At the start of a match, a coin is tossed. The side that wins the toss may choose whether to serve first, or may choose which end of the court to play. The other side exercises the remaining choice. In less formal settings, the shuttle may be hit into the air to determine which side serves: the shuttle lands pointing to the serving side.
The first player or pair to reach 15 points (11 points for women’s singles) wins the game. If the score reaches 14-all (10-all for women’s singles) the receiving side can choose to « set », extending the game by 3 points. This means that the first player to reach 17 (or 13) points will win. If the non-serving side chooses not to set, the game is decided by a single point, so that the first to reach 15 (or 11) points wins.
A badminton match can be made up of any odd number of games (usually 3). The winner of the match is the first to win more than half the number of games (e.g. the first to win 3 games in a 5 game match).
The serve must be in an upwards direction, to land in the diagonally opposite service court. A point is only added to the score on service. Unlike tennis, there is no « let » on service if the shuttle hits the tape.
At the start of a doubles game, the first side to serve will only continue serving until they lose a rally. After that, the serve will pass to the opponents, and for the remainder of the game both members of a serving pair will have an opportunity to serve. A server must change service courts after each rally won, so that they serve to the other opponent. The receiving pair, however, will not vary their positions in this way. When a pair have just regained the service, the first serve is always delivered by the player in the right-hand service court.
In singles each player has only one serve at a time; if the serve is lost, it passes to the opponent.
When players commit a fault, they lose the rally. The most common fault is for a player to fail to return the shuttle before it hits the floor, or to return it so that it lands out of court. It is also a fault if the shuttle touches the person or dress of a player, or if both players hit the shuttle in doubles.
At lower levels of play, players often commit service faults without realising. At the moment of impact on service, the shuttle must be below the waist, and the whole of the racket head must be below the hand holding the racket. These rules are designed to limit the attacking options of the server.
If a let is called, the rally is restarted. Lets are rare in professional play; they occur whenever some unexpected circumstance arises that interferes with the rally. For example, a let is called if the shuttle passes over the net and then becomes entangled in the net (except on service, when this is deemed a fault).
In recreational play, where there are no line judges, a let is called when no-one can be sure whether the shuttle fell in or out.