London 2012: Weight of Country and Continent on Schenk’s Shoulders

It’s taken more than ten years on the international circuit for Juliane Schenk to secure her first major title – but the timing could not have been better.

Winning the Li Ning Singapore Open in late June this year gives the German veteran a shot of confidence ahead of the upcoming Olympics in London; Schenk’s third trip to the quadrennial summer spectacle.

This time, as with her finals triumph against Cheng Shao Chieh in Singapore last month, she reckons she is better prepared than ever to capitalize.

“I think the way my sports career (has unfolded) is really special and I almost took every single step I could. Therefore it needed time to get things to happen, but I learned very good lessons from my mental coach and now I know that the time is ripe for winning a title,” Schenk said in the aftermath of her maiden major victory.

The 29-year-old’s senior international career started with an Uber Cup tie in 2002. She broke into the top ten in 2009 and has since been a constant presence in that elite group. Her mental toughness, athleticism, retrieving ability and attacking game make her a definite medal contender and she knows as much.

“The Singapore Open is a huge boost of confidence heading to the Olympics; for me and of course (for) the crowd and supporters at home.”

Not only has she consistently reached the medal rounds of several tournaments of late, she has beaten every other top player except Li Xuerui (head-to-head: 5-0). While the likes of Wang Yihan (6-1), Wang Shixian (5-3), Wang Xin (3-1), Saina Nehwal (5-3) and Tine Baun (8-2) have winning records against her, they cannot take her – or victory over her – for granted.

Equally, Schenk knows she must be at her best to overcome them, especially at the Olympics, where there will be three top Chinese in the draw.

“They (Chinese) all have special skills, but the most decisive factors are their speed and confidence about winning,” she noted. “They have this attitude. No matter what happens on court, they don’t lose focus. It’s amazing.”

As one of Europe’s two contenders for a medal – Tine Baun being the other – Schenk understands the importance of her performance for the continent. She also knows the focus on the Olympics makes it the perfect stage to inspire a future generation of German shuttlers.

“We’re trying to make badminton 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. Interest is growing and that’s good for the sport.

“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. I think the sport’s profile is rising. In Asia, badminton is really on top…I believe we can make it more popular in my country as well.”

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