Tennis player attempts to play badminton

November 20, 2015 — by Caitlin Ju

I was sure I had prepared for embarrassment as I stepped into Bintang Badminton, a well-known academy where Saratoga badminton players often practice, in Campbell on Nov. 10 and faced its intimidating bright green walls and the rows of courts with obviously experienced players. I was not wrong.

As a singles tennis player on the varsity team for three years, I originally did not think badminton would be too different  from tennis. Both involved racquets, nets, hitting of a moving object with the racquet and a court. It turned out I was wrong.

I had enlisted the help of junior Spring Ma, a varsity badminton player, to teach me all I needed to know about the sport. On courts much smaller than what I was used to, Ma and I started the lesson with “driving,” a badminton term for hitting. When the birdie was hit to my left side, I found I immediately defaulted to my tennis two-handed backhand.

Swinging much harder than I was supposed to, as the birdie was much lighter than a tennis ball and the racquet grip much smaller, I constantly missed the the high net or would pop the birdie too high up, giving Ma plenty of opportunities to smash.

Realizing I needed to have a better sense of the court, Ma prepared a footwork training exercise the badminton team often executes called “Six Around.” Essentially, multiple birdies are put in one corner of the court, and the player must bring the birdies one at a time to another corner, always making sure to stop in the middle as if getting ready to hit a second shot. Not only did I get lost as to where the corners were, I also ended up just straight up running to the corners instead of “galloping” and lunging with strategic patterns, as Ma instructed.

This exercise quickly tired me out, and I took a water break, all the while watching the fast-paced games going on around me in awe. Badminton was already proving to be a sport that required much more stamina and strategy than I had expected.

Junior Jason Zhao, also a varsity badminton player, joined us to play 2 on 1. Since Ma and I were a doubles team on one side, we started in a front-back position, where I stood closer to the net while Ma stood in the back, but soon switched to a side-side position.

As a badminton serve is very unlike a tennis serve, which requires the ball to be tossed up from the left hand and the right arm to swing up to hit the ball over the head, I frequently missed until Zhao taught me the correct motion. A badminton serve involves the left hand holding the birdie and right hand crossing the body to hit the birdie in a rapid version, similar to a tennis one-handed backhand without the arm extension. Though manageable, the lack of arm movement felt awkward.

When Zhao played against Ma and me, he also used a common badminton combination technique of “clearing,” hitting high and up and “dropping,” hitting just over the net, which forces the doubles opponents to switch positions and increases their errors.

On one particular point, Zhao hit the birdie high and back to the left, and on the next shot, hit it high on the right. Finally, my tennis skills kicked in, and I was able to more easily cross the smaller badminton court to reach the second shot and return the birdie.

Ma then taught me “dropping,” which proved much surprisingly difficult. I was used to hitting drop shots in tennis, but those were over a much lower net. In badminton, I felt as if I was straining my neck to see the birdie whenever it was hit high and back, and my eyes were blinded by the high, bright ceiling lights. The stroke I was able to use for these situations was similar to an overhead in tennis but required more wrist action and less  arm motion.

More than an hour later, though, after hitting both synthetic and feather birdies, playing both singles and doubles and above all, missing a lot, I left Bintang Badminton with a much better sense of the immense energy and skills needed for badminton.

And who knows. You may find me on the badminton court again soon.

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