The 24-year-old harnessed the support of the home crowd in the Chinese city of Nanjing on Thursday to reach the quarter-finals of the 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 Chinese.
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.
“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.”
As well as endearing himself to Chinese fans, Axelsen hopes having the language will be useful for life after badminton.
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 Chinese.
In the women’s draw, world number one and strong favourite Tai Tzu-ying of Taiwan recovered from a slow start to book her place in the last eight.
Tai was behind in the opening exchanges against Zhang Beiwen, the Chinese-born American who needed internet crowd funding to make it to Nanjing.
But the 24-year-old Tai’s quality soon shone through, winning 21-19, 21-14 in 34 minutes to set up a meeting with China’s sixth seed He Bingjiao.