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Special interview: Viktor Axelsen talks to Sportskeeda

Viktor Axelsen of Denmark

Over the last two years, no discussion on the future of European badminton has been complete without a mention of Viktor Axelsen. Just when everyone was despairing over the lack of a suitable replacement for the gallant veteran Peter Gade, who has held Denmark’s flag aloft at major tournaments over the last decade-and-a-half, Axelsen has emerged as a prodigious talent who is expected to fill the vacuum – along with senior contemporaries Jan O Jorgensen and Hans Christian Vittinghus — that the great Gade will leave behind upon his expected retirement after the Olympics.

Axelsen, a gangly six-foot-five, uses his height to full advantage, working an attacking game around a steep smash. His talent was obvious enough at the junior levels, and he justified all expectations by winning the World Junior Championships in 2010. Over the last few months, he has now begun competing consistently on the Superseries circuit and has shot to a career-high of world No.25 – not bad for someone who just turned 18 in January. The last year saw him win the Spanish Open, beating experienced players such as Eric Pang of Holland and Wacha of Poland, and surging to the quarterfinals of the Singapore Open, where he won two qualifying rounds before upsetting seventh seed Bao Chunlai of China.

The year got even better, when at the Denmark Open, in his hometown of Odense, he ambushed the wily Taufik Hidayat in the second round and took a game off Peter Gade before succumbing. The only surprise was his defeat in the final of the World Junior Championship to Zulfadli Zulkiffli of Malaysia – barring that one result, Viktor’s career seems to be progressing at a rapid pace.

In this email interview with Dev S Sukumar, Axelsen talks about the eventful journey so far:

This is your first full-fledged year on the Superseries circuit. What do you think of your performances so far?

I’m happy about how I improved my game in the past twelve months. My goal was to get into the top 28, so I don’t have to play the qualification rounds in the strongest tournaments around the world. But the most important thing for me is to keep developing my game, and to keep adding new weapons to my game.

For at least two years now, you have been projected as the future of European badminton. How do you handle the pressure? Do you think the pressure will get worse with time?

I don’t really use energy on focusing on the pressure from other people. Of course I feel it, but the pressure from myself is even harder to handle even though I’m getting good at it :-). I’m happy that people believe in me, but if you keep using energy on focusing on people’s view of you, it can have a negative impact on you as a player.

How difficult has the transition between from the junior circuit to the senior circuit?

Of course at times it has been tough, but I think the transition has been going really well and I’m happy about the way I have established my way into the senior circuit. There is a big difference from junior to senior, so it is a tough challenge, and I’m still learning, but overall I feel comfortable about my position.

You were expected to win the world junior title for the second successive time, but you lost to Zulfadli in the final. Was it a surprise to you and were you upset?

The WJC was a tough challenge for me, as I felt really bad during the competition. I had a great week at Denmark Open the week before and had problems to find my game good game afterwards, but I believe that everything happens for a reason and I think that I learned a lot from that period of time.

What is your opinion of Zulfadli and your other junior contemporaries from India, such as Sai Praneeth, HS Prannoy and Sameer Verma?

I think there are a lot of good junior players coming up, and I hope to get to play a lot of great matches with players like Zulfadli, Praneeth, Prannoy and Verma. I respect them all as opponents.

One of your career’s biggest wins was against Taufik Hidayat at the Denmark Open. Did this victory change things for you in any way?

It was a great victory for me of course, and victories like that give you the will to keep believing in yourself. It’s a hard job at training, but it’s really worth it if you keep going till you succeed.

Despite his lanky frame, Viktor Axelsen is surprisingly nimble-footed

You have played against Lin Dan, Lee Chong Wei, Peter Gade and Taufik. Your opinion on what makes each of them so good?

It has been a good experience to play top players like Lee Chong Wei and Lin D. They are both fantastic players and do not give their opponents many chances. It requires a lot of hard work to reach that level.

Could you tell us a little about your family? Does your family follow your badminton career closely? Do they come to watch your matches in Denmark?

I have great support in my friends and family. They’re ready to cheer you up when you are feeling bad and they’re also there when it goes your way. The support from family and friends is really important for me.

Do you have any interests apart from badminton?

I go to school in Brondby, near the training center, so there is a bit of school to be done :-) Apart from that I like to spend some time with my friends and family. Twitter, Facebook and a good TVshow is a good mix after a tough day at practice as well :-)

What ambitions do you have for this year? Is breaking into the top-ten a realistic probability?

I will keep trying to improve my ranking and to get some good results in the Superseries. First of all my goal is to get into the top-20; it will be tough now because of the qualification period (for the Olympics), but I’ll take one step at a time and then let’s see what happens after the Olympics.

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