The banning of the s-service

Howard Bach showing the service judge a perfectly legal serve.

A ball naturally rotates and tumbles, inducing rotation is a common technique in many sports. Why is a tumbling service is disallowed in badminton? To understand the history behind the banning of the S-serve, we need to start from an All China Game many years ago.

The date was October 1983, the event was the 5th All China Games held in Shanghai, the location is the Shanghai Stadium. Luo Xia, winner of the 1978 Asian Games ladies singles in Bangkok and winner of the 4th All China Games ladies singles, was playing against a unknown Jia Jiang player. The player from JJ used the S-service right from the beginning of the game. The service’s flight path was very unpredictable, suddenly tumbling up/down and suddenly tumbling left/right into Luo’s side of the court. It continues to tumble till the moment it hits the floor. Luo saw the tumbling and did not know how to reply, she was unable to control the shuttle, a net shot falls into the net, and a lift goes out of bound. The match resulted in a 0/15, 5/15 upset against Luo.The s-service was invented by the Sidek brothers in Malaysia in the late 70s, thus it is also called the Sidek-service. The difference in the s-service is that the shuttle is held inverted during the backhanded service, the initial contact point is on the feather and causes the shuttle to tumble continuously during flight. The tumbling surprises the receiver and often causes the receiving side to lose the match before they regain their composure. As a result of that, the s-serve was used with surprising results in tournaments, causing a turbulence in the international badminton community. Many top level players were spun to dizziness by the s-serve, often only able to gain a handful of points and as a result losing a tournament in the first round.The international badminton community started debates on the s-serve. Denmark and English reckons that the s-serve is illegal and should be banned. May 1981, for the first meeting of the IBF, Denmark and England once again proposes to amend the laws and ban the s-service while Malaysia and Indonesia was against it. At that time, the Chinese team already has a good grasp of the s-serve technique and gaining favorable results in international tournaments, as a result, China is on the Malaysia/Indonesia’s side of the debate. The final vote for banning the s-serve was 51 for, 35 against, the vote failed as 2/3 votes for was needed.During the All England Open in Wembly in March 24-28, 1982, Chinese players used the s-service effectively, and so did the inventors Sidek brothers, winning the Men’s doubles. During the 12th Thomas Cup in May 5-23, 1982, Chinese players continues to use the s-service with effective results. The opponents of the s-serve are voicing ever louder on their position.

May 15, 1982, during the IBF Annual General Meeting after the Thomas Cup, the debate was on the s-service. Denmark claims that if the first contact point of a service is not the base of the shuttle, it should be a fault. The Chairman of the IBF also recognize that the s-service gives the server a large advantage. The IBF and the Chinese BA held their emergency meeting to analyze the s-serve from a technical point of view. After the technical and expert analysis, the conclusion was that the s-serve contacts the feather and base of the shuttle simultaneously, violating the consecutive hit law of badminton. The s-serve was consider illegal.

The final vote for Denmark’s motion was 91 for, 1 against, and 3 abstain. The IBF gave its final verdict: from July 1st, 1982, the s-service was banned in all international tournaments. It was then that the year long turbulence caused by the s-serve finally disappeared.