Learning how to use deception opens up entirely new possibilities for winning rallies.
If you successfully deceive your opponent, he will move in the wrong direction before you hit the shuttle. Then, when you play a different shot, it will be extremely hard for him to change direction.
Deception is often neglected by players and coaches; and never more so than when players’ practices are dominated by mindless shot routines.
This section does not explain technical details for playing deceptive shots (that’s a topic for other articles). Rather, my purpose here is to explain the ideas behind deceptive play, and some principles of deception in singles.
Technical tools for deception
Slicing the shuttle involves hitting it with an angled racket face: at impact, the racket angle does not match the direction in which the racket is moving.
This causes you to hit the shuttle with a glancing blow, rather than a straightforward punch. This glancing blow has two main effects:
- It changes the direction of the shot.
- It reduces the speed of the shot.
Slices can be used to give the appearance of playing a powerful shot in one direction, when actually you are playing a softer shot in a different direction.
Creating power with a short hitting action
Most players need a big swing in order to get any power. If you can learn to generate power from a short swing, however, then you gain many opportunities to play surprising shots, especially from the front of the court.
The shorter you can make your swing, the greater your potential for deception. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should always play your shortest possible swing; but it’s a useful tool.
Double motion involves beginning a racket swing in one direction, before withdrawing the racket and starting a new swing in a different direction.
Double motion is counter-intuitive and requires plenty of practise in order to master the fine racket skills. Occasionally, very skilful players will use triple motion; but this is comparatively rare. Triple motion is of no use unless your opponent is adept at reading the more basic deceptions.
Deceiving or delaying?
A shot cannot truly be called
deceptive unless the opponent is actually deceived.
When people talk about
deceptive shots, however, they often mean shots that merely delay your opponent. Clearly there’s a difference between delaying and deceiving; but it depends on your opponent’s ability to read your shots.
deceptive shot may deceive a beginner, delay a strong player, and be anticipated by a professional player!
Making your shots look the same
This is the basic method of delaying your opponent. The purpose is not necessarily to deceive him, but merely to prevent him from anticipating your shot.
When possible, your body and racket movements should look the same for whole families of shots — until just before you hit the shuttle. For example, you should use the same preparation for drop shots as you do for smashes; that way, your opponent cannot know which shot you are about to play.
If your preparation is very obvious, then your opponent can see what shot you are about to play; and he will move to cover your shot before you’ve even hit the shuttle.
Fooling your opponent
True deception relies on exploiting your opponent’s desire to anticipate your shots.
While you are trying to make your shots look the same, your opponent will be looking for subtle clues that reveal which shot you are about to play. You can exploit this by feeding him false information: you want him to believe he has spotted a flaw in your shot disguise, when actually this
flaw is deliberate.
Deception is about communicating with your opponent — but the message you’re sending is a lie. You are lying to him with your body and your racket.
This lie is a false action — you show him a shot that you’re not really going to play. For most deceptions, the real action (your real shot) follows the false action immediately; but some sophisticated deceptions involve showing a second false action before the real action.
The false action must be obvious
When trying to deceive your opponent, your false action must be easy to see. You need to give him enough time to observe your false action. He can only be misled by an action that he observes!
If your false action is too fast, he may miss it; then your deception will fail.
The real action must be quick
After your false action, your actual shot must be played quickly. Don’t give your opponent time to adjust to your real shot action.
Controlling your opponent’s experience
Deception doesn’t just happen in one rally, in isolation. Deception can be a story that you weave through a match, or even through a series of matches. You are showing your opponent patterns of play; and rather like telling a story, you create expectations in your listener (your opponent).
Then, just when he thinks he knows what’s going on, you change the pattern. This is rather like a well-timed plot twist.
Your opponent will adapt to your patterns of play. If you recognise that he has adapted, then you should look for ways of changing the pattern. Ideally, you should wait just long enough so that he is about to anticipate your next shot. This is the moment when a change of pattern will do the greatest damage.
Of course, he may be trying to exploit you in the same way. This isn’t a perfect story: you have a rival author! Both of you are compulsive liars; the question is: who has the greater wit?
The techniques for a deceptive shot can be mastered in closed practices, where all you need is a feeder and lots of time to develop your racket skills.
But this isn’t enough. You also need to practise these shots in a real game, or in a game-like situation (an open practice). An essential part of deception is the ability to understand and manipulate your opponent’s perceptions.
You must learn to observe his footwork rhythms, so you can recognise opportunities to disrupt them with a deceptive shot; the exact timing of your shot should be intimately connected to the rhythm of his movement. But more importantly, you must learn how to discover what’s going on inside his head.
That might sound creepy; but your opponent is always giving you clues about what he’s thinking. Look at his posture when he receives serve; look at the expression on his face. Is he showing signs of frustration with your low serve? Does he look like he might rush the next one? Perhaps you should play a flick serve.
- Key tip
Become a student of body language. People are telling you things all the time, and they don’t even know it.
To succeed at this, you must maintain a balanced emotional state yourself. People are always giving you subtle messages, but you cannot hear them if your own mind is making too much noise.
Of course, it’s always guesswork. You can never be certain what’s going on inside your opponent’s head; but you can make some shrewd guesses.
If nothing else, you need to observe how he responds to your attempted deceptions. If they work, keep using them; but be ready to change your tactics if your opponent adapts.