Axelsen outclasses Naraoka to defend Malaysia Open title

World number one men’s singles shuttler, Viktor Axelsen began the 2023 season in style by defending the Malaysia Open title.

Axelsen became the first European shuttler to defend the title, beating Japan’s rising star Kodai Naraoka 21-6, 21-15 in 40 minutes in front of an electrifying crowd at the Axiata Arena.  

The reigning Olympics and world champion pocketed USD87,500 (about RM 379,300) in prize money for winning the season opener Super 1000 tournament, while Naraoka received USD42,500 (about RM 184,200).

Commenting on the win, Axelsen said it was obvious from the game style that Naraoka, who played long matches heading into the finals, was tired and not able to display his real form, losing his fourth in as many matches between them.

“For me, it is a good thing to go in and try to play high pace consistently, don’t give him any chance, and show him that if he wants to win, he needs to work really hard. Congratulations to Kodai for having a fantastic week, he is an upcoming player, we will see much more from him,” he said.

Axelsen had a great season in 2022, having won six Badminton World Federation (BWF) World Tour titles, including the season finale – World Tour Finals – in Bangkok last month, apart from bagging his second World Championship in Tokyo, last August.

The 29-year-old, who has 27 titles under his belt, also credited his wife Natalia Koch Rohde and daughters – Vega and Aya – for his success by balancing his life on and off the court, apart from his coaching team.

Meanwhile, Naraoka, 21, said his long matches, especially yesterday’s semi-finals against Thailand’s Kunlavut Vitidsarn affected his performance, for not being able to challenge Axelsen as he did in the semi-finals of the World Tour Finals in Bangkok, a month ago.

“The game was very tough for sure, Axelsen played well. I couldn’t challenge him due to tiredness,” said Naraoka, who fought 83 minutes before losing 23-21,19-21, 18-21 in Bangkok.

Naraoka, the 2018 Youth Olympic bronze medallist, played one of the longest badminton matches in history when he took 113 minutes to edge Thailand’s Kunlavut 21-17, 19-21, 21-17 in the semi-final dubbed ‘The Battle of Rising Stars’ last night.

He had previously eliminated home favourites Lee Zii Jia and Ng Tze Yong in the first and second rounds respectively, before ousting HS Prannoy of India in the quarter-finals, with all the matches going into rubber games for a total of 362 minutes spent on the court. –BERNAMA