PETALING JAYA: Who can break the domination of Viktor Axelsen (pic) of Denmark in 2023?
The singles shuttler showed he is the great Viking warrior of badminton by wrapping up his campaign this year in fantastic fashion after winning his fourth World Tour Finals crown, equalling the record held by former international Lee Chong Wei.
It was the eighth Open title for the player who has reigned as world No. 1 the whole year.
In fact, only three players have beaten the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games champion this season - Lakshya Sen of India (German Open semi-finals), Loh Kean Yew of Singapore (Denmark Open quarter-finals) and H.S. Prannoy of India (Finals group stage).
But it was the hard-fought win against Kodai Naraoka of Japan in the semi-finals that won him such admiration.
Axelsen, who will turn 29 on Jan 4, escaped from the jaw of defeat, making a comeback in the second game to beat the 21-year-old Naraoka 21-23, 21-19, 21-18.
“I dodged a bullet (on his win against Naraoka). Kodai could have gone through,” said Axelsen on www.bwfworldtourfinals.bwfbadminton.com.
“I would say that match was one of my toughest of the entire year.
“It had everything – good play, bad play and a lot of mental game, too. It had everything sport has to offer, and I was happy to be a part of it. I respect Kodai a lot and he has a very bright future.”
Naraoka, in the absence of national No. 1 Kento Momota, has really stepped up.
He could be a thorn in the flesh of Axelsen and also the other men’s singles players.
Axelsen will also have to watch out for India’s army of singles players like Lakshya and Prannoy. They have the skills, talent and determination and tend to strike when it is least expected of them.
Former world champion Kean Yew, Malaysia’s Lee Zii Jia and Indonesia’s Anthony Ginting and Jonatan Christie could also beat the Dane but they must first overcome their hot and cold performance in the international stage.
With a more consistent showing, they are set to make the men’s singles affair an interesting one.
Zii Jia, for one, needs more consistency.
“The year 2022 has not been very satisfying even though I ended the year as the world No. 2.”
“I will head to Taiwan for a training camp (Dec 19-25). Hopefully, I can further improve my discipline, physical and mental toughness for the new year.”
One also must not forget China’s old and newer soldiers.
Former All-England champion Shi Yuqi marked his return by winning the Denmark Open and Australian Open this year. Watch out for him to raise his game to a different level next year.
Lu Guangzu (15), Zhao Junpeng (18) and Li Shifeng (26) are waiting for platforms to show their worth and have grown to be tough opponents to beat.
Then there are spoilers like Kunlavut Vitidsarn of Thailand, Taiwan’s Chou Tien-chen, Danish Anders Antonsen.
Who knows, if Kento Momota can return to form, the men’s singles is set to be even more exciting next year.
We will get a taste of what’s in store for next year when all these players converge at the Malaysian Open at Axiata Arena from Jan 13-18.