BIRIMINGHAM, England (AFP) — Tine Rasmussen, who not long ago worked as a secretary to help fund her badminton, will defend her title the All-England Open which starts on Wednesday as the only woman who has loosened the Chinese dominance.
The last decade has seen 43 of the 50 All-England titles go to Asian players, fully 29 of them to China. And in women's singles eight of the last ten were won by Chinese.
But despite being past her mid-twenties before making her surge from obscurity, Rasmussen is now world number one, the winner of the first two Super Series tournaments of 2009, and a reasonable bet, in European conditions, to test the world's greatest badminton nation again this week.
The 29-year-old Dane is tall and striking, and her style strong and attacking, but her character is an intriguing mix of assertiveness and vulnerability. She also attributes her wonderful start to the year in Korea and Malaysia partly to the power of love.
"Um, I think we, er, we had some things at home, private stuff," she said with an engaging diffidence. "And it was finished.
"We were building up our house, me and my boy-friend, and we had a lot of stuff to decide on all this time. And just before Christmas we moved in," she said.
Because she is often recognised in the streets in Copenhagen, Rasmussen will wisely reveal only that their house is in Fredenborg, just north of the Danish capital. But about her emotions she was more forthcoming.
"It all gave me a feeling of being relaxed," she said.
"I also was able to let go of myself and play my best. Because when badminton becomes everything in my little world up here," she said, pointing in jest to her head.
"It gives me pressure."
"But when I feel I can have a perfect life, and a perfect family, all those things make badminton a smaller thing. That was maybe why I played my best after Christmas."
The influential boy-friend is Martin Baun, who is also the Danish team physio, and therefore around to lend support much of the time.
"He's been asking questions, maybe that I haven't been asked before, and asking some questions which hurt," Rasmussen volunteered bravely. "But they help me get better."
She also has a better understanding of why she wins against some of the Chinese players.
"Lu Lan is a very good player, and rarely loses to anyone much lower, but in a final maybe doesn't have the same confidence," Ramussen reckoned.
"She's the most stable player and I have a lot of fights with her, but the last three times I was the winner, so that's fine by me," she said, smiling.
"Zhu Lin didn't show much confidence since the Olympics, maybe because she was disappointed," Rasmussen claims.
"She can play higher than Lu Lan but she can play quite a bit lower too. But she can play like the world champion she is.
Even though Rasmussen beat Wang Chen both in Malaysia and Korea, she still emphasised the Hong Kong player's good points.
"She has fine movement, and is very clever on court as well," she says.
"But it's like she plays when she's in the mood. If she isn't, she doesn't play that well. Maybe the injuries are her biggest enemy now".
Rasmussen will also have to cope with two other Chinese, Zhou Mi and Xie Xingfang, both of whom have won the All-England title before.
"But I see them all as players I am even with," she says. "If I play my best it is difficult for them to play me with the right tactics."
How did she come to compete so well with such great players?
Among the many answers are a recovery from a long-lasting achilles injury, a new scoring system which suited her, increased confidence, and greater professionalism in diet, training, schedule, and psychology.
"I have always had a strong attack; it has always been a big part of my game. But it just had to come together, you know," she explained.
"I used to make a lot of mistakes and I was not that good at running on court, and maybe mentally I was not that strong against the best players," she admitted.
Inevitably she finds herself saddled with comparisons with her former team mate, Camilla Martin, the 2002 All-England champion, and 1999 world champion.
"I have just a few titles and she has won 15 or more," Rasmussen emphasises. "This has nothing to do with Camilla. She is one of a kind. I want to be just Tine and show that Danish women's singles is still on top."
Inevitably too, expectations have escalated. "She is our Chinese killer," Thomas Stuer Lauridsen, a Danish coaches, once memorably said, without meaning offence to the world's best badminton nation. "But she is one against many Chinese. China will always be the favourites."