Viktor Axelsen signing autographs after his semi-final match with Lee Chong Wei at the badminton World Championships in Denmark on Saturday. - AFP
COPENHAGEN: Towering Viktor Axelsen of Denmark has come a long way since winning the world junior title in 2010.
Sadly, Malaysia’s former world junior champions have sunk into oblivion.
On Friday, the 20-year-old Axelsen reached the semi-finals of the World Championships for the first time after beating Taiwanese Chou Tien-chen 21-14, 21-14 in 39 minutes. He however lost tamely to Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei 9-21, 7-21 in Saturday’s semi-final match.
But it is the manner he carried himself after the win over Tien-chen, which impressed even more. He exuded an air of confidence, knew what he was talking about regarding the technicality of the game – and showed that he has all the credentials to be a star player.
“I felt the pressure mentally but I’m happy with the way I handled the game (against Tien-chen). It was not beautiful all the way but I’m happy to win,” said Axelsen.
“Winning a medal is the most important result in my career. It’s a dream come true for me. I have been training hard to win at majors and reaching the semi-final is a breakthrough.”
Denmark singles coach Kenneth Jonassen said that Viktor’s transition from a junior to senior has been a successful one.
“Viktor handled his nerves very well. He is very good at communicating too ... if he has any problems with his game,” said Jonassen.
“Over the last four years, he has switched himself from a junior to a senior-based style player. Physically, he has improved hugely. Mentally, he is stronger. He is no longer like a junior – who tends to play based on how he feels and lacking in consistency.”
Besides Denmark, China also have quality in their former world junior champions – Tian Houwei (2009), Wang Zhengming (2008) and doubles pair Li Junhui-Liu Yuchen (2013), who gave a good fight before going down to Malaysia’s Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong in the second round.
In Malaysia, independent shuttler Zulfadli Zulkiffli, who defeated Axelsen to win the 2011 world junior title, has been batting with a series of injuries.
The 20-year-old Zulfadli is a player with immense talent but has not made any impact on the senior stage yet.
It is worst inside the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) camp.
All their former boys’ doubles junior world champions – Nelson Heg Wei Keat-Teo Ee Yi (2011), Ow Yao Han-Yew Hong Kheng (2010), Chooi Kah Ming-Yao Han (2009) and Mak Hee Chun-Teo Kok Seang (2008) – are no longer playing together.
The lack of planning for the future has seen all these talents being wasted.
Those left in the national team – like Wei Keat, Ee Yi, Yao Han, Kah Ming and Kok Seang – are demoralised and aimless.
More alarming is that Malaysia has failed to produce any world junior champions for the last three years while countries like Japan, Thailand and South Korea have churned out new stars.
The alarm bells are definitely ringing – loud and clear!