BIRMINGHAM (Reuters) - Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen is living proof that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
The 21-year-old is one of just three Europeans to have cracked the top 10 of the men’s badminton world rankings.
Axelsen is currently ranked ninth in the world. His fellow Danes, Jan O Jorgensen (second) and Hans-Kristian Vittinghus (eighth), are the other two.
The rest are all players from Asia, headed by China’s world number one Chen Long. And now Axelsen, keen to scale new heights on and off the court, has started learning Mandarin.
He hopes that learning the language will be a key step in securing future sponsorship and lining up potential coaching jobs when he retires from the game.
“I started to take it up last New Year,” Axelsen said. “Coming into 2014 I had a talk with my former coach and he thought it was a good idea to begin learning it.
“I wanted to start something new and ever since it has been a one-way street. I am just getting better with each week and I hope that it will open some doors in Asia with sponsorship and work.”
Looking beyond his career is not something Axelsen needs to worry about just yet. Europe’s first world junior champion in 2010, the Dane backed up his early promise with a bronze medal at last year’s world championships in Copenhagen.
“I can’t say right now that I will go to Asia (to live),” he added “but I’ll see where it leads me and right now it is an exciting language to learn as so many people in the world are speaking it.
“China is also a country of opportunities and that’s the other reason I am doing this.”
Axelsen recently set up an account with Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, and wants a better command of the language so that he “can write a bit more” and stop being ribbed by the Mandarin speakers on tour who poke fun at his mistakes.
“I like to go my own ways and this is a special thing to do,” he said.
“Of course they have fun with me when I get things wrong, but it is a learning process.
“I’m not shy to speak and that’s all part about learning a language.”
Editing by Julian Linden