Global warming can wreck badminton seasons in circuitous ways. A hot Danish summer in 2018 combined with pollen allergies, played up Viktor Axelsen’s asthma to such an extent that a Christmas and a winter has come and gone, and the World No 6, who landed in India to play in the Premier Badminton League, was still reeling from its effects.
Medication brought it under a semblance of control, but the shuttler who looked destined to take over from the Chinese at the end of 2017 destroying all that came in his path, nose-dived in his performances and couldn’t wait to see the back of 2018. He was glad he was wrapping up a rotten year in a country that can heal wrecked souls. India. “I’ve been spending all my birthdays and Christmases here in India playing the league. Those are special days and I want to be with friends and family having breakfast at home, but India’s the next best option,” said the Ahmedabad team icon, who exited the league, but not without bringing the roof down at his home stadium, as he came back from the dead in the match against Pune, past midnight, lifted by the home crowd.
Playing Mark Caljouw and looking miserably uncomfortable at half past midnight, Axelsen would raise his game for one of PBL’s most exulting moments. “2018 has been a rough year, the asthma, the left ankle injury, then the right ankle 10 weeks later as I tried to overcompensate, meant I couldn’t train well. I couldn’t breathe much playing in China and Korea,” he said, adding that his time in India was the first 3-4 straight weeks his body had felt patched up and healthy and consistent, since the pollen outburst triggered the worst in his system.
He spent his time recuperating and rehabilitating and brushing up on his Chinese. “I listen to Chinese podcasts regularly now, and knowing the language has helped a tad – once I knew what tactics their coaches were talking at All England,” he chuckles. “But mostly I’ve learnt how different upbringings around the world can lead to success,” he says, stressing that he’s learnt that the world ain’t euro-centric.
Meantime, men’s singles wasn’t holding its breath for him and had rompingly moved on. Kento Momota was achieving all sorts of redemptions, rising in ranks. “Momota’s talent, Son Wan Ho’s stability, Chen Long’s strength, Srikanth’s skills,” he enlists all that was chugging along while he dealt with his injuries. “The Viktor of 2020 will be wiser than Viktor of 2016,” says the Rio bronze medallist, who expects the Chinese to strike back in the form of Shi Yuqi, alongside Momota’s persistent threat. “Lee Chong Wei was fast when I first saw him. And he will be crazy fast when he returns too,” he adds.
India meanwhile, offers him that breathing space, before he heads off to the rigours of the circuit. His father would fly down to Ahmedabad to be with his son, for the league. “PBL’s running for a few seasons now, I would love to see it being telecast in Europe,” says the shuttle obsessive, who refuses to watch any other sport, should it distract him.
“I only follow badminton, and watch matches for hours on end. I don’t want to look at another sport,” he says.
A lot of time last year was taken up, fighting for pro players’ independence in Denmark, as the players squared off against the federation. “It took up a lot of my time and mental energy. But some fights are necessary to fight,” he said of lending his name to the fight, where the governing body and shuttlers are not on the same page on matters of sponsors and national team players, had their contracts cancelled.
His other peeve is the service rule that’s forcing tall players to bend down – literally. “I’m still not a fan,” he says still pretty salty. “The federation in Malaysia voted on three different heights, but the service guage is bad and relies on what angle you see it from,” says the 6’4” man. “Now we are almost squatting down. You don’t lower the basket in basketball just to level things out, do you!” he says, calling the rule ridiculous. But 2019 is the year to take all things faintly ridiculous and saturatingly pollen, in his stride. New Years in India are almost a pleasant habit now.