NANJING: Denmark’s reigning badminton world champion and world number one Viktor Axelsen has won over fans in China because he speaks Mandarin.
The 24-year-old harnessed the support of the home crowd in the Chinese city of Nanjing on Thursday to reach the quarterfinals of the BWF World Championships.
Axelsen, the top seed, admitted afterwards that he was not at his best in defeating Hong Kong’s 10th-seeded Angus Ng Ka-long 21-19, 21-18.
So it helped that he was able to draw on the crowd, who have taken to the Dane partly because of his efforts to learn very passable Mandarin.
Having a good grasp of Mandarin helps in a sport where many of his rivals are Chinese or of Chinese descent.
Axelsen has been learning for about four years and can give interviews in the language.
He has even taken to translating for his rivals, including the Chinese badminton legend Lin Dan, and he can also use it to listen in on the tactics of his Chinese opponents.
“It really helps me communicate with my Chinese fans and I really appreciate all the support out here,” he told AFP in Nanjing after defeating Ng.
“Having the Chinese fans yelling your name, I really appreciate that.”
As well as endearing himself to Chinese fans, Axelsen hopes having the language will be useful for life after badminton.
“It is also really convenient to be able to speak a bit, not only with the other players, but at restaurants and out there in the real world, so to speak.”
Axelsen won the first game 21-19, then he and Ng went toe-to-toe in the second, trading points, before the Dane pulled away at the end, 21-18.
He celebrated with a heartfelt swing of his fist.
“It meant a lot. Sometimes when you feel like you are not at your highest level, you also have to be able to win,” he said.
“Today, I did not feel that good on court. To be honest, my opponent definitely made it hard for me, so well played to him.
“I struggled a little bit to win it and that’s why I showed some emotions out there today,” he added, before passing a couple of Chinese players and exchanging pleasantries – in Mandarin.