Hot favourite for his second world title at the end of a near-perfect year, Viktor Axelsen abjectly succumbed to pressure at his very first hurdle of the TotalEnergies BWF World Championships 2021.
It was only his fourth defeat this year, and by far his tamest, as he fell 14-21 21-9 21-6. The upset was executed by Loh Kean Yew, who was runner-up to Axelsen in the Indonesia Open final recently.
The Dane, Olympic champion and winner of seven titles this year, was well on his way against his Singaporean opponent with a first game win, but fell apart in the second and third. The world No.1 looked ill at ease and irritable, making too many errors; and while Loh was sharp and kept up the pressure, it was a case of the Olympic champion playing far below his normal self.
Axelsen gave credit to his opponent, while acknowledging that he hadn’t been anywhere close to his best.
“I think he played as a winner today, he definitely deserved the victory, so I wish him all the best for the rest of the tournament,” said Axelsen. “For me personally the first game was okay, but then it was something I’d rather forget, to be honest.
“I’ll take a few days and then watch it again to see if I can learn anything. I feel a bit burned out right now.
“Pretty much everything fell apart in the second and third. Loh stepped up and I stepped down.”
The end was anti-climactic, with Loh muted in his celebration, but he sported a wide smile as he came away.
“I’m really happy with my win. After I lost the first game I needed to be fast in the second and third. I needed to stay focused. I didn’t know when he’d get back, and if he gets back his confidence, I would die!
“I felt he was under a lot of pressure and he wanted this very much. I’m sure he will come back stronger. I still have a long way to go, I need to be focused for my next match.”
As for Axelsen, the Dane took heart from the year he’d had.
“I’m really happy about the year, but today wasn’t the day. I didn’t play the way I wanted to today. Loh played really well and deserved the win for sure. Nothing really came for me, I tried to do my best and try to step up. Bad day at the office, not many things went my way and he fully deserved the win. I don’t want to stand here and cry about what I should’ve done differently. Loh won the match and deserved it.
“Tomorrow’s a new day, to get better.”
Highlights of Day 2
♦Anders Antonsen avoided the fate that befell his senior compatriot, keeping things tight in a 21-16 21-13 victory over Vladimir Malkov.
♦Eighth seed Ng Ka Long Angus fell in an exciting battle to India’s HS Prannoy, 13-21 21-18 21-19.
♦Veterans Nguyen Tien Minh and Hans-Kristian Solberg Vittinghus slugged it out for over an hour before the Dane emerged victorious, 21-16 21-23 21-10.