During a match in 2014, a Chinese coach was shouting out advice to his ward, confident in his belief that Viktor Axelsen would not understand a word of Mandarin. He was wrong. Axelsen had been taking Mandarin classes and understood the advice. “Play faster”, the coach had said. Axelsen countered by slowing down his game.
The Dane’s strategy had been sound, especially in an era of Chinese dominance on the badminton court. In fact, he is one of the few non-Asians who stand out in this era. However, he had other reasons for picking up the language. “It might help me get some sponsors from China and even help me out at the end of my career when I might be interested in coaching,” he told a newspaper. This foresight belies his age—he is 22—and could be an advantage in Rio.
A first-time Olympian, Axelsen has been a professional player since he was eight. In 2010, he became the first European to be crowned World Junior Champion. He then won the Spanish Open, Swiss Open and Copenhagen Masters before becoming the best on the continent by lifting the European Championship in May. At six foot four, the current world number four would look for a podium finish in Rio.
Also, when he was in Delhi for the Yonex India Open Super Series last year, he spoke about learning Hindi. Watch out Kidambi Srikanth.