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(Photo: Badmintonphoto)
Axelsen on top of the world
Date: 10/24/2021 8:45 PM
Published by : Yash Sharma
The home favourite made an incredible comeback against his greatest foe to win the crown. 

The men’s singles title bout: Kento Momota vs Viktor Axelsen lived up to its billing. Despite a dismal 14-1 record against the world number one, Axelsen had been gradually closing the gap before COVID-19 struck. Playing in his maiden Denmark Open final, the Olympic Champion overcame the final barrier to seal his legendary status: beating Kento Momota. 

While their previous encounters had been more-or-less one-sided, there was little to distinguish the two today. The lack of Momota’s decisiveness and steadier defensive work by Axelsen balanced the odds. Clearly, it will be unfair to say that the Japanese great was at his very best, despite clear indications of his highest level. However, his natural playing style seems to be inherently better placed against Axelsen’s game. 

This allowed Momota to unravel the near perfect play that has defined Axelsen this year. As the Japanese player settled in the match, he swiftly closed down the seven point deficit and clinched the opener in style. As a result, the second seed tended to go back to his earlier game style. 

- I wasn’t really concerned about trailing in the first game. I remained calm and made my way back, Momota explained.

- Momota was playing a stable defence and my attack was easy to read for him. After I lost the first one, I went like, “Oh no, not again!”, Axelsen reminisced.

However, Axelsen remained within striking distance in the must-win second game, thanks to his superb training last year. The reigning world champion made uncharacteristic errors and misjudgments at the crucial moments, despite leading 17-14. To Axelsen’s credit, he pounced upon the small window of opportunity that Momota’s uncertainty presented to him. Consequently, the top seed failed to close it out in straight games. 

It was a crazy mental game. I had to change my tactics a little bit against him and I’m happy that I could develop the variation, the second seed was satisfied.

- The side drift was not as much as I had expected in the second game. As a result, I made two misjudgments. That’s why I lost the match today, he offered.

In the decider, Momota’s mental fortitude faltered after squandering a near-decisive lead. On the other hand, Axelsen was pumped up by frantic cheering of the home crowd and marched on, despite the physicality required to go all the way. 

- We were both physically tired and gave our best. However, I found myself on the back-foot emotionally in the final game and couldn’t cope, Momota pointed out his weakness. 

Leading 11-6 at the change of ends was more than enough motivation the Odense hero needed to win his first-ever home crown. He came back from behind to win 20-22, 21-18, 21-12. 

The 93-minute battle that ensued today was a testament to Axelsen’s enhanced physical prowess. Moreover, it marked the return of King Kento, as he took a major step towards reaching his glorious best once again. 

- It is overwhelming and tiring at the same time, the winner concluded after the victory. 

While Momota will hope to fully recover emotionally, Axelsen still needs to find a way to not get dragged into Momota’s neutralizing game. 

- After a long time, I felt like I was in command during this tournament. Hopefully, it will be a turning point for me, the Japanese superstar was positive despite the loss. 

Hopefully, as predicted by Lee Chong Wei, the Momota-Axelsen rivalry will achieve a legendary status in badminton, in the time to come. Both the players already have huge respect for each other.

- I’m very happy to have won the home tournament by beating someone of Momota’s calibre in the final. He’s a great and fantastic player, Axelsen said.

- I always get a chance to develop my game further by playing against Viktor, Momota concluded. 

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