That was a time when Axelsen was still vulnerable to pressure – he’d fallen apart in the last game, Kidambi shooting past with 11 straight points for the title.
They’ve faced each other several times since, including a second India Open final. Today the same opponents clashed, in the opening round, and the difference in the Dane’s mental makeup couldn’t have been more evident. Axelsen, in imperious form over the last two seasons, and having started 2023 on a winning note in Malaysia, demonstrated just how hard he is to crack.
Kidambi was flying in the second game at 15-5, a blur of motion and sharp angles and putaways. Yet Axelsen stayed in the hunt, finally catching up at 18, and he only needed the one match point to take his spot in the second round.
“Still can’t believe I could win this match,” said Axelsen. “I didn’t feel good at all; in the second game he stepped up and suddenly locked me in. It was really surprising. However, I’m happy I managed to win in straight games. It’s not easy to come from a hot, humid country to a rather cold New Delhi, so I’m just trying to adapt in the best way possible.
“Overall, physically I haven’t recovered from last week yet; but now I have some more hours for tomorrow’s match, so I’m trying to recover in the best way possible.”
“I think overall I played well, but I couldn’t finish a few points,” said Kidambi. “Lot of positives to take from it. If you’re playing at the highest level, you should be there until you finish the game. He came back really well. After 14 or 15 in the second, it was about being there till the end, but I made too many mistakes and gave him the opportunities.”