2022 will be remembered as Viktor Axelsen’s year. The Danish world no. 1 won 48 of the 51 matches he played this season.
True, Axelsen had won the Olympic gold, BWF World Tour Finals, and All England Open in 2021, in addition to three more Super Series titles, in between. Yet, he managed to turn himself up a notch higher in 2022, reaching the highest pedestal of badminton.
It was a historic year for men’s badminton owing to Axelsen’s brilliant performance in Super Series, the sport’s equivalent of tennis’ Grand Slam.
Axelsen became the first men’s singles player to win seven Super Series in a single season. It is an extraordinary feat considering the fact that the previous record stood at four, achieved by four men, including the legendary Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei. The most recent one came in 2017, achieved by Kidambi Srikanth.
He became the only man to win the All England Open, BWF World Championships, and season-ending World Tour Finals in the same year and therefore, rightfully received the second successive BWF Male Player Award, a rare mark in badminton.
Why is winning multiple Super Series titles in one season so tough
Super Series victories are difficult and rare. Even the best of the players, such as Lin and Lee, could win only a handful in a season. Last season, no other shuttler in men’s singles except Axelsen could win more than one title. And in 2022, only Anthony Ginting and Shi Yuqi managed two each.
Axelsen, in a stunning display of tactical nous and unwavering execution, swept through the season, winning two Super 1000 events on the calendar at the All England Open and Indonesia Open, and the BWF World Championships gold, his second since 2017, while dropping only two games. He could have completed the golden slam had the China Open not been suspended due to the rise in Covid-19 infection.
To win a Super Series, a player has to win five matches in five straight days, pack his bags and do it again the next week. And the next, and then again. Therefore, Super Series wins are so rare, and consistency is so elusive in badminton.
To achieve modern badminton’s most spectacular feat, Axelsen became a funnel of positive energy, something essential for him to be at peak, mentally and physically, to play such high-intensity games week after week. The 28-year-old attained stardom with masterfully crafted strokes that enabled him to notch himself many steps higher than men’s singles’ decorated stars- Lin and Lee.
Axelsen always had the potential to ring up Super Series, but his ‘final jinx’ had always haunted him. Since making his maiden final at the French Open in 2012, he had lost five consecutive finals.
The World Championships gold in 2017 was his first, one that marked him out as a future superstar. Axelsen won that match as a 22-year-old, beating Lin Dan in straight games, and followed it up with the Japan Open title, beating another giant, Lee, in a three-game thriller.
But absolute domination, which he aspired for, was not coming off his racquet.
Why Axelsen dominated this season
After moving out of the Danish national badminton facility in Copenhagen and becoming an independent player, Axelsen set up his own base at NAS Sports Complex Dubai in August 2021 to get rid of sporadic highs. He invited young players like Lakshya Sen and Singapore’s Loh Kean Yew for special training sessions in order to attain the most sacred element of the game - consistency - in a field where no shuttler has ever claimed outright domination.
The move to Dubai benefitted Axelsen, and he has been unbeaten in nine Super Series finals since then. His last runner-up finish came at the All-England Open final in March 2021 against Lee Zii Jia.
On the court, Axelsen was clinical, indefatigable, quick, and precise. In the BWF World Championships final, displaying his typical speedy game, Axelsen blew away Kunlavut Vitidsarn, for his second gold.
For undulating, consistent success at the Super Series and winning all those matches required stamina. He acquired them through endurance training and perfecting his strokes. The result: Axelsen claimed an overwhelming 39-match winning streak - a world record in the discipline. He surpassed Lin (31) and his own 29-match streak - set between February 2020 and January 2021 - that he shared with Lee.
Axelsen also managed his workload well and planned his schedule immaculately in a season where tournament fatigue and the repercussions of a packed schedule could have left him in great danger. He enjoyed badminton but did not mind breaking away from it midway through a tournament whenever he felt the urge. Of the 26 tournaments on the World Tour, he played 13 of them to remain injury free and refreshed.
The few occasions when he was truly tested in 2022 were against Lakshya in German Open, Loh Kean Yew in Denmark Open, and most recently, against H.S. Prannoy and Kodai Naraoka in the season finale. Yet, Axelsen’s steely resolve and ability to dig himself out of the hole helped him triumph over Naraoka in the summit clash of the World Tour Finals for the second consecutive time.
As the curtain draws close on the season, 2022 will be remembered as Axelsen’s year.
However, in the upcoming season, he will definitely be tested more as Prannoy and Naraoka showed that the Super Dane is, in fact, a human. The Indian and Japanese shuttlers reduced the frequency of lifts, avoiding menacing jump and crosscourt smashes from Axelsen, and engaged him in net-play.