Badminton: Axelsen's Japan victory fuels his rise to summit

TOKYO • World champion Viktor Axelsen proved he is the best shuttler on the planet by beating Malaysian Lee Chong Wei yesterday to clinch his first Japan Open title.

The world rankings will confirm that on Thursday, with the Dane set to become the first European to become men's world No. 1 since the SuperSeries era was launched in 2007.

Axelsen, who defeated two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan of China to bag the world title in Glasgow last month, edged out Lee 21-14, 19-21, 21-14 in the men's singles final in 75 minutes.

The 23-year-old found the perfect response after losing the second game by the narrowest of margins despite leading 18-14.

"I'm really happy and proud for getting rid of the disappointment and winning the game," he said.

Former world No. 1 Lee was competing in his 100th SuperSeries final but could not celebrate the milestone with a win at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.

Viktor Axelsen celebrates defeating Lee Chong Wei in the Japan Open final. The Dane's win will see him rise to the top of the world rankings.
Viktor Axelsen celebrates defeating Lee Chong Wei in the Japan Open final. The Dane's win will see him rise to the top of the world rankings. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

It was his second straight loss to Axelsen, having lost to him in the World SuperSeries Finals in Dubai. Prior to that meeting last December, Lee won the first nine clashes between the two.

"Compared to the past, Viktor played more confidently and was more stable today," said Lee.

The 34 year-old has lifted the Japan Open crown six times (2007, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016), but Axelsen's triumph will see him displace South Korea's Son Wan Ho, whom he defeated in the semi-finals, as the world's top player.

The world No. 2 has won every last meeting against a player ranked in the top 10, apart from China's world No. 4 Shi Yuqi, whom he is yet to face.

In the women's singles final yesterday, world No. 5 Carolina Marin of Spain, last year's Olympic gold medallist, overwhelmed He Bingjiao of China 23-21, 21-12.

"Compared to the best players in the world, I still lack in the faith that I must win," world No. 7 He said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 25, 2017, with the headline 'Axelsen's Japan victory fuels his rise to summit'. Print Edition | Subscribe