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    Default Dealing with Exceptionally Good "Rushers"

    This has been a topic that I know has been discussed previously. However I would like to discuss this further in a bit more detail both tactically and technically.

    There is a chap at my local club that has an absolutely amazing return of serve (doubles). Having seen all standards of play over the years, I certainly do not state this lightly. Although he is not as consistent or as good as pros, he has a return of serve that is at least on par with the best professionals. It reminds me very much of the only other player that I have seen to possess this ability, who perhaps was the best doubles service returner ever - the retired Thomas Lund.

    He has an uncanny ability to read and take the low serve unbelievably early, literally right at the tape and often it is a clean winner. But what is equally impressive is that it is very difficult to flick him as he is just as quick going backwards and has a solid and steep smash (being 6ft+). I have come across a lot of fast “rushers” in my time, but no one as good as him.

    In my younger years playing competitively, I remember playing against some ex-pros while at university. They were all fast “rushers” and deadly accurate but none were as fast at returning serve as this chap. He’s an advanced player, but not professional and does have a number of weaknesses which I can exploit once I get into the rally.

    I have a fairly consistent serve which is usually tight to the tape, but if it is anything less than just skimming the tape, not even a lose serve, it is put away at the four corners or mid court tram lines. Obviously I mix my serve up to keep him guessing, serving low to the T, sidelines, his racquet arm shoulder etc along with flicks to the corners. But the only serve that he cannot attack is the low serve to the sides.

    Although I was introduced to several ways to serve low when I was a kid – simple flat push, “undercut” and “top spin” I have always stuck with the flat serve which I find is far more consistent particularly in competition when so much goes through your mind. I know some Chinese players were taught the slight side-spin/undercut serve which is not only more deceptive but also changes the trajectory and “wobble” of the shuttle. But I found this difficult to do consistently. I’ve tried holding my serve for longer, but as he plays very relaxed, it doesn’t really affect him.

    Since this is the only thing that I and almost everyone else at my club consistently concede points to when playing him, I thought it would be a worthy point of discussion and studying further. It would be really interesting to hear the experiences of some of our more experienced members and advanced players who may have come across similar players before and have advice on how you have overcome such exceptional rushers. I have to admit I’ve not considered modifying my trusty low serve in all the years I’ve played until I met this chap but I find it quite interesting.

    Obviously your partner also plays a big part in getting to the return of serve but for the purposes of this discussion I’d just like to just focus on the low serve technique and tactics.

    What works for you and how do you play the low serve to such brilliant returners? What trajectory do you aim for? Do you spin the shuttle - how? Do you aim for the shuttle to peak before it reaches the tape or at the tape? Do you stand flat footed or tip toed?

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    Strangely I can’t seem to find any videos of Thomas Lund and Jon Holst Christensen in their last few years of play (c. 1995).

    It was amazing to see how good Lund was at returning serve when he was at his best, made it look so easy.

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    I think there comes a point where there is little to improve on the low serve. If what you say is correct (i.e. him being to attack a variety of serves) then it is very difficult to be able to serve perfectly every single time.

    What you or your partner can work on is counter attacking him. Or just beefing up your defence of his service return. And as always, mix it up and keep him guessing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by llpjlau View Post
    I think there comes a point where there is little to improve on the low serve. If what you say is correct (i.e. him being to attack a variety of serves) then it is very difficult to be able to serve perfectly every single time.

    What you or your partner can work on is counter attacking him. Or just beefing up your defence of his service return. And as always, mix it up and keep him guessing.
    This was exactly my thinking for so many years. But when playing against people who can consistently take perhaps 5 or so "free" points in every game simply by the return of serve, you are already on the back foot no matter how good you are.

    I referred to Lund/Holst-Christensen as I remember watching them play against a Chinese pairing who had no answer to Lund's return of serve. Even if they could get to it, it would have been a pretty weak shot.

    I've not tried a slice/spin serve for a long time, so don't feel confident playing it. But I'm beginning to wonder whether this could help - if I can get the shuttle to point downwards momentarily as it crosses the net, even if it's not perfectly tight, it may make him think twice about attacking it.

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    You can also vary how high you hold the shuttle when serving. This will affect the direction (upwards or downwards) of the shuttle at the point it crosses the net.

    But then again, I'm sure you've tried all these.

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    Okay, I'm a bystander talking to another bystander watching you get powned by that rushing chap. So ... I'm not talking to you, R.

    Me: Do you know the success stats?
    Her: I guess four percent errors, if I remember correctly.
    Me: You mean, 96% of services should be in?
    Her: Sort of ... if you play international doubles.
    Me: In 21 points, that's close to nil errrors.
    Her: Na, much worse, in five to eight games in a row, no error on the service.
    Me: Oh, you're right. Four in 100 services.
    Her: And don't forget, the return of service seldom ends a rally. They play it really close to the net, and there is an element of deception ...
    Me: Pew ... well I guess the only way to stop this rusher is either to play a decepting flick, or play short like a pro.
    Her: Good god, who has time for such zen-like practice sessions ... I'm mean it's just for the service. I have kids.
    Me: Don't tell me, tell him. He gets powned.

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    How far back from the service line is he standing?

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    Quote Originally Posted by llpjlau View Post
    I think there comes a point where there is little to improve on the low serve. If what you say is correct (i.e. him being to attack a variety of serves) then it is very difficult to be able to serve perfectly every single time.

    What you or your partner can work on is counter attacking him. Or just beefing up your defence of his service return. And as always, mix it up and keep him guessing.
    I tend to agree with this view. If you look at top level Doubles. Servers have inexplicably good serves. Still the receivers usually can attack. In other words, assuming both sides do their things right, the outcome is still a positive attack from receivers. This brings to the 3rd shot. Focusing on the first shot might be counter-productive, I feel.

    Nevertheless, I've some brainstorming ideas. From a naive perspective, perhaps that could trigger some new ideas.

    1. Since you said he couldn't attack a wide serve, use this more. If you do this, what do you think could happen?

    2. How close to the net do you normally stand? If you look at the pros, the servers typically tip-toes the service line, and they would raise their body up and stand on their balls, extending their arms/rackets very close to top of net (as legally allowed). This shortens the reaction time given to their receiving opponents.

    3. I vaguely recall one trick I read from a badminton book (probably out-of-print). Against a rusher who times your serve, and is very aggressive, you may intentional serve short. They may not have enough time to make that judgement. This could increase difficulty.

    4. You mentioned - "...fairly consistent serve which is usually tight to the tape, but if it is anything less than just skimming the tape, not even a lose serve, it is put away at the four corners or mid court tram lines.". This may be a motivation for you to work on long-term consistency of your serves to stop him from taking advantage of your occasional less-than-perfect serves, despite Tadashi's hint of not doing so. Do you have kids?

    If you can get pass the idea of perfecting your serves, you can instead work on coordination with your partner, and exploit the rusher's partner. A lot of Chinese/Malaysia players use hand-signals between serving pairs. Do you do this? I would imagine that this should help, esp. when you say you vary the placement of your serves a lot to keep your rusher guessing. If you don't "talk to" your partner in real-time, you'd also be keeping your partner guessing.

    Second idea is to use a flick to the center. And then duck. Let your partner take the reply. Going to the center would cut down on his return angles, allowing your partner a shot. If you partner can handle it, a placement shot may be used, esp. when your rusher's partner may be slow coming forward to the net. A vacuum may be momentarily created at the front court that you could exploit.

    Third idea is to divide the court into areas of responsibilities between you and your partner. You may cover the cross drive/push, as you probably don't have time to move much, while leaving all straight shots to your partner. You may being doing this already, but just in case.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cheung View Post
    How far back from the service line is he standing?
    Can't say exactly how far back he is, but probably within 6 inches of the service line.

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    How good are your serves? Always close to the tape and on the service line?

    And is your arm action in your short serves sufficiently large enough (ie push) and similar to your flick serves so that he can't easily anticipate?

    Raymond already has some good suggestions above, and I'd especially recommend intentionally serving short of service line.

    Finally one more suggestion is to serve an underhand forehead very high serve like in some ladies singles. Don't laugh, it works when all else fails.
    Last edited by visor; 09-01-2013 at 02:28 AM.

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    I would personally be interested to see how good he was at dealing with a flat served pushed to land at his feet, as well as the drive serve down the centre line. If his first instinct is to rush forwards, racket out, then performing a faster low serve may actually cramp him. Secondly, I would serve to him with variations of 2 inches in all directions. Serving 2 inches to the right of his racket shoulder should produce a very different return to aiming 2 inches to the left of his racket should (for example), which should again be different to serving a further 2 inches to the left or right.

    Give it a try and I can almost guarantee that one of these variations will produce a more awkward return of serve. Furthermore, even a good returner will have favourite returns off of these variations. If I know where he will return, then I am in control (even if its a good return).

    How does he handle the flat flick serve to his forehand? Most players struggle to move to that corner, and because its flat he may only be able to drives the shuttle.

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    Quote Originally Posted by raymond View Post
    I tend to agree with this view. If you look at top level Doubles. Servers have inexplicably good serves. Still the receivers usually can attack. In other words, assuming both sides do their things right, the outcome is still a positive attack from receivers. This brings to the 3rd shot. Focusing on the first shot might be counter-productive, I feel.

    Nevertheless, I've some brainstorming ideas. From a naive perspective, perhaps that could trigger some new ideas.

    1. Since you said he couldn't attack a wide serve, use this more. If you do this, what do you think could happen?

    2. How close to the net do you normally stand? If you look at the pros, the servers typically tip-toes the service line, and they would raise their body up and stand on their balls, extending their arms/rackets very close to top of net (as legally allowed). This shortens the reaction time given to their receiving opponents.

    3. I vaguely recall one trick I read from a badminton book (probably out-of-print). Against a rusher who times your serve, and is very aggressive, you may intentional serve short. They may not have enough time to make that judgement. This could increase difficulty.

    4. You mentioned - "...fairly consistent serve which is usually tight to the tape, but if it is anything less than just skimming the tape, not even a lose serve, it is put away at the four corners or mid court tram lines.". This may be a motivation for you to work on long-term consistency of your serves to stop him from taking advantage of your occasional less-than-perfect serves, despite Tadashi's hint of not doing so. Do you have kids?

    If you can get pass the idea of perfecting your serves, you can instead work on coordination with your partner, and exploit the rusher's partner. A lot of Chinese/Malaysia players use hand-signals between serving pairs. Do you do this? I would imagine that this should help, esp. when you say you vary the placement of your serves a lot to keep your rusher guessing. If you don't "talk to" your partner in real-time, you'd also be keeping your partner guessing.

    Second idea is to use a flick to the center. And then duck. Let your partner take the reply. Going to the center would cut down on his return angles, allowing your partner a shot. If you partner can handle it, a placement shot may be used, esp. when your rusher's partner may be slow coming forward to the net. A vacuum may be momentarily created at the front court that you could exploit.

    Third idea is to divide the court into areas of responsibilities between you and your partner. You may cover the cross drive/push, as you probably don't have time to move much, while leaving all straight shots to your partner. You may being doing this already, but just in case.
    Thanks for your suggestions.

    Responding to your points...

    1. I do but if I use the wide serve too often it looses the element of surprise and can give him a lot of angle and options.

    2. I do tip toe slightly. I lean forward close to the next. But one thing I don't do is have my racquet anywhere near horizontal unlike pros who have tend to stretch the rule of "pointing downwards" as far as possible.

    3. Hmm.. probably not a good idea staking a point to keep him guessing. If he judges correctly, I would have just gifted him another free point.

    4. I don't really understand what you're saying here. But yeah I have a son!

    5. At our club we can partner pretty much anyone, and being a semi-social club it's a relaxed place and no one really talks "tactics" seriously.

    6. "Flick and duck" - I don't agree with this really... by doing this, I'm putting my partner in an awkward situation. He'd be playing singles, but on a much wider court! :P

    7. Playing with good people we don't really set responsibilities as such because the game is fluid, so responsibilities will always constantly change. Also, it's really about getting past his return of serve, preferably whilst maintaining the attack... once the rally is underway it's not so much of a problem.

    Thanks for the suggestions though!

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    Quote Originally Posted by visor View Post
    How good are your serves? Always close to the tape and on the service line?

    And is your arm action in your short serves sufficiently large enough (ie push) and similar to your flick serves so that he can't easily anticipate?

    Raymond already has some good suggestions above, and I'd especially recommend intentionally serving short of service line.

    Finally one more suggestion is to serve an underhand forehead very high serve like in some ladies singles. Don't laugh, it works when all else fails.
    Yeah, I'd say my serves are usually fairly tight to the tape and good against most people. But as I say, the chap I'm talking about can attack a low serve even if it's just a fraection above the tape - although to increase his chances he attacks the ones that pass maybe an inch over the tape the hardest.

    Not sure about an underarm serve... I've not served one in 20 or so years now. They are only good for flicking really which in doubles you try to play sparingly. Besides, as he has a pretty decide reach and strong legs, he can attack flicks too - I know, it sounds unbelievable but he really does do it very well.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MSeeley View Post
    I would personally be interested to see how good he was at dealing with a flat served pushed to land at his feet, as well as the drive serve down the centre line. If his first instinct is to rush forwards, racket out, then performing a faster low serve may actually cramp him. Secondly, I would serve to him with variations of 2 inches in all directions. Serving 2 inches to the right of his racket shoulder should produce a very different return to aiming 2 inches to the left of his racket should (for example), which should again be different to serving a further 2 inches to the left or right.

    Give it a try and I can almost guarantee that one of these variations will produce a more awkward return of serve. Furthermore, even a good returner will have favourite returns off of these variations. If I know where he will return, then I am in control (even if its a good return).

    How does he handle the flat flick serve to his forehand? Most players struggle to move to that corner, and because its flat he may only be able to drives the shuttle.

    Funnily enough, I've tried fast flat drive serves... down the centreline and a few cheeky ones at his head. He actually deals with those quite easily too. It's demotivating I know!

    The trouble I have in serving to differently points comes down to the same problem, which is keeping the shuttle low. If I can keep the shuttle low, or at least pointing down as it crosses the net, I can play it anywhere. But if I aim to play it long of the serves line, I may risk serving too high.

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    I don't see how it could go higher - it should be easier to play it flatter if hit a little harder. On a slightly unrelated note: its fairly easy to "attack" serves that are just below the tape - they may not go downwards as steeply (obviously they have to travel upwards first) but its still easy to play attacking shots. As such, I don't think keeping it low will really help you against a very good return of serve. He should still be able to hit drives to the body and pushes to the sidelines/ rear corners etc...

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    To give you guys some idea of what I'm dealing with...

    Here's a video of Thomas Lund (tallest player on the court) in the 1993 AE MD Final... fast forward to 3mins and watch his returns of serves. He is very tall, stands on the service line and leans forward. But when he is flicked, he gets back very quickly.

    Notice that because of the angle of the camera (lower than the tape) it looks like the Chinese players were serving "loose" serves, but I'm pretty certain they weren't.

    The chap at my club is not quite as tall as Lund but his service return is very similar.


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    All great suggestions. Another way (I think) is to increase the pace of your serve so that the shuttle crosses the net before he gets to the shuttle. I could have the most consistent serve where the shuttle skims the net but if I don't have the right pace, it doesn't do me any good if the receiver can get to the shuttle at it's highest point (usually just when it crosses the net).

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