Viktor Axelsen has had a near-perfect start to 2021.
Axelsen has clearly raised his game since returning from ankle surgery, and one of the key factors behind his success could be the enhancements the 27-year-old has made to his mental approach.
For the past year, Axelsen has been working with a mental coach, Bjarne Slot 'BS' Christiansen, a former professional army soldier from the Danish elite special operations forces called Jaeger Corps.
This new partnership seems to be paying dividends in the months before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in 2021.
The idea to work with a mental coach came from Axelsen's sister, who had heard about how Christiansen helped other elite teams and athletes.
She sent her brother a text message in January 2020, while he was playing the Indonesian Masters tournament in Jakarta. Upon his return to Denmark, Axelsen connected with Christiansen and they just clicked.
"It is a relationship that continues to develop," he shared to TV2 Denmark.
"We get to know each other better and better, and it's just been super good, especially for my head, but ultimately also my game." - Viktor Axelsen on BS Christiansen
The timing seems fortuitous as 2020 proved to be a year like no other, and one that would really test the mental resolve of every person on the planet.
Just a day before Denmark went into lockdown, Axelsen achieved a personal high on court by clinching the coveted All England Open title.
He used the time away from court due to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic to undergo ankle surgery, correcting an issue that was hampering his game, and would not play another match for the rest of the year.
Axelsen's admits that working with the former military man has helped keep him on track during the recovery.
"He is not afraid to say if he thinks some things should be done differently," The Rio 2016 bronze medallist said.
"It's good to have someone who says things the way they are and makes sure you keep your legs on the ground." - Viktor Axelsen
Christiansen shares that his aim is to cultivate the potential in people, and make them move mentally and physically. He is the mental coach for elite athletes in the Danish football super league and has also made many TV appearances on the topic.
This year, Christiansen has been the one driving his young talent to the airport as he flies out to tournaments. Axelsen revealed in a social media post that it helps get him into the right state of mind ahead of competition. His results on court seem to prove that work is paying off.
On the personal front, the months away from the game also coincided with a major shift in Axelsen's life when, together with partner Natalia Koch Rohde, they welcomed their baby daughter into the world in October 2020.
The 2017 world champion had to make major adjustments in an attempt to balance his new fatherhood duties alongside his desire to excel in badminton.
He told Olympic Channel that it was a "totally new skill" he was learning, and how important it was that Natalia also understood from experience the demands of the sport.
Despite the fundamental shift in his life, Axelsen was still able to return to the World Tour circuit and take his game to the next level with room for further improvement.
"I think I'm a better badminton player, but I also think I have more to give and can get better than I am now." - Viktor Axelsen to TV2 Denmark
Ahead of flying out to defend his All England Open title at the 2021 event, Axelsen shared on social media that he has taken his relationship with Rohde to the level as well. "Luckily she said YES" the Dane posted along with a picture of a ring on her finger.
With things in his personal life falling nicely into place, Axelsen has the mental freedom to devote his full resources to being an even better version of his current near-perfect self.