Talking about solid defense in Table Tennis, one name will definitely be top of mind for everybody, and that name is Joo Saehyuk from South Korea.
editorial by tabletennista.com | adapted by Sebastian Hallen
In the Beginning
Joo, the last name, Saehyuk was born in Seoul, South Korea, on January 20, 1980. He is known as a very solid and reliable defensive player, possessing a very unique style of play which includes a superior ability in changing from defence to offence. Joo Saehyuk started to participate on important tournament and earn some recognition when he turned 17. He was part of the South Korean Team in the Asian Youth Championships where they won the title. In the same tournament, he also went up the medal podium in Singles. By 2001, Joo Saehyuk made more progress as he made his presence felt in the Japan Open. He was the runner-up in Singles.
Although Joo Saehyuk already gained some attention in the international scene, he was still not able to establish himself as a force to reckon with, not until his participation in the 2003 World Championships where he became a blockbuster.
One of Joo’s highlights in that competition was his 4-3 victory over the Chinese player Ma Lin (13-11, 10-12, 8-11, 11-9, 6-11, 11-8, 11-9) during quarterfinals. With Chinese players being dominant in the arena, Joo’s performance certainly caught the attention of everyone, especially the head coach Liu Guoliang.
See the full match here and re-live that spectacular moment:
The Chinese Team’s head coach noticed the pressure from Ma Lin as he was the last Chinese player in the lower half of the draw. Because of such pressure, Ma Lin played weak during the match and Joo Saehyuk noticed an opportunity and took good advantage of it.
“The opponent played well and had remarkable attacks. It was clear that Joo Saehyuk was more daring than Ma Lin. As a defensive player, he was daring enough to pull off some very very risky techniques.” Liu Guoliang commented.
Aside from Ma Lin, the South Korean player also defeated many experts in the competition like Alexey Smirnov, Li Ching, Chuang Chih Yuan, and of course, Kalinikos Kreanga in the semifinals. Such performance gave way for him to become the first ever defensive player to reach the finals since 1969.
At this point, he was already regarded as a force to reckon with.
Although Joo Saehyuk had the momentum coming into the finals, the 23-year old lacked the control he needed against Werner Schlager. He settled as a runner-up after losing in five games. According to the ITTF, Joo Saehyuk was actually disappointed.
“Of course I am disappointed right now, but reaching the final makes me very proud.” Joo Saehyuk said, also congratulating the winner, Werner Schlager.
Redesigning defensive play after Paris
Four years after crushing it in Paris, Joo Saehyuk created another milestone but not in his career but in his personal life. In April 14, 2007, Joo Saehyuk and his long time girlfriend got married in Gangnam, Seoul, South Korea.
In the international scene, Joo Saehyuk managed to continue imposing threats to his opponents especially the strong Chinese players. He exercised an impressive performance in the Kuwait and Qatar Open where he defeated Wang Liqin and Chen Qi and forced a decider against Wang Hao.
Clearly, Joo Saehyuk was able to present himself as a threat. He was considered as one of the strongest opponent of the Chinese Team in addition to Timo Boll. Aside from that, he also became the epitome of a solid defensive player.
A career-changing diagnosis
However all these good results, Joo Saehyuk met a challenge in both his personal and athletic life somewhere in 2012. While having a check up for his ankle injury, the player found out that he has Behcet’s Disease. It is a rare disease that causes ulcerations in different parts of the body. As of now, this can only be manageable.
Despite such complications, Joo Saehyuk remained determined to work hard and didn’t allow the disease to stop him from doing what he needs and wants to do. Currently, Joo Saehyuk relies on glucocorticoid.
“Yes. When there is a problem, I need to take medicine every day. There are times I can not eat. But now, my body is better. This will not affect my game.” Joo Saehyuk said.
Indeed, Joo Saehyuk is one of the most dedicated and talented players of Table Tennis. Now, he is already 35 but he is still very active in the international arena, just for the South Korean Team. “I extremely love the Table Tennis sport. The results of the young male players of the South Korean Team are not very good as of now. I will help them.” He added.
As of now, his teammates from his generation, Ryu Seungmin and Oh Sangeun both have already retired. But for him, there is still around one or two years more to go for his athletic career. “I think I can still play for one or two more years. I will be playing in next year’s World Team Championships (2016) but I don’t know in the individual events.” He explained.
So, would he be playing in the Olympics? “No, no, no. I will allow the younger players to be in it. They are slowly developing and my condition is decreasing.” Joo Saehyuk concluded.
Joo Saehyuk has made a wonderful journey in Table Tennis. Although he hasn’t won any world title in the sport, he has definitely made a name for himself in Table Tennis history books. He is considered as one of the legends and the peg in defensive style of Table Tennis.
Joo is using his Butterfly Joo Saehyuk FL blade with Tenergy 64 red 2.1 mm