For the longest time, watching the top 20 players in the world play in person wasn’t very accessible to most Canadians. Our international tournament, the Yonex Canada Open, was a Super 100 before this year, and most players who came were generally at the beginning or end of their badminton playing career.
In 2023, however, Canada Open was upgraded to a Super 500 tournament, making it now worth it for the top players to play. This was the first time I could watch players I had previously only seen on TV play in person.
And man, it was a fantastic experience from start to end. This year, I had the chance to see players like Li Shi Feng, Lakshya Sen, and Akane Yamaguchi take the stage, and it was such a great learning experience for someone who aims to play at the same level one day.
Like how I shared my learnings from being coached by a former Chinese national team player, I want to do the same with my experience watching Canada Open and provide some learnings you can apply to your game and training.
Men’s Singles Players Need To Play Box Style
As a male singles player, I spent most of my time watching and analyzing the men’s singles games. One thing that a friend pointed out early on was how nearly all the men’s singles players play a box style.
This term comes from a drill we often do in practice called box game. Playing box games involves hitting every shot past the service line and in front of the back doubles service line. It’s a drill to develop a faster play style and work on playing good blocks, flat lifts, and drives.
Playing a box style is so important at the international level for men’s singles players because of how physically strong the pros are. If you give any of them a high lift where they have time to get behind the shuttle and do a full jump smash, it’s nearly impossible to defend.
Kodai Naraoka’s game against Li Shi Feng was a prime example of the importance of playing a box style. Throughout the whole match, Kodai kept giving Li Shi Feng high lifts. Every time, Li Shi Feng would go back and jump five feet into the air and hit a steep 400 km/h smash that hit the lines. It was impossible for Kodai to defend.
Lakshya Sen, however, was much better at neutralizing Li Shi Feng’s physicality by playing a faster, flatter style that prevented Li Shi Feng from hitting full jump smashes. This, combined with Lakshya Sen’s phenomenal stick smashes, ultimately led him to win the tournament.
Additionally, it’s important to note that all the pros at this level have fantastic control net shot control. This is why most players play blocks and drops with pace, often past the service line. Pro players don’t want to give their opponents good opportunities to play spin nets because playing a good lift off a spinning net is challenging.
Pros will generally only play tight to the net when their opponent is out of position or they’re confident that their net game is much stronger than their opponent’s, as seen by Misha Zilberman’s game against Brian Yang.
Shot Power Comes From Technique
The general truth about sports is that elite male athletes are typically stronger than their female counterparts. A male tennis player ranked 203 in the world was able to sweep top female players, Serena and Venus Williams, easily, and trans-gender Lia Thomas has broken multiple swimming records for women since becoming a woman.
The difference between male and female players is also noticeable in badminton, but it’s different from what I initially thought.
When I watched Chiharu Shida play women’s doubles, I was surprised to see multiple smashes break over 400 km/h. The shuttle was going just as fast as when the male players hit it, which made me realize that your ability to hit powerful shots was all technique.
The difference between female and male players in badminton ultimately comes down to how fast they get to the shuttle. Although female players can often hit just as hard as male players, most can’t jump as high nor move as quickly, so their game pace is usually slower.
I digress, however. The point is if female pro players can often hit as hard as male players, it’s not a matter of strength but technique. Although strength training is still critical, refine your technique if you have to choose one over the other.
The Importance Of Finger Control
One scenario I paid much attention to was how pros cut off push shots. Whenever they couldn’t do a jump-out smash, they generally used their fingers to flick the shuttle slightly and add pace to the shot.
A problem I notice in many younger players, including myself, is when we cut off shots, we often jump and hit the shuttle without using our fingers to push the shuttle forward. This generally creates a slower shot that our opponents can spin net and set themselves up for a smash.
The same thing happens when the shuttle comes just a little too far from the net, and you want to hit a net shot. Many players don’t add any fingerwork, and the shuttle ends up not passing the net.
Just flicking your racket a bit using your index finger or thumb does miracles for your gameplay. It makes playing good shots much more effortless and forces your opponents to do better.
Play To Your Strengths And Play Patient
One thing that pro players were great at was knowing their strengths and trying to play toward them. Lakshya Sen loved the drive battle, and his best shot at Canada Open was his around-the-head stick smash. Against every player, he initiated fast drive battles, ultimately leading his opponents to play bad lifts where he would smash down.
No player could neutralize Lakshya Sen’s strategy during that tournament, allowing him to win.
Li Shi Feng did come close, though. Unfortunately for him, however, he became impatient.
Li Shi Feng was really good at using flat cross pushes to send his opponents into the backcourt and then capitalizing on either a short clear or playing a net that would force his opponent to lift.
The thing is, there is no bulletproof badminton strategy. You can have the strongest smash in the world, but there are people that will get it back or play a style that doesn’t allow you to smash.
Many players in this tournament had monstrous smashes but couldn’t use them as much as they wanted. Players like Li Shi Feng and Lee Jhe Huei were often smashing out of position and made many mistakes.
Sometimes you must respect that your opponent played a good shot and reset the rally to set yourself up better instead of forcing your strategy. Play to your strengths, but also be patient.
Lessons From The 2023 Canada Open
I hope you enjoyed this article on what I learned from watching the 2023 Yonex Canada Open! To recap, play box style to negate smashes, improve your technique over strength, use your fingers, and play strategically with patience.
What did you think of this article? Let me know in the comment section down below!