Clears are an essential tool for moving your opponent away from their central base, establishing pressure in the rearcourt, and opening up the forecourt and opposite side for potential attacking shots.
All your clears must travel a good length. Without exception, they should land in the back tramlines; and you cannot be said to have mastered the shot unless your clears land consistently in the back half of the back tramlines.
That might sound unreasonably demanding, but your singles game can be improved greatly by mastering a good length to your clears. If your clears are even half a metre short, it will offer your opponent significantly better attacking opportunities.
It’s useful to check the length of your clears during the game, by glancing at your opponent’s foot position. At least one of his feet should enter the back tramlines; if both his feet remain outside the back tramlines, then your clear was probably too short.
You can choose how high to hit your clears.
Players often neglect this, because they have learned that a clear must be high and deep. As a result, they learn a standard height for their clears and never choose to vary it.
I divide clears into three broad categories: standard, defensive, and attacking. It’s important to realise, however, that these are only landmarks; an attacking clear, for example, can be more or less attacking (a bit lower, or a bit higher).
The standard clear
The height of a clear is a balance between attack and defence.
If your clear is too shallow, then your opponent can jump up to intercept it, typically playing a decisive smash. If your clear is very high, however, then your opponent has plenty of time to get back; he is not under any movement pressure.
The standard clear occupies the middle ground: high enough to be safe, but shallow enough to place some pressure on your opponent’s movement. Use this as a basic building shot.
When your situation is very bad, your clears should be played as high as possible (providing they still reach the back).
By playing your clears very high, you give yourself lots of time to recover, and neutralise your opponent’s advantage. These very high clears should always be played to the middle, not to the corners.
Of course, you don’t place your opponent under any pressure with this shot. But be patient: get yourself out of trouble before you worry about pressuring your opponent.
Attacking clears travel lower than standard clears. With an attacking clear, your purpose is to deprive your opponent of time and place the shuttle behind him. Hit the clear just high enough so that it passes over his immediate reach.
Attacking clears are sometimes much lower than standard clears. In extreme cases, they may peak only slightly higher than your opponent’s full upwards reach from standing.
The danger of attacking clears is that your opponent may jump up and intercept them. If he makes a successful interception, then the rally has turned against you.
You need good judgement to spot when to play an attacking clear. Look for situations when your opponent is unlikely to make a successful interception.
Played with good judgement, attacking clears are an excellent building shot. As your opponent falls farther out of position, you can safely decrease the height of your clears because he is not ready to intercept them; this increases the pressure.
You can choose whether to play your clears straight, cross-court, or to the middle.
You already know that playing to the middle is a useful defensive idea. But what about the choice between the corners?
As a general guideline, you should play your clears straight most of the time. Straight clears protect you from various nasty shots that your opponent may use if you play cross-court (in particular, the straight smash).
By playing the clear straight, you maintain a good base position for covering your opponent’s next shot.
Cross-court clears are a little risky, because they open up your court to straight counter-attacking shots.
If you play a cross-court clear, your opponent has a chance to make a devastating interception (usually a straight smash). Because of this risk, you should normally hit cross-court clears with slightly more height than straight clears.
Nevertheless, a cross-court clear can be an excellent shot if it surprises your opponent. Cross-court clears to your opponent’s backhand are much more tactically sound than to his forehand: the threat of his smash is much lower.
If you are playing a backhand clear, avoid the cross-court angle. A cross-court backhand clear is often a tactical blunder: you are putting yourself under unnecessary pressure by playing an extremely difficult shot.
The only exception is when you perceive your opponent is not covering that corner: he’s ruled it out, and moved in to cover the straight drop shot. In this case, a surprise cross-court backhand clear may regain the initiative, even if it falls short of the back line. This clear should be hit flat (an attacking clear).
Clears to your opponent’s backhand
This tactic is simple, obvious, and effective.
All players have weaker rearcourt backhands than forehands (assuming their forehand technique is competent). At lower levels of play, this backhand weakness is chronic; rallies can be decided simply by who first forces his opponent to play a rearcourt backhand.
Even at the highest levels of play, hitting to your opponent’s backhand is a useful tactic. Strong players will often cover this by playing round-the-head forehands instead; but in order to do this, they must open up their forehand side slightly.
If your opponent moves quickly to play round-the-head forehands, you should try pressuring him in his forehand corners first. This creates space in his backhand rear corner. You can then hit to this corner, knowing that it will be difficult for him to play a round-the-head forehand; he will often be forced to play a backhand.
Clearing to your opponent’s backhand is such an effective tactic that it often offsets the risk of playing a cross-court clear: you may elect to play cross-court clears in order to pressure your opponent’s backhand.