Smashes are not just a winnning shot, but also an effective building shot. Using smashes as a building shot is an especially important idea in high-level men’s singles.
The benefits of smashing in singles
Smashes encourage a block return to the net, which — if you are quick to move in — creates a chance for playing tight spinning net shots.
It’s important to understand that this benefit does not exist unless you are very fast to move in after your opponent’s block. If you are slow to move forwards, then your opponent will gain the advantage instead.
Other returns of smash can also be used, of course: your opponent could play a lift, drive, or long block (push). Yet these returns also offer you attacking chances.
A long block is a risky shot with very little margin for error, and for that reason is rarely used. If your opponent plays it perfectly, then you should probably lift the shuttle (although you might consider entering a drive war instead). If his long block is too high, however, it offers you an easy opportunity to win the rally with a smash from the front midcourt (or at least a steeply downwards drive).
Continuing your attack after a lift
If you played your smash to the sidelines, then your opponent may not have recovered to a central base. Consequently, a smash to the other side is a good option. Clears and drop shots to this side can also take advantage of his position.
Continuing your attack after a drive
You must first assess the quality of the drive. If you are under pressure, it would be unwise here to attempt to continue attacking. Play a lift instead, preferably high and to the centre. The following tactics will usually only work if your opponent did not succeed in directing his drive away from you.
Since your opponent’s drive must travel upwards, you may consider entering an advantageous drive war by playing another drive yourself; you may be able to hit your drive downwards.
You can also use the shuttle position in other ways: because your opponent is held back from the net by the threat of a counter-drive or lift, you could block the shuttle to the net. If your opponent does start to encroach on the net, play a very flat attacking lift instead.
The downside of smashes
It’s important to understand that, although smashes can help you create an advantage, they can also offer an advantage to your opponent.
After your smash, your opponent can simply block the shuttle to the net. If he is able to play an accurate block, it may be difficult for you to reach the shuttle in time to play a tight net shot.
If you are off-balance when smashing, then you may not be able to reach the shuttle at all after your opponent’s block!
Where to smash
In singles, smashes are most commonly placed towards the sides. This is effective because your opponent must cover the full width of the singles court. Unlike in doubles, he cannot cover the court without moving first.
After you smash to a sideline, your opponent will have to take a quick step sideways to reach the shuttle. He may be forced to take it at full stretch or behind his body, making it more difficult to control his reply.
Smashing to the body is also a perfectly valid tactic. In this case, you’re hoping that he will have difficulty getting his racket into an effective hitting position. This is more usually played as an attempted winning shot, however; it’s generally less effective as a building shot placement, because you don’t create any space in your opponent’s court.
Straight or cross-court?
Straight smashes are the safer shot, because they limit your opponent’s angles of reply more effectively. Straight smashes will also be travelling much faster when they reach the opponent (because they have a shorter distance to travel).
To account for this, your opponent will bias his base towards covering the straight smash, leaving more open space for the cross-court smash. Because of this open space, cross-court smashes often do more damage than straight smashes. Unfortunately, they also expose you to greater movement pressure if your opponent is able to play a good reply.
Before attacking cross-court, consider your own position. If you attack cross-court when you are off-balance, you will have great difficulty covering a straight block, which forces you to travel the long diagonal.
Another disadvantage of smashing cross-court is that your opponent’s best reply is also his easiest reply: the straight block. This is not the case when smashing straight: your opponent would ideally like to play a cross-court block, but that shot is more difficult.