Opt for strong court coverage with clever power play
By Katie Garner
Doubles and singles both have very distinct and differing styles of play, most obviously because of the number of players on court. Singles players are all about giving themselves more time to set up the perfect kill shot, with an array of tram skimming clears and drops; but double the players simply means double the speed, and a different approach is needed to gain points. Whichever side controls the smash is the one who is likely to come out on top in that rally, with high emphasis on power drives and speedy net interception. In any doubles play, teamwork is vital and it is so important that you communicate with each other, so that you can deliver a consistent performance that sees you both play at your best.
In badminton, there are two main styles of tactics that can evolve during the course of the rally – attack and defence.
Attacking play in doubles is all about setting the point up for a concluding dynamic smash to steal the score. This is done by adopting a ‘front and back’ style of play. This is where one player will take position at the T, standing in the centre of the court, nice and near the net. The second player will cover the rear of the court, standing initially directly behind their corresponding partner. Whilst the back player will deliver the majority of the smashes and drop shots, the front player will be covering the net and mid court area, intercepting to either perform net kills on weak clears and drives or shots that will encourage another lift to give them the upper hand in the point.
Attacking play will often begin with a low serve, usually backhand, with the intention of instantly putting your opponents in a defensive position, forcing them to lift the shuttle. The person who performs the low serve will then stay at the front section of the court, whilst the second player will then cover the back of the court. This may vary in mixed doubles, as very often the female player will stay at the net and the male player will stay at the back of the court regardless of who is serving, but this very much depends on personal ability and preference as well as your teamwork. A low serve isn’t compulsory, although it is generally deemed a more efficient start. You could also attempt a sneaky flick serve to try and outwit your opponents, but this does mean that you start the rally on defensive footing as you have given them a clear opportunity to smash. The flick serve is also something to be aware of for mixed doubles, as some duos will deliberately flick serve the female player to push her to the back of the court to give themselves a better chance of adopting the attacking position and advantage in the point.
If you are the player covering the back of the court, your main objective should be to create openings for your partner at the front of the court, so that they can kill the shot. By delivering your own array of smashes, you are encouraging lifts and clears, which if they fall short can then be pounced upon by your other half. With mixed doubles, it is generally thought that the man playing at the back of the court should play downwards or horizontal style shots, whilst the woman covering the front of the court should aim to play net kills and tight net shots.
I’d be lying if I said attacking play wasn’t about being aggressive, because it is. Doubles is about maximising your court coverage, but it is also about forcing your opponents to play the lift as this is the easiest shot to kill off. This is the main reason why it is so important for the player at the front of the court to intercept the shot and catch your opposition off guard. Just a word of warning for the player at the front of the court – never look backwards. Ideally, you should be watching your opponents like a hawk to anticipate and establish what their next move will be, but for your own safety, do not look backwards to check on your partner. As the not so proud owner of a black eye after deciding to flick a quick glance backwards, I can assure you that a smash to the back of the head hurts less than a smash in the face. And people thought rugby was tough.
Defensive play in doubles is focused on defending the dreaded smash, hence you adopt a ‘side by side’ formation, where each player will cover their side from the centre line to the tram line. This is so that the full width of the court is as covered as possible, as you don’t want to be caught out by a well-placed smash or drop shot. When defending, your best chance is to hit the shuttle deep into the court, as you want to avoid the eager clutches of the player at the front of the court on the opposite side – even around the mid court area is a good idea as this is directly between the front and back player, and can cause confusion.
With a side by side position, you are not only in a good position to return smashes, but you can also take a step forwards or backwards to retrieve any drop shots and clears that also come your way.
Although both teamwork as your own personal strengths and weaknesses will come into the equation when determining your position, there are skill two key strategies that most pairs will adopt – either the attacking ‘front and back’ play or the defensive ‘side by side’ play. These styles can interchange and swap between yourselves and the opposing players numerous times in the course of just one rally as you all strive for the opportunity to deliver the winning smash. Providing the perfect court coverage is another aim, and demonstrates that you must communicate with your partner to ensure you are covering each other as well as any spaces on court with a mix of rotation and good positioning.