Juliane Schenk: 'Saina has a special spirit'
World No. 4 Juliane Schenk was looking cool and relaxed in the stands after her first-round victory over the potentially-dangerous Tai Tzu Ying of Taipei. Schenk stands out in badminton — she is probably the most forthright of all players, and expresses herself fully – whether it’s her disappointment with her national association, her opinion about her own form, or about other players in the circuit. A friendly sort as well, she greets me warmly, and readily agrees to an interview.
You beat world No. 1 Wang Yihan last week at the China Open… you’re beating the Chinese consistently now. Is it the approach?
Yes, it’s simply about enjoying, right? Of course it’s always special as Yihan was on home soil. But previous tournaments have been good for me and I try to go my way. I’ve proved in the past that I can beat them. To make it consistent is great to see. There’s no special secret to it.
You’ve shown the path to other women’s singles players?
I think so. In ladies singles there’s such a huge quality of players. And what counts is the daily performance, right? You always have to be on top of your game, and your mental strength. And whatever counts to be on top, and it makes it quite interesting, whether it’s the Japanese or Indians or me or Tine (Baun), whoever is chasing the Chinese, it’s great for the game.
You lost to Saina twice in recent weeks…is there a mental block?
I don’t think it’s a problem, but she played really well in both matches, and the first game was the decider for the whole match. You can see the boost of confidence you get from winning the first set. But never mind…the spirit she’s going on court is really really special, and the thing that’s really top class. I think they (Saina and Ratchanok Intanon) have a different spirit than the Chinese have. And that’s the deciding point right now, and that’s why they’re the same league. And I tend to the same spirit as they have, than to the Chinese. Saina and Ratchanok are really carried on by a special spirit, in my opinion.
With some exciting young players from Japan and Thailand coming up, is women’s singles becoming more open?
Exactly. I think so. It has been proven in the past that it’s already open, but the more open it gets, the better. The last few years have seen different players from different countries, so it’s perfect.
How difficult was it for you to overcome the disappointment of the Olympics?
To be honest, it was a tough time for me, and I’m glad to be who I am on court, and to find myself again. I had a big helping hand from my mental coach, and she gave me back what I have now again, the spirit, and my belief. But you see at some point with some (difficult) emotions, you need help. You even contemplated retirement after losing in the group stage.
What new goals have you set for yourself?
I will just continue playing. The Superseries Finals this year is a goal. And I need to see what different goals I have to set, and what kind of partnership it’s going to be with the association. But right now I’m glad to be here and to be healthy and to perform like this.
What does it mean to be a player on the elite circuit?
It’s always a pleasure, right? To be in touch with different cultures and different people. I always love this part of the sport.
Do you feel a bit bitter that you are not as well known as the tennis players, despite all the hard work?
Yeah, but I think but we are on a good track. Nevertheless, you always have to work for things… the duties which the BWF has, because there are so many talented players, and it’s a fantastic sport, in my opinion. The sport deserves a lot of attention. I hope we can do better in future.