After a Challenging Year: Can Axelsen Retain World Title?

Injuries and allergies hamper the Dane

Reigning world badminton champion Viktor Axelsen has had his season hampered by very different things.

First an injury and then... guess what?

Pollen!

The Rio 2016 bronze medallist and world number one has been struggling with allergies, causing him breathing problems.

"I haven’t really been able to follow the amount of practise that I really hoped to do," Axelsen told Olympic Channel ahead of the world badminton championships which will take place later this month. 

"The allergies have been really tough on me this year," - Axelsen to Olympic Channel.

Allergies are world champ Axelsen's main concern ahead of title defence

Allergies are world champ Axelsen's main concern ahead of title defence

A year full of ups and downs

It's a far cry from 2017, which was a wonderful year for Viktor Axelsen.

The question is now whether the Danish badminton star can retain the title at the 2018 BWF World Championships which start at the end of this month.

He became Denmark’s first world champion in 20 years and only the third in history after defeating China’s two-time Olympic champ Lin Dan in the final in Glasgow last August.

"Being a men’s singles badminton player, I think that everyone dreams of becoming world champion once in your career. To achieve that in 2017 was a big dream of mine coming true. I didn’t really think that it would happen so soon," 24-year-old Axelsen said.

"It has definitely been a change in my career. It has also given me the belief that I can achieve even more. But it will be really tough to win it again, however, I believe that I can do so," he added.

The title didn't make him rest on his laurels.

He took some time off before setting his sight towards new victories.

"After the world champs victory, I rewarded myself with two nights out"

"It was pretty unusual for me to go out for two nights and have a few drinks. That’s not really often I do that, but after a world championship gold medal, I think that I deserved that. So I let myself go out two nights." - Axelsen to Olympic Channel.

Watch how Axelsen beat two-time Olympic champ Lin Dan for the world title:

Viktor Axelsen is the new Badminton World Champion

Viktor Axelsen is the new Badminton World Champion

A month later, he went on to win the Japan Open to become world number one and no one seemed to be able to stop him until an ankle injury in the European winter.

In February, the 24-year-old had to go through surgery, which kept him out of competition for three months.

"There wasn’t really any choice. It was a loose body in my ankle, and it had to be removed because, in the end, many times during the day my ankle would simply lock up and I wouldn’t be able to walk.

"Luckily it was a minor surgery which took only about 20 minutes and luckily, they didn’t have to open up my ankle, they could just go in from the sides and pick the little loose body out."

It meant he would miss the All England Open Badminton Championships.

“I think this injury has given him an indication about that he is not immortal and that it is a good idea to listen to what the experienced doctors and physios say,” his father and manager Henrik Axelsen told Danish newspaper BT earlier this year.

Following surgery and rehabilitation, the Dane eventually strolled to a second European championship title in his comeback-tournament, seeing off Brit Rajiv Ouseph 21-8, 21-7 in Huelva, Spain.

A tearful Olympic bronze medal

Axelsen’s potential had long been obvious.

In 2010 at only 16, the Odense-born badminton player won the under-19 world championship as the first non-Asian player ever to do so.

He went on to clinch a bronze medal at the world championship as the youngest player ever before taking bronze at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, beating Lin Dan who he would also eventually beat for the world title one year later.

This year’s badminton world championships will take place at the Nanjing Youth Olympic Sports Park Indoor Arena - one of the venues at the 2014 Summer Youth Olympic Games in the Chinese city.

With the ankle surgery in February eating up a good chunk of the season, the build-up to the title defense hasn’t been a bed of roses.

Viktor Axelsen has only appeared at four tournaments since the injury.

Apart from the European Championship, Axelsen was part of the Danish team that tried to defend their historic Thomas Cup title from 2016 at this year’s event in Thailand.

But they couldn’t live up to the expectations following the country’s first ever win a year earlier.

Axelsen lost his semi-final match 18-21, 9-21 against Kento Momota as Denmark were defeated 3-2 by Japan.

He went back to singles tournaments again with the Malaysian Open in June, but didn’t make it further than the quarter-finals where Lee Chong Wei saw off the Scandinavian.

Axelsen got back on track to reach the final at the Indonesian Open a few days later, but was once again defeated by his nemesis from the Thomas Cup, Kento Momota.

Next in the calendar are the world championships, but there is another title the Danish athlete is still to claim.

"My biggest dream is to win Olympic gold. I’m definitely gonna try my best to be in the best possible form at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. You only get one shot every four years, so it is definitely the most prestigious tournament in badminton. So, that’s, of course, a big dream," he said.

Offer to Hollywood star still stands

Before 2020, Axelsen has a lot of challenges coming up - one of them potentially with a Hollywood star.

In January, the Danish badminton player invited X-Men star Hugh Jackman to Denmark for a badminton challenge.

It came after the Australian suggested that badminton was an easy sport (you can watch that video below) but the badminton player is still waiting for the confirmation from overseas.

"I haven’t heard back from him, but the offer still stands and I’m definitely still up for the challenge. I think the challenge I gave him last time was pretty good, I might even stretch it and say that he can start with 19 points," Axelsen told Olympic Channel, six months after his first offer.

World Championship Draw

The BWF World Championships start on 30th July and Viktor Axelsen has got a tough draw.

In the quarter-finals he could face reigning Olympic champion Chen Long.

Lin Dan or All England winner Shi Yugi would then be waiting in the semis.

The good news though is that until the final he will avoid Kento Momota!

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