Jasmin Ouschan is thousands of miles away from Klagenfurt, Austria, and yet she feels right at home here in the Philippines.
"I came to the hotel room (at the Crowne Plaza) the other day, and it felt like my second home. I feel so comfortable here. I can't say that about any other place. The hotel is great, the venue is great. People are so nice, the food is great, and I can work out too. A massage here is just 9 euros. At home its 60 euros. When I enter the massage place they know my name!"
Two years ago Ouschan captured her first world title by besting Ga Young Kim of Korea in the final of the Women's World 10 Ball championship in Robinsons Galleria. As the final blue-striped ball disappeared, confetti rained on her ice-blonde hair, and the usually stoic Austrian burst into tears of joy.
"I remember everything about that day" she recounts. "I have the footage of the match so I watch it as a motivational tool. It was perfect. A dream come true. And it was in Philippines. I got so many fans here, and to be able to win in front of them, it was like... perfect. I remember the feeling, standing there: perfect. I don't think life is perfect at all, but at that moment, it was picture-perfect."
We're at the 19th floor lounge at the Crowne Plaza, overlooking the Ortigas skyline. Ouschan is dressed in a gray long-sleeved top, jeans that are faded in front, and canvas shoes the color of billiard-table slate. A few bracelets adorn her slender wrists and a leather strap serves as a necklace, with a ring dangling from it. She is slimmer than in previous years (about twelve pounds less, she admits) and her broad smile and easygoing, radiant manner is a far cry from the steely gaze she projects during TV matches.
Jasmin Ouschan is one of the brightest stars in the Women's Pool firmament. And this week she guns for another world title to go with the one she captured in 2010. She knows it won't be easy.
"All the Chinese players and Chinese Taipei players could win the tournament. Kelly Fisher (the 2011 champ from England) could win it again. Allison Fisher can win. So many good players"
The Chinese onslaught, in the form of Chen Siming, Liu Sha Sha, Pan Xiaoting and Fu Xiao Fang, is a huge threat for sure.
"All of a sudden they were there. Sixteen, seventeen year olds playing like crazy. A lot of the others woke up and realized 'I gotta do something, I gotta keep working and practicing more.' I think it helped the game, it raised the level. You have to adjust but it's good for women's Pool.
Ouschan has prepared for the 2012 Yalin Women's World 10 Ball Championship in a unique way: by taking a break from the game that has defined her life since she was six years old.
Earlier in the year she finished second in the prestigious Amway Cup in Taiwan to Chieh You-Chou. Then in April she played in the European Championship, picking up the Women's 10 Ball gold. But something was amiss.
"After the Amway cup and European Championships I knew I was not happy with my game. I couldn't go on like that. I needed to take a step back."
"My results weren't bad, but the feeling I had at the table, I dunno, it was just too hard. I wanted it too much. I was not relaxed enough. When you fight all the time you come to a point where your batteries are empty."
Ouschan retreated to Klagenfurt, just 45 minutes away from the Italian border. She keeps an apartment there, and immersed herself into the warm cocoon of friends and family. Her parents, Albin and Evelyn still live there, as does her longtime coach, Michael Neumann, and her younger brother, Pool player Albin junior.
Days were spent cooking for herself and just chilling. Three times a week she would hop on her white Merida road bike and reel off 90km-long long bike rides in the Austrian countryside. On other days she jogged. All while not touching her cue stick for two months. The result? "I'm in the best shape of my life."
"I didn't stress about anything, but at end of that I missed the thrill, the tension, being nervous a little bit."
Starting July she dove headlong back into training at the Billiard Academy Jasmin Ouschan. The academy is tucked away in Klagenfurt's Football stadium and is the brainchild of Jasmin and Neumann. Several promising young Austrian players regularly train there now.
Ouschan is confident going back to the Philippines, where a fanatical fan club is waiting to egg her every shot. Ever since her first visit to the Philippines Jasmin's matches have featured banners, posters and all manner of fan adoration, including flowers. But perhaps the most bizarre expression of loyalty came from a different sport altogether.
"I remember one day I got a picture in the email with a Basketball team wearing jerseys with my name on it. I posted it on my website and I thought it was fantastic."
Ouschan is as baffled as anyone at the adulation. "I dunno whey they like me so much, but I love it. Maybe it's the blonde hair. I have fans in other countries but it's not as strong as here. In the Philippines they are so organized!"
Being a sex symbol for the sport is something Ouschan takes in her stride, a necessary part of the push to grow the game.
"When it comes to media stuff it (being attractive) helps. But I know I am focused on my sport and I want them to see my skills and see how good I can play. Then the second or third thing is the looks."
The Yalin Women's World 10 Ball Championship for 2012 kicks off today, August 20 at Robinsons Galleria and runs until Friday, August 24. 48 of the world's best players will vie for the title first won by the Philippines' Rubilen Amit in 2009, by Ouschan the year after, and by Fisher last year.
With a first prize of US$21,000, it is one of the most lucrative titles in the Women's game.
The event is, as always, produced by Dragon Promotions. The official website is www.womensworld10ball.com.
There will be a group stage followed a single-elimination knockout stage. Group winners go straight into the round-of 16.
Live TV coverage begins tomorrow, August 21 at 2 p.m. on Studio 23. On Thursday the telecast will be delayed and starts at 10:30 p.m.
It should be a week of scintillating Pool, and one thing is for sure: you can't rule out Jasmin Ouschan to lift that trophy once again.
You can follow Bob Guerrero on Twitter @bhobg333.