Translation of an article written by Gu Xiamin, 1998 All England Champion and Bronze medalist at the 1987 World Championships. Printed in Badminton Magazine, Japan.
Using a strange phrase, not only badminton but sports in general are an unkind game. Testing courses (of the shuttle) so the opponent must make a big effort, using their expectations to deceive and then steal a point, taking the intiative and grasping hold of the game. In short, realizing what makes the opponent think If this happens I`m in trouble and use this cleverly to be ruthless in your play. A simple example is in doubles where we often say to aim for the middle of your opponents. This is because both players can reach the shuttle on this course which causes some uncertainty for them and then your team can expect the reply to be late. In singles an example would be to at first only serve long and then from time to time weave in some deceptive short serves. Above all though, from the same form being able to hit a variety of different shots is, at a basic level, a very shrewd idea.
Being ruthless is difficult for many people to follow so let`s try to improve this how can we cause damage to our opponents? The fastest way is to look at your self. If it was you what position/situation would make you feel under pressure? For example from the back of the court in an unbalanced position you return the shuttle, only to see it returned, dropping close to the net, knowing even if you make a huge effort you won`t make it to the shuttle in time. Another example is being made to run a long distance by your opponent. This is the first step towards being ruthless.
Diagonal is the key this is a well known basic concept. If the opponent plays a cross court clear from their back forehand corner, play a straight cut to your front forehand corner. As in diagram 1, from the round-the-head position a cross court clear(1) is played, and then the opponent plays a straight return(2) which you then play a cross court cut(3) from. From cross court then straight, from straight then cross court. In short if you look at the 6.7m x 5.18m (singles) court from above, the idea is to have the shuttle coming and going along the longest diagonal line of the rectangle. If you keep playing shuttles along the diagonal the opponent will have to move the furthest distance. Consequentially the opponents movement will take more time. If you can make the opponent have to scramble to the back forehand corner and then run to the front backhand corner you will use up a little of their stamina. Little by little you cause damage. It`s due to this that we say the diagonal is the basis of badminton.
DAMAGE 2 DON`T ALLOW THE OPPONENT TO GO WHERE THEY WANT TO.
Making the opponent run diagonally is ruthlessness at its basic level, however as the level of play gets better this is not the only thing. Connected with the diagonal concept is the role of the catcher in baseball. If a high inside ball is thrown the next ball will likely be a low outside pitch. The eye has an after image of the inside ball and to then have a pitch on a course further away confuses the batter. However if the batter recognizes this tactic and knows that after a high inside ball the next pitch will be low and outside they can probably swing and connect with that pitch. In this case the pitchers intent to fool the batter backfires, as he is waiting and ready for this pitch.
Badminton is the same. If you continually play the diagonal tactic it becomes too easy for your opponent to read the course of the shuttle. For example in diagram 2, B plays a cross court clear from the round-the-head position to A. In this case if you follow the diagonal theory A should play a straight cut/smash to B`s forehand front corner. This is because the distance B will have to travel is the greatest, right? However to reach this straight reply may take the longest distance, but if B responds quickly its easy to reach this position. If A is a little late in making a reply and plays a cross court, for example, it is A who is then in trouble. The intiative has suddenly changed places. In this case it is more effective for A to play to the round-the-head area of B.
After playing a cross court clear from round-the-head B instantly moves back to the home base, right? B wants to limit the amount of open space. A plays a straight return to B`s forehand corner. For B, who has just played a shot from round-the-head, this is the furthest distance to travel but as B has traveled back to the home base immediately after playing the shot it`s easy for B to use this momentum and reach the next shot without much trouble.
If we look at this again, but this time A plays the return back to B`s round-the-head position, what happens? We attack on the same course that the shuttle reached us on. For B, who has already returned to his home base, this is much more tiring. First B has to stop his legs and then if his balance isn`t okay, going to the back left side is very difficult to do smoothly. If we compare this to going to the front forehand corner it`s obvious that the players speed decreases. This ploy is more effective than using the diagonal tactic and returning to the front forehand corner, don`t you think? How about if B had played a straight clear using the diagonal theory B could look out for a cross court cut. This would make B come forward looking to cut out this shot. If A was then to play a straight clear in reply, just as in our last example I`m sure this would be a body blow to B.
If you follow this idea persistently it becomes very difficult for the opponent to cope with. Little by little it becomes more difficult for the opponent to rely on his sense of where the reply will come. If you can follow this plan and then from time to time play a variety of shots on the diagonal course it should be possible to deceive your opponent. By using both of these tactics, the diagonal and returning to the same position , it causes great damage to your opponent.
Thinking in the same vein, I`ve noticed that Japanese players always return to the home base without fail after every shot. From a young age it`s drilled into them that after hitting a shot you must return to the home base no doubt. You hit then return to base. So this becomes instinct. Even if the footwork to the round-the-head is poor, you take care of the shot and then secure the home base position at all times. So if once again the shuttle comes back to the same place what happens? The loss in movement is great and the psychological effect is also great. In this situation going back to the home base every time is not only slow, but as far as the length of time to make a reply and stamina are concerned, it produces only terrible results.
The feeling of wanting to move forward if at all possible, is understandable but returning to the home base without fail after every shot actually leads to a greater overall loss. Of course it`s important to return to the home base, but sometimes it`s better not to. Your mind should be thinking move forward , but your body should be hanging back. Doing away with this idea of always returning to home base results in a more attacking, dynamic playing style.
DAMAGE 3 AT THE NET AREA STRIKING WITH THE UNEXPECTED- USING THE ATTACKING LOB
If we control the shuttle around the net area we can lure the opponent forward. We call this cutting with regards to the net. So cut drops, hairpin, cross net are all examples of this kind of shot. The shots which are easiest to cut are those which are above the level of the net. Another way of looking at this is if the shot you play is sent upwards, then you should expect that the shuttle can be cut by your opponent.
If we look at diagram 4, we see that B plays a short straight drop and expecting the return to come cross court tries to get forward to cut out this shot(1). The distance B has to travel is far so at the same time the reply will be coming into court. If A faithfully follows the plan and plays a cross net shot the result is only half successful. Following the theory of cutting to the net in this situation, the opponent has a 50%-plus expectation of the shuttle coming to the front and so the expectation of it coming to the back is secondary. However if A sends the shuttle deep to the back this is a completely different play.
In this situation the best shot to use is an attacking lob. Wait until the opponent has read the net shot and then at the very last moment send the shuttle to the back. B who has been forced to turn to the back of the court, probably can`t hit a good shot as long as A`s shot has enough speed. From this weak reply A should then be in a winning position in the rally.
A different example from the opposite view would be if from your opponents smash you make a great return to the net area. Your opponent will probably have dashed forwards after the smash, something which you will pick up on. In this case, to prepare for the next attack you instantly try to get back to the home base. Then the shuttle is played back onto the net by your opponent and being in the position you are, you feel quite foolish as you can`t reach it.
If you can strike at the front and back in this way you can make maximum use of the width and length of the court. If the opponent looks like they`re going to come forward play to the back, if they are moving to the back play to the net. In this way you can cause a lot of damage to the opponents stamina and spirit.
In baseball being struck out with a 150km/h fastball is less frustrating than having a 100km/h slowball, hitting it and then being caught out. In badminton it s the same being beaten by a powerful smash is not as bad as being fooled around the net and then being beaten. Sometimes when you are being beaten badly you can change things around by thinking I`ve nothing to lose , but with offense and defense around the net, thinking you can get to the shot but not actually making it causes a large amount of damage.
DAMAGE 4 FROM A NARROW COURSE TO A WIDE COURSE AIM TO THE BODY AND THEN TO THE CORNER.
Even when you have the opponent under pressure and right into the corner it`s not automatic that you`ll score an ace . Most players hate being pushed right into the corner, but during training you practice this situation so the return becomes easier to make. Due to the improvements in racquets and other equipment, and with the general level of defensive skills having improved, you can no longer expect to score from a single shot. Even making use of great control to place the shuttle right into the corner you need to be prepared for the shuttle to come back. Even with the exactly the same shot, the process up to the shot and it`s effectiveness can change a lot. For example as in diagram 5, the back forehand area, the varying degrees of difficulty of the course of the shuttle are numbered. Let`s work our way through them. From no.1 as we go further out the degree of difficulty increases. Another way of thinking of this is the degree of your body to the shuttle as it crosses the net increasing. A shuttle that comes straight is 0 degrees and as the proportionate difficulty increases so does the angle.
So lets imagine a situation where the first shot is on course 4, and the next shot is even more severe on course 5. Over and above the numbers it is a good attack, but there is a better option. The first shot is placed on course 1, close to the body so without moving the opponent can handle the shot, then from there to attack on course 5 is far and away a more effective play. If we look at these two rallies and add up their degrees of difficulty we see that the former is 9, the latter is 6. Over and above the numbers however, the latter is a tougher attack to deal with. So in a real game situation the easier rally in terms of numbers, is actually worse for the opponent. Why is this? For the first shot on course 1, a light step and a small adjustment of the body`s position has to happen or else you can`t swing the racquet. Then if the next shot is on course 5, you need a big footwork movement to be able to reach the shuttle. A very small movement and then a very large movement. The nature of movement in 1 and 5 is different.
If we look at playing on course 4 and then 5, with very similar movement you can return the shuttle. The degree of each course is different, but the basic nature of the movements on the two, look the same. The human body remembers the previous movement the easiest and so moving from 4 to 5 is actually an easier sequence of returns. Moving from 1 to 5 there is a sudden big difference, from a small to a large movement, and this is quite difficult to do, much more so than attacking on similar courses. From a small angle to a wide angle, there is a delicate change in the nature of the movement, and this causes the kind of damage that you can`t see. Rather like with cooking, changes during the preparation affect the final taste.
DAMAGE 5 MAINTAINING/CHANGING THE RHYTHM. CHOOSING THE RIGHT REPLY FOR EACH SITUATION.
If we say that as a pre-condition to stopping the opponents movement, we have to get into a position to hit the shuttle as fast as possible to then say that we also have to hit the shuttle quickly is actually not true. If we are going to be deceptive the trick is to hold off hitting the shuttle immediately as it falls, and from there, with the same form, hit a variety of shots. This means playing the shuttle late, not early. However the players nowadays, compared with the players in my era, have much better defensive skills and even if your intention is to deceive the opponent, they won`t be so easily deceived. Even if they are halted once, from there they are able to regain composure and reach the shuttle. Compared to before, I think that deception is now not such an unusual tool.
However changing the rhythm of play is important. Recently in mens singles and doubles play, we have seen that many players are showing they are going to jump smash and then at the last moment take the power of the shot to confuse the opponent. It used to be that if the opponent was jumping you wouldn`t expect anything but a smash Expecting a smash and then to have a variety of shots of varying speed, weight and angle forcing you into an emergency situation, is the worst scenario for the opponent. If we think of baseball again, you`re waiting for what you`re sure will be a straight fastball, only to have a gentle curveball thrown at you. Your rhythm gets thrown all over the place.
In badminton I take the rhythm of the game very seriously. The first time I face a new opponent, before the game starts in the warm-up the things I notice aren`t the players speed or angle of shot. Instead I look for the rhythm of the players racquet preparation, wait for the shuttle and then the shuttle leaving the racquet. If I can get my body familiar with this rhythm during warm-up then this will spill over into the game. Each rally has it`s own rhythm at its simplest in response to a drive shot you play a drive shot. A fast shot gets a fast shot in reply, this is the cycle of badminton. The ability not to detract from this cycle requires skillful matching of the rhythm to this cycle. If we want to dent our opponents spirit then for us we shouldn`t give away any easy chances. From a clear we return a clear if we can, whatever shot the opponent plays our reply is the same shot.
If the game becomes a real tussle then the comparative patience and endurance of each player becomes a factor. You come up against a deep cross court shot in a rally and know that if you just slice to the net the point will become easier, even though you may lose it. However you don`t want to give away that chance and so you go to great lengths to return the shuttle cross court. If this happens often during a rally the players will be worn out, but the strange thing is that the player who tries to change the pattern will most likely lose that rally.
– Steplantis (translation)