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Friday, February 3, 2023

Viktor Axelsen, Badminton World No. 1 and a ‘smash’ hit

FeaturedSports NewsViktor Axelsen, Badminton World No. 1 and a 'smash' hit

The capacity crowd alternates between chanting rhythms of ‘Challo, Victor’ and ‘Sachin, Sachin’. Viktor Axelsen acknowledged them with a wave of his racket, a generous nod and the obligatory mention in the media. The scene played on a loop throughout the five days of the India Open in which Axelsen took the court, increasing in intensity with each passing day. To call it a crowd favorite would be an understatement. It would not be an exaggeration to say that he was the beating heart of a pulsating environment.

The reasons for his popularity extend beyond the iconic shirtless act that made him an instant hit at the venue four years ago. His aggressive stroke play, for one, is a crowd puller. Each time Axelsson broke through, the crowd waited in silence. His jump smash, perhaps the most lethal on tour at the moment, will always captivate fans and inflame opponents.

In a two-year-old video posted on his YouTube channel, Axelsen breaks down the process of a perfect smash. “Imagine your body as a bow,” he says, arching his back. The left arm moves up with the speed of the incoming shuttle, the right elbow is almost level with his face, and the right hip rotates to the left, ensuring that power flows into the shot. “Hip, elbow, arm,” Axelsen repeats.

Now, back to the second game of his India Open semi-final against Jonathan Christie. Taking a 5-2 lead, Axelsen ripped a living off Christy with a smash to his chest. The courtside screen reads 383 km/h. “Hip, elbow, arm.” Then at 11-9 in the same game, he fired a 387 km/h smash on Christie’s backhand. Indonesia dives in vain as the shuttle passes. It was an excellent move from Axelsen, who braced his body like a bow before opening, not unlike the flexible javelin throwers Thomas Rohler and Neeraj Chopra.

This technique allows Axelsen to use his tall frame to put not only his arms and shoulders into the shot, while his flexibility ensures that he’s back in a position of strength the next moment to defend. It is an aspect he has worked on especially since the Tokyo Olympics where he won gold in the men’s singles.

“After the Tokyo Games, he has stepped up his technical training. We practice 4-6 hours a day. We have worked a lot on his attacking game. He loves his smashes but the cross-court forehand. His favorite shot is”. Her coach and father-in-law, Henrik PK Rohde.

It is no coincidence that his renewed focus on attack overlapped with Axelsen’s undisputed reign. Since the Tokyo Games, Axelsen has competed in 23 international tournaments, making the finals 13 times. He has won 12 of them. The lone defeat came against Thailand’s Kunlawat Witedsaran here on Sunday. The win-loss record since the Olympics is 84-9. That’s an average of one loss every two months.

So, does this translate into invulnerability? “I don’t think he’s unbeatable. It’s just that he’s playing at a very good level these days,” world No. 12 Lakshi Sen said last week. Sen is one of four players to have beaten Axelsen since Tokyo. Compatriots HS Prannoy, Loh Ken Yew and Witedsaran are others.

Wittedsen was more realistic in his assessment of the world No.1. “I’m trying to learn as much as I can from him,” Thai said ahead of the India Open final. Two days later, coming into the match with an 0–6 record, he defeated Axelsson in three games.

The strategy was simple. Denying Axelsen the time and length to line up a smash. Wittedsen rarely played from the backcourt, relying on his defense to return powerful forehands or smashes from the middle of the court. “I tried to keep rallies short and attack more,” he said.

A lopsided loss and late exit from this week’s Indonesia Masters is unlikely to derail Axelsen from his world No.1 ranking, which he has held since December 2021. With 114006 ranking points, he has no challenger on the horizon. . World No. 2 Li Zijia is 37,418 points behind.

To put that gulf in perspective, just 299 points separate No. 2 and No. 3. The nine players between No. 2 and No. 10 are separated by 18,358 points. His rivals could be forgiven for mistaking Axelsson’s matchday tweets — he simply posts a photo of his morning espresso with the caption ‘game day’ — to kill their chances. of the.

“He’s definitely a cut above the rest,” Danish veteran Hans-Kristian Wittings said of his compatriot.

“He’s always been driven, but in the last 12-18 months, he’s taken it easy. At this level, the skills are the same across the circuit. What differentiates him is his mental strength and There’s physical presence. This monster with an imposing body. Then, there’s an aura around him that regularly wins.”

Axelsen’s 6’3″ frame has been honed by Sean Casey, a US-based fitness expert who has been training Dean for seven years now.” Of course, Victor’s training methods have changed over the years and even after the Olympics. Casey had a huge rule of thumb to play into his success,” Rohde said.

“Victor doesn’t think he can’t be beaten, and that’s what drives him. Also, he’s very close to his family and plays every game for them,” the coach added. The Victor Juggernaut and Victor Mania aren’t likely to stop anytime soon.

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