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Axelsen: “The All England has always been a special tournament for me”

In a candid interview, we spoke to All England 2019 Men’s Singles runner up Viktor Axelsen to get his reflections on the past 12 months, his hopes for 2020 – and what the All England means to him…

Viktor Axelsen is still only 25, but when you consider his career achievements to date, it feels like he must be a lot older. He made his senior debut, in his hometown of Odense, 10 years ago. Since then, he has become one of the most decorated players in the sport. But there’s one notable trophy missing from his cabinet – the YONEX All England.

“Before last year I hadn’t really done well there” he humbly admits in our interview. He might have a point; before his loss to Kento Momota in 2019, he had previously only managed to reach the Quarter Finals. “The All England means a lot to me. I really like coming over to England and [I enjoy] the atmosphere around the stadium during [the tournament].”

He does not dwell on the Final against Momota, which he took to three sets in one of the closer matches of the day. “I lost to a better player. You’ve got to respect that, learn from it and get back to training.” It’s an elite mentality – and it fits in with the general impression of Axelsen as an intelligent, philosophical individual. This is a man who knows his game inside out, and has had to get through times of adversity and injury. Notably, he missed the 2018 All England (when seeded first) due to an ankle injury.

At the time, he admitted how big a disappointment it was to miss such a prestigious tournament, particularly as the favourite. Was it more disappointing to reach the Final and lose? “It wasn’t actually that difficult [defeat in the Final]. I mean, of course it was difficult as I hate losing. He [Momota] has been really consistent the whole year but I’m looking forward to our matches in the future!”

Again, his mindset shines through – rather than focus on defeat, it’s always the next challenge. Hopes for 2020? Viktor does not specifically target trophies, so there’s no mention of the All England or the Olympics, but his answer is telling. “Injury free and the feeling of getting better and better. The results will follow.” They certainly will.

For a year in which, by his own admission, he has been “up and down”, he currently has the India Open and the Spain Masters to his name, along with the Final in Birmingham. Again, he has been plagued by a few injuries, but “I think I have handled it the best I can, and I’m happy about where I am at the moment.”

He will shortly be heading to Guangzhou for the BWF World Tour Finals. The traditional end of season competition sees the best performers of the past 12 months compete to end the year on a high – so crucial ahead of a massive 2020. Viktor actually won it in its previous guise as the Super Series Finals back in 2017, beating Lee Chong Wei in three.

On the subject of legends of the sport, he answers the question we ask about the greatest player of all time very simply – “Lin Dan.” He actually beat Dan in his personal career highlight to date – the 2017 World Championships. Who is currently the toughest opponent on the tour? No surprises there: “I think it’s hard not to say Momota here!” He does not have the greatest record against the World No.1, but there’s plenty of time to change that.

Away from the court, Axelsen is a savvy businessman. Complemented by his fluent English and Mandarin, he has his own e-commerce site (Viktor Axelsen Collection) and is clearly one of the more commercially aware players on the tour. He regularly posts videos to LinkedIn and his various social media channels, and is happy to engage with fans.

Modesty once again is the main theme in his answer here. “I enjoy working together with smart people when it comes to business, so I try to surround myself with people who are smarter than I am.” They must be very smart indeed to outwit this Danish superstar.

His English speaking skills make his yearly trips to Birmingham for the All England easy, and he admits to enjoying taking in the city whilst on duty, regularly going for walks in the local area.

“[The All England is] a tournament you want to do well in. I have been watching since I was just a kid.” Axelsen was five when a compatriot, Peter Gade, lifted the Men’s Singles trophy. Six times in the preceding 20 years a Danish man had stood upon that podium. And there’s been none in the proceeding 20. Can Axelsen break that record?

“To step on court for the Final of the All England was a special experience and I hope I can do just as good or better next year!” Philosophical to the last.

 

You can see Viktor Axelsen and all of the World’s best in Birmingham competing for the most prestigious prize of them all – the All England Open. To buy tickets for this feast of world class sport on the 11th – 15th March 2020, click here.

 

Interview: Rob Short