The first 5 shots in doubles


There is an PhD study (in German) on the first 5 in int’l doubles finals from the 1990s , the candidate analysed over 40+ unique 5-shot-sequences and has published an interactive CD-ROM. Based on his findings and combined with “game theory”, the sequence is A-B-A-B-A (with A the server, B the receiver) and must be thought by backward induction, or from the last shot to the first (5-4-3-2-1), not from the first to the last (1-2-3-4-5). So, this 5-4-3-2-1 goes like this:

(Hope this helps. Don’t be confused, read it twice. It’s a forward thinking and backward decision making after all (difficult even for graduate and PhD students). Any suggestions or corrections are very welcomed.)

A (5th shot)

The orginal server plays a smash or a drop in his 5th shot, if this situation happens, the rally progresses into and continues as the classic attack/defense phase of smash/high defense. By this time, the shuttle has crossed the net multiple times. The original server only can initiate this attack/defense phase in the 5th or in the 3rd shot; the 3rd shot determines the likelihood of the attack in the 5th shot, in other words: screw you, if the opponent can smash before you can.

B (4th shot)

The original receiver has the fourth shot and either plays the defensive clear/lob or an aggressive smash/drop, depending on the 3rd shot. The rally progresses into the classic attack/defense phase from now on. What happens from now on, depends on the 3rd shot.

A (3rd shot – the return to the return)

This seems to be the most important shot in the whole sequence, the receiver wants to determine this 3rd shot by the return while the server wants to determine this shot by his original serve. Everything aggressive like pushes and drops increases the likelihood of a defensive shot by the opponent, thus gaining the attack with the 5th shot. Loosing it, however, implies nothing worse than having to lift the shuttlecock as a return to the return, inviting a smash in the 4th. Whether you, the original receiver and hitter of the 3rd shot, can play aggressively depends on the 2nd shot and 1st shot.

B (2nd shot – the return)

Pushing and killing account for 60% of returns, if shortly served, not necessarilly prohibiting aggressive play in the 3rd shot, but all attempts have this purpose: preemption of the attack and gaining the attack for yourself. the remaining 40% of shots goes to dropping and driving and almost never to lifting. If, however, server plays a flick, there is a 80% chance of a smashing return, thus absolutely prohibiting the server to gain the attack in the 3rd and having gained it to yourself by the gratitude of the badly chosen serve. If smash, the original server already has lost the attack. Thus, the consequence of a flick serve equivalent to loosing the attack early on—good for the receiver. Drops and clears are the alternatives played 20 in 100 returns to a flick in int’l finals. Whatever the serve, the receiver usually plays aggressive according to situation: killing and pushing is highly recommended as a return. The catch word here: pre-emption.

A (1st shot – the serve)

The short serve versus the flick usually can be seen in 80/20 proportions, virtually no one does the drive serve. You stand ready either for a short serve or a flicking serve. You play a short serve 80 in 100 times. Why? You, yourself, want to pre-empt the pre-emption of the receiver, making it difficult to kill effectively, thus decreasing the likelihood of a bad chance in the 3rd to determine the 4th and 5th shot as you wish.

All this happens within less than two, three seconds.

Here is a typical thing you’re likely to see when FHF/CY play LYD/JJS, or any other doubles match, in forward progression (12345): In favor of the original server: Short serve. Unsuccessful killing attempt. Push-drive return to the return. Shuttle too low for the rear player thus having to clear it. Exploitation of the gained attack by smashing and dropping. In favor of the original receiver: Short serve. Kill and push attempt. Shuttle too low to push, drop impossible for net is covered, thus being forced to lift/clear. Original receiver exploits the gained attack and smashes.