What’s the value of one match win at the World Championships?
Ask Howard Shu.
The USA player debuted at the 2013 World Championships, a decade ago. In the five previous World Championships that he played before the 2023 edition, Shu fell at the opening hurdle.
Today, in his tenth year of the Worlds and possibly his last, the world No.104 finally experienced that difference between victory and defeat. It was a matter of just two points in the end as Shu held off Anuoluwapo Juwon Opeyori at the end of a gruelling 66-minute encounter, 21-18 13-21 21-19.
“So many thoughts going through my head,” said Shu.
“Obviously, during an Olympic year, it’s really, really important. So first and foremost, very happy and excited that I was able to come through in the third.
“I think I showed a little emotion on the court. But I will soak it all in. I know it’s far and few with these opportunities, there are so many great players. And so to have an opportunity to finally get a win, I’m just so happy.”
For those at the top of the rankings, victories in the early rounds are almost taken for granted. For Shu, the rarity of the win has made it all the more valuable.
“I’ve been playing for quite some time now,” says Shu. “And so to finally get one, it’s not something that I expected. I came into this World Championships expecting to play a tough player. When I saw the draw and a great opportunity, I didn’t want to give myself too much pressure. I didn’t want to think about winning quite yet. I wanted to visualize the opportunity… but I will soak it all in afterwards.
“I was battling some injuries. I went for a couple tournaments of losing very close matches. To break that momentum, taking aside that it’s at the Worlds, and finally win a close match, I have so much emotion that I let out on that last point.”
Shu had eased off the circuit after the Rio 2016 Olympics, playing events mainly in the US, before returning to the circuit in 2019. Aware that he hasn’t much time left as a competitive player, and with a job as IT consultant, Shu’s perspective on the game has changed – he’s able to enjoy the game much more, compared to earlier, when “there wasn’t enough time to mope around” with a full-time job to attend to.
Given that he’s in the evening of his career, Shu wonders at his first win coming now, when he’s been battling injuries, rather than when he was younger and fitter.
“I mean, it’s weird thinking about it now, to have never won one… I want to soak it in so much more because this is my last 12 months of playing. I will retire after this (Olympic) cycle. It’s funny that for me, I feel still I’m playing at okay level, but I would have thought that the win would have come earlier in my career than so far in the end of my career.”