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All England: Axelsen extends domination over one-time rival Srikanth

Until 2017, the career graphs of both Viktor Axelsen and Kidambi Srikanth were moving in a similar direction. Between London 2012 and Rio 2016, both were touted as the ‘Next Big Thing’ of men’s badminton.

Viktor Axelsen registered dominant win over Kidambi Srikanth.
Viktor Axelsen registered dominant win over Kidambi Srikanth.

Both announced their arrival on the big stage in 2017 with Srikanth reaching five Superseries finals, winning four, while the Dane clinched the World title. Both also became world No.1 around the same time and had a very even head-to-head at 3-all.

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But since then, the equation has changed. And dramatically. While Axelsen’s career has moved up and above everyone else, Srikanth’s has been on a downward spiral. Axelsen is not just a two-time world champion and but also the reigning Olympic champion, world No.1 and clearly dominating men’s badminton for the last few years.

Srikanth, on the other hand, last won a tournament seven years back. Seven is another unlucky number for the Indian shuttler as he lost all previous seven meetings to Axelsen, that too in straight games. On Tuesday, the number turned into eight as the Danish champion completely annihilated Srikanth, winning 21-9, 21-9 to earn his 11th victory in 14 meetings.

Confidence is a fragile thing in sport. And it was clearly visible as the two veterans took on each other in the opening round of the $1.3 million All England Open Badminton Championships in Birmingham.

There were times during the 33-minute contest when top seed Axelsen found himself completely out of position. But even then Srikanth hit the bird wide, missing winners that he could just tapped in and won.

Srikanth’s attack isn’t biting as it was. Like chief coach Pullela Gopichand said in an earlier interview to this daily, his opponents have figured out his game and found the antidote to any kind of venom his racquet spits.

On the other side of the court, Axelsen’s attack was always his USP. But the way the 194cm tall Dane has developed his defence had made him the invincible power he is in men’s badminton today. Fantastic in attack, Axelsen realised very quickly that Srikanth was lifting, trying to avoid his huge jump smash.

He countered by playing flat, straddling the backline and was easily able to reach the shuttle at will and offer shots that had no answer. In response, Srikanth was making more errors despite being egged on by coaches Gopichand and Parupalli Kashyap in his corner.

Despite comfortably leading throughout the opener, Axelsen expressed his frustration when missing out on a couple of simple points, clearly showing his hunger to not lose even a point, to win. That clearly showed as he handed Srikanth a confidence destroying loss at Arena Birmingham.

The 30-year-old wants to get his run back on track and inch closer towards a third All England title, especially after a shock second-round straight-game loss to Wang Tzu Wei last week at the French Open.

It wasn’t a happy outing for Olympic-bound HS Prannoy, who beat Axelsen last year to clinch a bronze at the 2023 World Championships, either as the seventh seeded Indian went down 21-14, 13-21, 13-21 to up-and-coming Chinese Taipei shuttler Su Li Yang in what was a first encounter between the two.

World No.8 Prannoy, who had a good 2023, hasn’t really found his footing this season. Apart from a semi-final finish at the India Open in January, he has suffered four first round exits in Malaysia, Indonesia, France and now All England. Indian fans would be hoping the ‘giant killer’ regains his form in the coming weeks, before his maiden attempt at the Olympics in July-August.

But the biggest news of the day was defending men’s champion Li Shi Feng of China exiting on Day 1, losing 17-21, 13-21 to Frenchman Toma Junior Popov.

Sindhu advances

On a comeback trail, PV Sindhu was the only Indian to advance into the next round on the opening day but only after her opponent, German Yvonne Li, retired after Sindhu clinched the opening game 21-10.

But Round 2 will be the real test for the two-time Olympic medallist as she will face the winner of the match between Chinese Taipei’s Wen Chi Hsu and world No.1 An Se Young.

Aakarshi Kashyap also lost, going down 16-21, 11-21 to Chinese Taipei’s Pai Yu Po.

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