To win in badminton, players need to employ a wide variety of strokes in the right situations. These range from powerful jumping smashes to delicate tumbling net returns. The smash is a powerful overhead stroke played steeply downwards into the middle or rear of the opponents’ court; it is similar to a tennis serve, but much faster: the shuttlecock can travel at 300km/h. This is a very effective stroke, and pleases the crowds, but smashing is only one part of the game.
Often rallies finish with a smash, but setting up the smash requires subtler strokes. For example, a netshot can force the opponent to lift the shuttle, which gives an opportunity to smash. If the netshot is tight and tumbling, then the opponent’s lift will not reach the back of the court, which makes the subsequent smash much harder to return.
Deception is also important. Expert players make the preparation for many different strokes look identical, so that their opponents cannot guess which stroke will be played. For many strokes, the shuttlecock can be sliced to change its direction; this allows a player to move their racket in a different direction to the trajectory of the shuttlecock. If an opponent tries to anticipate the stroke, they will move in the wrong direction and may be unable to change their body momentum in time to reach the shuttlecock.
Players will serve high to the far back end of the court, although at the international level low serves are now frequently used as well. The singles court is narrower than the doubles court, but the same length. Since one person needs to cover the entire court, singles tactics are based on forcing the opponent to move as much as possible; this means that singles shots are normally directed to the corners of the court. The depth of the court is exploited by combining clears (high shots to the back) with drops (soft downwards shots to the front).
Smashing is less prominent in singles than in doubles because players are rarely in the ideal position to execute a smash, and smashing out of position leaves the smasher very vulnerable if the shot is returned.
At high levels of play, singles demands extraordinary fitness. It is a game of patient tactical play, unlike the all-out aggression of doubles.
Doubles is a game of speed, aggression, and agility, where each side has two players. Both sides will try to gain and maintain the attack, hitting downwards as much as possible. Usually one player will strive to stay at the back of the court and the other at the front, which is an optimal attacking position: the back player will smash and occasionally drop the shuttlecock to the net, and the front player will try to intercept any flat returns or returns to the net.
Typical play involves hitting the shuttle in a trajectory as low and flat as possible, to avoid giving away the attack. A side that hits a high shot must prepare for a smash and retreat to a side-by-side defensive position, with each player covering half of the court. The first serve is usually a low serve to force the other side to lift the shuttle. A « flick serve », in which the player will pretend to serve low but hit it high to catch the receiver off-guard, is sporadically used throughout the game.
In this discipline, a man and a woman play as a doubles pair. Mixed doubles is similar to « level » doubles (where pairs are of the same gender), but important changes in tactics are usually made in order to accommodate the difference in strength between men and women.
In mixed doubles, both pairs try to maintain an attacking formation with the woman at the front and the man at the back. This is because the male players are substantially stronger, and can therefore produce more powerful smashes. As a result, mixed doubles requires greater tactical awareness and subtler positional play. Clever opponents will try to reverse the ideal position, by forcing the woman towards the back or the man towards the front. In order to protect against this danger, mixed players must be careful and systematic in their shot selection.