Hunter to Hunted

The upcoming HSBC BWF World Tour 2023 could well prove to be the toughest season of Viktor Axelsen’s 14-year senior career.

For the world No.1 is now the ‘trophy scalp’ for many of his peers, having established himself as the undisputed gold standard in men’s singles.

In 2022, a year after becoming only the second European man to win Olympic gold, the Dane maintained his supremacy by bagging six World Tour crowns and adding world title No.2. As a result, rivals are more determined on court – Axelsen spoke about “dodging a bullet” after coming through an 83-minute slogfest with Kodai Naraoka in the last four of the World Tour Finals in Bangkok just last month.

Here, he talks about his progress from being the young hunter during the era of Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei to now being ‘the hunted’, and how he is ready to roll up his sleeves in the face of stiffer challenges.

On opponents trying harder against him

“I feel like every time I go on court, I have everything to lose. I’ve been favourite in most matches the entire year. Most players can play freely because they have no pressure but really, I’m fine with it.”

On being the man to beat

“When you are world No.1, the Olympic and world champion, everybody looks at you and wants to beat you. That’s good because it keeps you dialled in, it’s part of the game. I’ve been lucky to play against great champions like Lin, Lee, Chen Long, Taufik Hidayat and Peter Gade and I’ve learned a tonne from that. I remember my first final (at the French Open) was 10 years ago. Crazy to think how time flies and back then I didn’t know what I was doing. But now it’s a totally different situation.”

Axelsen lost his first meeting with Lin Dan in 2012 at the Malaysia Open. His final head-to-head with the Chinese legend is 6-3.

On staying ahead of the chasing pack

“I have one chance to get everything out of my career and I’m trying to chase every minute, every single day, just try to get as good as I possibly can. It’s a continuous journey. If you start looking back too much at your accomplishments, you can easily get stagnant. So, I try to learn from my defeats and wins and always improve but you also have to remember sometimes to just breathe in and enjoy all the wins. That’s what I’m getting better at.”

On being the top dog

“I’m just enjoying where I am at the moment. I’m so fortunate to be in this position and honoured to be playing at this level. Winning these titles is a big dream of mine come true.”

On his best season

“Winning the Olympics will top everything, however, 2022 was absolutely amazing.”

Axelsen’s first match of the new campaign is against compatriot Rasmus Gemke in the PETRONAS Malaysia Open 2023 opening round.

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