net); but remember that accuracy and consistency are more important than playing for a slightly tighter net shot!
Choosing angles for net shots
Straight net shots
Most of the time, you should play your net shots straight. When you play a straight net shot, you are well-positioned to cover the angles of reply.
Perhaps the greatest advantage of straight net shots, however, is that you can use spin. Because of this, and also because the straight shot is easier to perform, straight net shots tend to be tighter than cross-court net shots.
Cross-court net shots
As with other cross-court shots, cross-court net shots are riskier than straight net shots. The danger of playing a cross-court net shot is that you open up your court to a straight reply, which you are not in position to cover.
As a general guideline, it’s best to play cross-court net shots when you are in a good position and taking the shuttle early, or when your opponent will have difficulty reaching the net early himself.
Played with deception, cross-court net shots can do a lot of damage, and set you up to play a winning shot.
Cross-court net shots cannot use spin. Don’t try to spin your cross-court net shots! You’ll just play a bad shot.