World No.8 Juliane Schenk had a brilliant run at the India Open Superseries last fortnight, beating two Chinese on two days and almost upsetting the third in the final. Over the last few years, the German has been one of a handful to have resisted the Chinese successfully. With wins over nearly every top player, Schenk – along with Denmark’s Tine Baun — will be Europe’s big hope for an Olympic medal. Dev S Sukumar caught up with the affable Schenk during the India Open:
Your thoughts on the India Open final?
I have to give all respect to (winner) Li Xuerui. I tried my best throughout the match, and have nothing to complain about. I showed I have the power to once in a while step on top.
It was a few key points. I still believe that once in a while I’ll be on top, no matter how many times I will finish runner-up. I haven’t beaten Xuerui yet. Of course she’s one of the top players. One day I will have my chance.
What makes the Chinese so difficult to beat?
The speed and all the skills the Chinese have, it’s amazing. As long as they find their rhythm and have full control of the match, they’re difficult to read. You have to break they rhythm and break their confidence.
You are one of the few, apart from Saina Nehwal and Tine Baun, who has been able to challenge the Chinese domination of the game…
I want many different countries to challenge the Chinese. It’s important for the sport. We need a mix of all the countries, otherwise it’s getting one-sided, and that’s not good for the future of badminton.
Among the Chinese, is each player different, or are there some basic similarities?
Of course they all have special skills, but the most deciding point is their speed and confidence about winning. It’s not a matter of them having a special Chinese style. They have this attitude. They’re learning from the beginning, this winning spirit, and no matter what happens on court they don’t lose focus. It’s amazing.
You played the European Championships final in Amsterdam and find yourself in India a week later. How difficult is it to play in different continents within the space of a week?
Yes, that’s true. It’s hard work and a tough job, but we’re facing the end of the Olympic qualifying period and I’m looking forward to having rest soon. You need to build up all your energy and focus each match, and that works for me.
How disappointing was it to lose to Tine Baun in the final of the European Championships?
Yeah, it was a great final, world-class badminton. Tine and me, we both deserved to win. It’s unfortunate that there would be only one winner. I’m quite satisfied with my performance.
Are you happy with the season so far? You reached quite a few tournament finals.
It’s fine. There have been ups and downs, and some big tournaments for me this year. I’ve beaten some good players, and I’m playing stable. You need to be healthy and fit, that’s the most important thing.
We’re trying to make it more popular. Recent results are helping. Soccer, tennis and Formula One are big in the media, but we’re working on it. Definitely there’s more attention on us during the Olympic period. The interest is growing. It’s good for the sport. Let’s see what the future brings. There’s good spirit in the team after our recent performances. A few players are world-class, and helping to make badminton more popular in Germany.
Does the profile of badminton increase in Germany with every Olympics?
I think it’s rising. Recently we had good results (at the European Championships). In Asia, badminton is really on top, and it’s such an amazing sport. I believe we can bring it up in my home country as well.
What are your impressions of the India Open?
A lot of young spectators, cheering. It’s full of joy. It gives you extra spirit. This is my second time in India, and I have good memories. I was close to winning a medal at the World Championships (in Hyderabad) in 2009.
How do you spend your spare time?
I enjoy my free time. I enjoy cooking and reading. I’m looking forward to the summer.