Saturday, July 09, 2022

Choosing the One Racket - my process of elimination

 Hello badminton lovers!

It's been awhile and I must say that I'm having fun being back on the courts and in singles games again. I've found a few new friends with the same interests (and age group), and we're meeting pretty often to get the games on. 

Feeling my game improving (reaction and footwork) and getting to know a few of my (many) remaining rackets is a mighty fine feeling. 

But with age comes the realization that I don't really have enough time to try and master all the rackets I have. So I guess it's finally time for me to seek out one and stick to it for the rest of my games. 

I'm going to need one for singles and one for doubles. I'm going to make sure that the racket plays to my style instead of my having to adapt to suit the weight and temper of the racket. 

It's going to be a process of elimination - I'll try two rackets each time I go out, and keep the better one. This also means that I won't be pitting each racket in a tournament order (because that would take too long.)

The mechanism is simple - I'll give the racket one game to warm up, and then do a singles game with it tournament style (first to two games, 21 points each, 30 extended). The winner will stay, and I'll replace the loser with another one of my other rackets. 

This is my journey in choosing the right racket. Enjoy. 

Match-Up One: Yonex Astrox 100zz versus Li Ning Airstream N55 III

Between the two, the Yonex racket was the hands-down winner. The control of the racket is top notch despite it having a smaller head frame that usually means more mistakes. 

I find myself very at ease with the Yonex Astrox 100zz from the get-go - the clears were confident and accurate, the smashes came off the wrist nice and solid, and the defensive shots were nicely executed without much errors. 

In comparison the head-heavier Airstream N55 provided more power at the price of its accuracy. The momentum from the swings often carried the shuttle a little more than I had intended to, and I found shots straying out of the sides of the court on several occasions. The heavy head also gives the racket a little more power, but also a slight delay when it comes to raising the racket for a good defensive shot. 

Verdict: Yonex Astrox 100zz

Match-Up Two: Yonex Astrox 100zz versus Yonex Astrox 99 Pro

Two rackets used by two of my favorite singles player of the time. Two rackets that I didn't quite get to know and use well. Two rackets that give me very different feel each time I play with them.

The 100zz is coming in strong after the previous match-up where it had a complete victory - the swings and control were just on a different plane than the N55 III. The Astrox 99 Pro seemed like a good racket on paper, but it actual use it seemed to come off short in several areas; not really here nor there. 

The 99 Pro got to start first, being the challenger. What came off really well was the control - I managed to hit the corners really easily, each swing of the racket came with ease and reached the desired spot on the court to really allow me to move the opponent around. I gave the racket a few hard swings to judge the power and its smashes came off quite well too. Net play was convincing and I didn't have much trouble with the soft touches. 

After three matches, the Astrox 100zz came to court. I could feel the difference in swing immediately - the 100zz is lighter to swing and faster to move around with. The smaller head frame affected my accuracy, especially after using the large string bed of the Astrox 99 Pro, and caused me quite a lot of points in unforced errors. The accuracy issue really came across with I attempted to do some backhand clears - 3/4 court at best. Defense wise, the incumbent performed well and allowed me to move the opponent around pretty much as I want to.  

After three games each with the rackets I was undecided. I couldn't identify a clear winner between the two. I decided to switch back to the 99 Pro after the sixth game to see how the large head would affect the gameplay. 

The effect was surprising. I was once able to control the game better, moving the opponent around and placing the shuttle with much better accuracy. I attribute this to the large head frame, but it still didn't put the Yonex Astrox 99 Pro ahead of the 100zz.

I decided to give the two another session - this time I will start with the 100zz. 

Verdict: One more round

Monday, November 08, 2021

Back to Basics: Using the elbow

To me, there are two very basic things that separate an intermediate player from a beginner. I remember when I was starting out I was amazed how much of a difference it made when I attained an understanding of footwork and a proper stroke. 

I wrote a previous article about footwork that I think would be helpful for the beginner, so do take a read here.

Now, this lesson focuses on using a proper arm swing technique to get the most out of your shots. Like I say to some of the players I meet, you have to pretend like you're using your arm to throw the shuttle; that way you will notice that you're naturally using your elbow to launch the forearm out. 

Above: Taufik prepares to throw that elbow 
out for one of his famous backhands.
(Source: Google Images)

Apply that to your swing and you'll have a three-step process to get more power into your overheads:

1. Throw the elbow out - this primes the forearm to its launch forward and makes full use of the elasticity of the muscles. For the intermediates, you'll also want to start your hip rotation here and really get that twist starting. 

2. Extend the forearm - pivot the forearm on the elbow and swing it forward like a trebuchet, using the natural angle of the arm to maximize the motion. Take note not to throw the shoulder out at this stage - you'll end up with an overextended hit that more likely drags the shuttle down to the ground. For the intermediates, you'll complete the hip rotation at this point and move on to twisting your upper body around for the extra boost. 

3. Insert the power - turn the wrist and add that grip at the moment of impact to snap all that kinetic energy into one single moment. You'll hear a very resounding whip followed by a loud snap of the shuttle flying off the string bed. 

Whether you turn the above into a clear, drive or smash (forehand or backhand), the same technique will apply. Hitting the shuttle at different heights and angles will give you a wide variety of shots you can use to out manoeuvre the opponent. 

Practice makes perfect, and the more playtime you get on the court the closer you will get to mastering the simple art of swinging the racket. In the end it's about energy conservation - knowing how best to minimize your output while achieving maximum returns. 

I hope the lesson has been useful. Will share more tips and observations when I think of them. Happy smashing!

Friday, October 29, 2021

What happened to all the budget badminton rackets?

I started this blog at a time when a badminton enthusiast was spoilt for choice when he wanted to buy a new racket. 

There were so many brands, and each had their own take on how best to twist a turn sheets of graphite into a shuttlecock beating wand. With the competition they all had to ensure that their products were great - that meant no cheap material or design; rackets were made in countries like Japan or Taiwan with high grade graphite and some form of technology ingrained into the design. 

I remember Karakal, now best known for their replacement grips (they're really tacky), and their SL60s / 70s. They were the lightest rackets in existence and gave the front court players something they could really blaze around the court with. 

I remember Toalson and Hart - $50 - $80 marvels where simple designs meet high quality finish, showing the mileage you can get just by using superior material. And to add icing on the cake, each of their rackets also came with a full sized 4-racket bag. 

And then I remember Prince. They were pioneers of technology with their Y-shaped racket head and their oversized head frame. The latter offered a more forgiving experience for players who want a wide swing, and was the predecessor of the "tri-voltage" head heavy allocation with its "Triple Threat" technology (yes, Yonex wasn't the first to Voltric), and the former increased the size of the sweet spot by literally compacting the frame upwards.

Carlton was another of my favourite brands. Their range of rackets - Fireblades, Vapour Trails, Powerblades, and Airblades were among the best designed rackets you could get your hands on. 

There are so many more - RSL with their additional weight system (yes, before Yonex's eTune) and diamond head frame where they twist and swirl the frame for additional strength; Yang Yang with their 'sand wave technology' that gives the racket additional rotational energy because of literal moving sand within the head frame (yes, before Yonex's RGS); Bekia with their brand name knock-offs that play exceptionally well (great material quality once again); and Gosen with their two kick-point system where they cut a slight groove in their first third of the shaft to allow greater shot angles. 

Image all that! At your local store! For cheap! 

Now you're either paying $200 for a Yonex, $300 for a Li Ning or Victor, or an arm and a leg for the highest end Mizuno. It's no longer a budget player's playground (extra points for anyone who knows that pun).

So imagine my delight when I actually saw a few of these at my local store this afternoon! The nostalgia shot up in my blood, and I grabbed a few to swing around. I test the weight distribution, the swing speed and weight, the design and handling. 

I was a schoolboy all over again. 

And... of course I had to buy one. 

Everyone, meet the Flex Power Air Blade 99. The name means nothing. There's a Malaysia flag on the cone. The stock grip tape is as cheap as they come. But heck it's a nice racket to swing around, and will beat any Yonex Mid-tier offering hands down in quality. 

It was $80. With strings. And grip. 

I have it strung with my go-to Yonex Nanogy 98 at 31lbs (the racket can hold up to 33lbs). The shaft is slim and stiff-flex, and the maker states it as a 4U racket (80g +/- 2g). The grip is G6. The head frame is tapered at the edges like a Victor Bravesword. The inner frame has ridges to support increased string tension. The cap has as Energy Boost design similar to that which you see on the Yonex Astrox. 

No one will care if I write a review on this racket, but I just might. Just so I can bring back the memories of a time when I played badminton a few times a week and spent weekends talking rackets with my buddy and the stringer at his shop. 

Monday, October 18, 2021

Badminton Racket First Impressions: Yonex Astrox 99 Pro

When Kento Momota first took to the circuit I knew there was something about him. I remember telling my buddy at that time that this young Japanese player will be the next World Number 1. True to his performance, he started winning - his brand of stable gameplay and consistent rallies letting his scalp one opponent after the other. 

Before Momota, I also had my eye on another Japanese singles played. Kenichi Tago has an explosive edge to him that made his games very nice to watch. The young player also favoured the backhand over an overhead forehand swing - something I tend to do a lot as well; we both idolized Taufiq Hidayat - Crown Prince of Backhand. 

Long story short, the two got to some mischief together and that saw Kento Momota missing the Olympics because of a suspension. It was a two-year ban from playing for Japan, and the slog was uphill when he finally returned to the circuit. Players like Viktor Axelson, Chou Tien Chen and Shi Yu Qi had risen to the podium and posed a really big threat to Momota's game. 

Armed with the Yonex Astrox 99, Momota was able to power his way to the top, but a new slew of rapid attackers put a dent in his play style, Anthony Ginting and Lee Zi Jia being the latest to break down his defenses with their relentless assaults. 

The call was then for Momota to create a new racket that will suit his play style - a control game that tests the patience of his opponents and moves them around the court from Momota's exellent placement. 

The Astrox 99 Pro is the result of that collaboration, and this is my first impressions of the racket. 

Photo: Yonex
Click for racket specs (redirect)

I must admit that I'm not very impressed with the design on this racket - the choice of gloss paint really made it look like the middle-tier offerings of Yonex. A nice matte finish would have made it look so much more classier (and expensive). 

Holding the newly strung racket in my hand, the Yonex Astrox 99 Pro felt more even-balanced that head heavy, a very big contract to the sledgehammer that was its predecessor. It brought back memories of the ArcSaber 10 from way back, also a white racket from Yonex. The test swings off the court wren't remarkable as well, the weight transfer not as apparent due to the weight distribution.

Fortunately, a few singles games with the racket changed my impression of the racket. Despite the lack of swing weight, the racket offers very precise control while offering up just enough power to make the shots effortless. In the 4 games that I had with the Yonex Astrox 99 Pro, I couldn't remember hitting too many unforced errors. My opponent even complimented my shot accuracy at the end of the session.

The racket performs well for forehands as well as backhands, offering up good distance with minimal effort, so long as you bullseye on the sweet spot. That won't be too hard because of the new stringing pattern for the Yonex Astrox 99 Pro, making the sweet spot slightly larger and therefore more forgiving

Much as I anticipated, the power smashes from this racket didn't perform as well as my other head-heavy rackets. Understandable trade-off and I can see how it plays into Momota's playbook as well. 

Overall, I had a very pleasant experience with the Yonex Astrox 99 Pro. I am very comfortable with the racket in hand, and am able to pull off a lot of shots, recovers, blocks and nets that turned the game in my favour. It comes in two colors - White Tiger, and Cherry Sunburst. I like the white one more. My AX99-P is strung with Yonex Nanogy 98 at 31lbs.

Will get a few more games with this guy before I dish out a proper review. For all you guys who still read this old blog, thank you.

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Basic to Basics: Juggling the Shuttle

This is a series inspired by the time I spent with a pal of mine, teaching him how to become a better player. I put together all my knowledge from the years in the sport, hoping that it'll work.

Instead of forgetting that it ever happened, I figured I make a series out of it and impart some more knowledge to visitors to the blog who want to know a little about how to become a better player.

Before we start, the obligatory copyright statement. Those who copy, shame on you.

Hey guys, found out some other site's been taking my article wholesale, so be a sport and bookmark the original site -


Ok here we go.

Back to Basics: Juggling the Shuttle

This is something I like to do while waiting for my games to start (sometimes I'm early to the court and can't wait to change into my shoes). I'd pick up a shuttle from the tube and start juggling, keeping the shuttle to slightly above head height and rotating between forehand and backhand grips. 

What this does is that it trains you to feel the shuttle, and also allows you to get used to the sweet spot for your racket. Over time you'll familiarize yourself with how to hit the shuttle where to get whatever shot you need from them. Juggling the shuttle also trains your patience. 

In fact I just got off a session - 1,097 hits in one go. I'm sure a lot of you out there can get more shots in than I did, but I'm really stoked when I get above 1,000. I juggle in my room - it has a bed in the middle, air conditioning and a low ceiling so I also get to train some footwork and reaction whenever the shuttle goes off course. 

So here's a few ways you can challenge yourself. The goal is always the same - juggle the shuttle for as long as you can without letting it drop to the ground.

Basic Level: Just Juggle

For beginners, you might want to start off with this one. Just pick the shuttle up and start hitting it with your racket. Change grips to suit the way you hit the shuttle, and try as much as possible to hit the shuttle on the cork instead of the feathers. 

Once you get the hang of it you'll be able to direct the shuttle to various parts of the room and get a rhythm going. 

Intermediate Level: Spinning Nets Shots

Ok so you're able to control the shuttle pretty well and can confidently hit over 500 times without fail. Another game you can try for yourself is to try and create spinning net shots for yourself and learn to regain control of the shuttle. 

Make the shuttle tumble for as much as you can, and then hit it in a way that stabilizes it and allows you to continue juggling. The on-court applications for this one is self-explanatory. For more challenge, try and stabilize the shuttle as high up as you can instead of letting the spin die out from underneath. If you don't know what I'm saying, go back to the basics ya noob.

Higher Level: Speed Juggling

You can juggle straight, backhand, forehand, spins, left to right, right to left... now what's left for you? This is a personal one that I set for myself - I've never really gotten beyond 100 for this too.

The goal is to juggle the shuttle for as fast as you can, without letting it go above shoulder height. This takes a lot of concentration, control and reaction as you have to move beyond predicting where the shuttle will go and actually plan the shots so that you'll be able to keep hitting them. When I think about it, the racket is actually moving a lot more than the shuttle is in this exercise - if done well the shuttle won't actually move more than a few inches. 

This is a fun one - try it and let me know if it's challenging for you.

Additional Variants

  • Juggle the shuttle and walk around the court. Jog and run if you want more challenge, hitting the shuttle in front of you instead of above you. 
  • Mix in a few trick shots. I don't like this coz a fail usually resets your score. 
  • Juggle sitting down on the ground. This is exceptionally hard as well; I don't think I've ever gone beyond 200 hits. 

That's it folks. I hope you have fun trying these out. Let me know in the comments!