PLAYERS – Axelsen – Hope springs anew for Denmark

Newly-crowned World Junior Champion Viktor Axelsen talks about comparisons between him and Peter Gade. Dev S Sukumar/ DNA for badzine. Photos : Rights Reserved. Asked about rising badminton star Jan […]

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Newly-crowned World Champion Viktor Axelsen talks about comparisons between him and Peter Gade.

Dev S Sukumar/ DNA for badzine. Photos : Rights Reserved.

Asked about rising badminton star Jan O Jorgensen, a veteran Danish junior paused. This was back in October, when the Denmark Open Super Series was on. “We have somebody who’s going to be better than Jorgensen,” said the old-timer. “Watch out for him. His name is Viktor Axelsen.”

The coach’s predictions sounded far-fetched at the time, for Jorgensen seemed ready to take on the mantle of Europe’s No.1 from his illustrious countryman Peter Gade. Moreover, no less a person than the legendary four-time All England winner, Morten Frost, had predicted Jorgensen would be world champion one day. But Viktor Axelsen?

Within six months of that prophesy, Axelsen is on everybody’s lips now that he won the World Junior title at Guadalajara, Mexico, last week. Indeed, it has been a stirring six months, for he won the European U-17 title in November, followed by the German Junior Open in March. But what roused everyone was his performance at the World Juniors, where he dumped the No.1 seed, China’s Huang Yuxiang, in the quarterfinals, before disposing of India’s Sai Praneet in the semis and Kang Ji Wook of Korea in the final. In a country desperate for names to stand up to its glorious tradition, Axelsen is already being talked of as the next Peter Gade.

“They’re different,” says India’s Anand Pawar, who has seen Axelsen at close quarters in the Danish league. “He improved suddenly. Earlier, he wasn’t all that impressive, but he picked up late last year. He’s different from Gade; he has some tricky shots near the net.”

viktor2Praneet, who beat Axelsen in the team event, was countered by an opponent who had learned his lessons well. “I beat him in the team event because he couldn’t catch my strokes early,” Praneet said. “But in the semifinal he started catching my strokes. He’s very tall and his smashes are steep, so it’s quite difficult to play him.” Axelsen himself admits he’s been influenced by Gade, and the pressure of living up to the great man’s legacy. “I like his attacking play and maybe I have been a little bit influenced by that, but not much,” he told DNA. “Of course it puts some pressure on me, but I don’t think so much about it. When people call me the next Gade, they must think that I have the possibilities to get all the way, so that is positive!”

It’s too early, of course, to say where Axelsen is headed. But it’s refreshing to know that Denmark’s young talent are good enough to beat the best of the Chinese and rule the world. Whether they can do that at the senior level is another question. “You never know about China, I think,” concedes Axelsen. “They have a lot of players and maybe some more, who could be good in the future. But I hope us players here in Europe can beat the Chinese and end their domination.”

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