by Blythe Lawrence
At the age of 15 years and 50 days, this rising Korean star became the youngest table tennis player ever to win an ITTF World Tour mixed doubles title, an exploit she savoured with partner Cho Daeseong, himself just 16.
Their precocity bodes well for Korea, which proudly occupies a place among the pre-eminent nations of table tennis and is completely invested in keeping things that way, despite the challenge from up-and-coming nations pushing Korea’s supremacy.
A decade ago, players from Korea and Singapore were often going head-to-head with the top Chinese in the finals at international events, but in recent years the eastern country has found itself somewhat overshadowed by its powerful neighbours.
Japan, where a talented generation that includes Mima Ito, Hina Hayata, Miu Hirano, Miyu Kato, Miyu Nagasaki and Miyuu Kihara has been showing its worth at tournaments all over the globe. China’s deep talent pool has assured it brings forth new players capable of challenging for major titles every year.
Korea, by comparison, has struggled to keep up. With Shin and Cho at the head of a new wave of talent, the Korea Republic is rising once again.
You could have seen it coming, if you looked back far enough. Almost a decade ago, six-year-old Shin was selected to play 1988 Olympic champion Yoo Namkyu in an exhibition at the 2010 World Tour Grand Finals in Seoul. It was all very cute — Yoo hit the ball gently, Shin responded in a recreational fashion, and everyone applauded — but beneath the schoolgirl exterior was a prodigy. Her real international debut came when, just 10, she played in the under 21 event of the 2014 Korea Open.
Eight years on, the girl who had stood barely above the height of the table opposite Yoo was the surprise of ITTF Challenge Belgian Open. She announced herself to the world by advancing to the women’s singles semi-finals. The breakout year continued during the girls’ team event at the World Junior Championships in Bendigo, Australia last December, where Shin’s victories upset the status quo, lifting no.13 seed Korea, a team by all appearances at a low ebb, to a bronze medal. The new Korean wave was gathering force.
She continued her success at the Korea Open in July, beating rising Chinese star Liu Weishan in the preliminary round of the women’s singles tournament, despite battling nerves throughout the encounter.
“I wasn’t showing my full potential at the start of the match, because I was so nervous, so I wasn’t even able to think about the game plan. Then my coach told me be confident from then on, so that’s what I did. Facing more experienced opponents doesn’t bother me that much. This is an opportunity for me to gain more experience. I can learn from my opponents. With such a big crowd here, I thought I would be more nervous about it, but I’m gaining more energy from them as they cheer me on!” Shin Yubin
Among a crowded international field, success hasn’t come all at once. Shin and Cho’s hard-fought 3-2 victory over established Japanese stars Jun Mizutani and Mima Ito (6-11, 15-13, 12-10, 16-18, 12-10), included a match point save. The victory was the second of Cho’s career on the ITTF World Tour, coming on the same day as he clinched the men’s doubles title with Lee Sangsu. Both wins showed all the hallmarks of the beginning of a beautiful partnership — and a force that could restore the Korean dynasty.
“We are very happy because we won our first World Tour title together. The final was very difficult, as Mizutani and Ito are very strong opponents. But in the end, we played really well.” Shin Yubin, Cho Daeseong
In the distance, the spotlights are focused on the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, where mixed doubles will make its Olympic debut. It’s just in time for Korea, whose young stars are looking ever more primed for success.