A seething Viktor Axelsen flung his racket on the court, but just moments later he hugged his Indian opponent across the net in a warm embrace. Separated in age by a year, Axelsen and Kidambi Srikanth make for an interesting rivalry and are possibly two of the most talented young players on the men's singles circuit. At the Premier Badminton League (PBL) on Monday, Awadhe Warriors' Srikanth retrieved like a man possessed -- often dropping to his knees when the lanky 6' 4" Danish shaped up for a smash -- and managed to frustrate the world No. 3's plans. He won 11-9, 11-9.
Turning out for the home side Bengaluru Blasters, Rio Olympics bronze medallist Axelsen, 22, appeared to struggle with the drift at the start and allowed Srikanth to go up 4-1. As the match went on, the Indian pulled off some near-impossible retrievals. Like the one that won him his first game point. After Srikanth somehow managed to almost instantly get under a whiplash Axelsen smash, the flummoxed Dane could only push a backhand wide in reply.
Srikanth owes his feints and the ability to vary pace and shift momentum largely to a childhood spent playing doubles. This, he acknowledged recently, has lent an "unpredictable" dimension to his singles play.
In the second game, after a jump-smash gave him a 3-2 lead, Axelsen pumped his fist and gave Srikanth a menacing look across the net. But the Indian didn't give up his aggressive game. Drawing his opponent into some engaging net play, Srikanth put away a backhand well out of his reach to head into the break with a 6-5 lead. Capitalizing on the Dane's multiple errors thereafter, the world No. 15-ranked Indian stayed ahead till the end. And after Srikanth hit a booming smash on match point, Axelsen, on all fours, could only manage to feebly push the return into the net.