When your opponent smashes, you can easily apply movement pressure by playing a block to the net.
You also have the option of playing a lift, drive, or long block (push).
Blocks to the net
This is by far the most common response to a smash. Blocks are the only shots that force your opponent to move into the forecourt after his smash, and they are also the easiest shots to play.
If your opponent is very fast, then he may attempt to exploit your block by playing a tight spinning net shot. But if your block is played accurately, you have good chances of preventing this and seizing control of the net yourself.
You need to judge the speed of your block carefully. You might be tempted to play it very softly, with a high, looping path so that it falls back very tight to the net; but this gives your opponent too much time. As a rough guide, aim for your block to land near the short service line.
Blocks to the middle are rarely useful; their only benefit is that they limit your opponent’s shot angles.
Straight blocks are the easiest shot, and the best choice when your opponent smashes cross-court: after a straight block, he will be forced to travel the longest possible distance. The only downside is that this shot is predictable: your opponent will expect you to play it, and so can simply charge to the net in a straight line.
If you feel that your opponent is anticipating your straight block, then throw in a different shot to catch him off-balance.
After a straight smash, the ideal response is a cross-court block, because it forces your opponent to change direction and cover more distance. The cross-court block is substantially more difficult, however; when the smash is especially fierce, it may be unwise to attempt this shot.
Lifts often allow your opponent to continue smashing. This may actually be a good thing if his smash is ineffective and you intend to tire him out; but if this is your intention, you must make sure to get good height and depth on your lifts.
The main benefit of lifts is surprise. After a smash, strong players will look to move forwards quickly so that they can play a tight spinning net shot. If you always defend with blocks to the net, then your opponent can anticipate these and move in faster.
Try to recognise when your opponent is doing this; then surprise him next time by playing a lift. If he has gambled on your playing a block, then he will have difficulty changing direction to move backwards; he will likely play a weak shot, if he reaches the shuttle at all.
Trajectory of lifts
The more that you think your opponent has committed himself to moving forwards, the flatter your lifts should be.
By playing the lift flat, you give your opponent less time to recover from his error. You are taking a risk, however: if he is not surprised, then he will probably intercept your flat lift with a winning smash.
If your opponent is quick to cover both lift and block responses, then you are in a difficult situation. You must avoid playing flat lifts, because the risk of him intercepting them is too great.
When under pressure, your lifts should be high and deep to the middle.
When you are trying to put pressure on your opponent’s movement, lifts are usually best directed away from him: if he smashes straight, lift cross-court; if he smashes cross-court, lift straight.
Drives should be played with caution. Playing a drive invites your opponent to drive back; but while your drive must travel upwards to pass the net, his drive can travel downwards. Your opponent has a good chance of winning this drive war.
If you can place your drive into the open space, however, it can be an extremely difficult shot for your opponent to counter. If your opponent smashes straight, try a cross-court drive; if he smashes cross-court, try a straight drive. This tactic is similar to using attacking lifts, but even more aggressive.
Drives are best reserved for when your opponent’s smash is flat.
Long blocks (pushes)
Long blocks travel farther into court than ordinary blocks: they land well beyond the short service line. The flight path of a long block is between a block and a drive: you can also think of them as soft drives.
These are risky shots, because the shuttle continues to rise after passing the net and may be attacked forcefully. Usually it’s better to play a block or a drive.
One advantage of long blocks is that your opponent cannot play a tight net shot in reply — the shuttle is too far away from the net. Long blocks take the sting out of your opponent’s net shots.
As with drives, long blocks should be aimed away from your opponent.
Why not play a drive instead?
In most situations, long blocks are inferior to drives. The aim of either shot is to get the shuttle past your opponent so that he cannot play a tight net shot; but drives travel faster, and therefore are normally more effective.
In doubles, long blocks are effective because they hit the midcourt space between the two attackers: a (normal) block is easier for the front player to intercept, and a drive is easier for the rear player. But this doesn’t apply in singles.
In my view, there is exactly one circumstance when long blocks can be superior to drives: when your opponent smashes straight, and you play a cross-court long block.
The advantage of a long block in this situation is that you can use a greater cross-court angle than with a drive. The angle of your cross-court drives is more limited: since drives travel farther, you must be careful not to hit them out at the side.
Of course, the angle can be even greater when you play an ordinary cross-court block: the softer the cross-court shot, the greater the angle. But the ordinary block, unlike the long block, allows your opponent the potential to play a tight net shot.