The Art of Returning Serves in Badminton: A Comprehensive Guide

Badminton player hitting shuttlecock
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Last Updated on 30/05/2023 by Kriss

Badminton, a sport loved by millions around the globe, is a game of agility, precision, and strategy. It’s a game that requires quick reflexes, sharp focus, and a deep understanding of the game’s mechanics. One of the most crucial aspects of the game, often the determining factor between victory and defeat, is the ability to return serves effectively. This blog post will provide you with a comprehensive guide to enhance your serve-returning skills, making you a feared opponent on the court.

Understanding the Importance of Returning Serves

Before we delve into the strategies, it’s important to understand why returning serves effectively is so crucial in badminton. The serve is the only shot in badminton where the player has complete control over how and where to play the shot. A good return can immediately put your opponent on the back foot, giving you the upper hand in the rally. It can also disrupt your opponent’s rhythm, making it harder for them to execute their game plan. Moreover, an effective return serve can set the tone for the rest of the rally, allowing you to dictate the pace of the game.

Especially in doubles a good return of serve is crucial since most rallies are decided in the first 5-7 shots with the serve and the return being the two most important shots. A weak return can lose you the point immediately (The same can be said for the serve itself).

Strategies for Returning Serves in Badminton

1. Anticipating the Serve

The first step to returning a serve effectively is anticipation. This involves closely observing your opponent’s body language, and racket movement. Try to read your opponents and you will often see a pattern of behavior that can be exploited. Some players lean back before doing a long serve or their posture is different. Anticipation is a skill that comes with experience – the more you play and watch badminton, the better you’ll get at anticipating serves.

2. Correct Positioning

Positioning yourself correctly on the court is another crucial aspect of returning serves. Stand in a ready position, with your knees slightly bent and your non-racket leg in front. You should also have most of the weight on your toes. This will allow you to move quickly in any direction. We discussed this topic already in our footwork guide. Also, try to stand as close to the service line as possible while you can still return a long serve. This is a little bit different in singles where you have to cover a bigger area. Remember, the key is to react quickly and reach the shuttlecock as early as possible.

Badminton Insight also discusses the correct position when returning the serve

3. Choosing the Right Shot

Depending on the serve, you can opt for a variety of return shots. If the serve is high and slow, a smash or drop is a good option since it puts you in an offensive position. A smash is a powerful downward shot that can be hard to return. The most common serve in doubles and pro-level singles is the short serve. The most basic and easy return to a short serve is a net shot. A net shot is a delicate shot that just clears the net and drops sharply behind the net. The most common reply is a lift – which again puts you into an offensive position. If you reach the shuttle late – you should just lift the serve to give you time to position yourself again and be ready for your opponent’s reply.

Another effective reply is to play the shuttlecock straight between your opponents like this:

Hitting the shuttle between your opponents can cause confusion and is a very effective return. You can also check some other options in this video.

4. The Correct Grip

The grip you use when returning a serve in badminton is crucial to your success. The most commonly used grip is the backhand grip. This grip allows for a wide range of shots and is suitable for both offensive and defensive plays. You can play a smooth net shot but also a powerful drive with the backhand grip.

When facing short serves that go wide to your forehand side, use the forehand grip for better control. The forehand grip is also used for returning long serves. If you’re unfamiliar with these grips, check out our guide on basic badminton grips. Remember, a firm but relaxed grip is key. Gripping the racket too tightly can lead to weak returns and poor control.

5. Practicing Regularly

Like any other skill, the ability to return serves effectively comes with practice. Spend a part of your training sessions practicing your return shots. You can also practice with a partner or a coach who can serve you a variety of serves. This will not only help you improve your return shots but also help you get better at anticipating serves. Remember, practice makes perfect. So, keep practicing, and you’ll see improvement in no time.

Additional Tips

Stay Relaxed

It’s important to stay relaxed during the serve. Tension can slow down your reaction time and make your movements stiff. Try to keep your grip relaxed and your body ready to move in any direction.

Watch Professional Matches

One of the best ways to improve your serve return is to watch professional badminton matches. Pay close attention to how the professionals return serves. Notice their anticipation, their shot selection, and their court positioning. Try to incorporate what you learn into your own game.

Improve Your Racket Skills

Your racket skills are just as important as your footwork. Work on your grip, your swing, and your timing. The better your racket skills, the more options you’ll have when returning serves.


Returning serves effectively in badminton is a skill that can significantly improve your game. With anticipation, correct positioning, choosing the right shot, and regular practice, you can master the art of returning serves. Remember, every great player was once a beginner. So, don’t get disheartened if you don’t get it right immediately. Keep practicing, keep learning, and you’ll see improvement in no time.

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