WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Duckhee Lee threw the ball in the air for his first serve in an ATP tournament match and shot him past his opponent with a loud bang.
The 21-year-old South Korean never heard. He was born deaf.
The first deaf professional player of the tour says that he does not want to be determined by the handicap he has overcome well enough to play at the highest level of the sport.
His first appearance in a top-level tournament will last at least until the second round. Lee beat Henri Laaksonen of Switzerland 7-6 (4), 6-1 in the first round of the Winston-Salem Open on Monday and earned a matchup with number 3 seed Hubert Hurkacz from Poland.
However much the victory in the opening round meant for Lee and his career, it might have meant even more for hearing impaired athletes in all sports.
"Don't be discouraged and if you do your best, you can do anything, you can achieve anything you want," Lee said through an interpreter, adding that he "doesn't want people to get discouraged and complain about their disability."
The ability to hear is of particular importance in tennis. Players often stand still during points so that they can hear the ball from their opponent's strings and identify the twist in a fraction of a second.
"I'll never know what it's like to compete like that," said Andy Murray. "But he is clearly doing exceptionally well. So it is clearly an incredible achievement.
"I know how important hearing is in tennis," he added. "To read the spins and see what it is like if I would play with headphones, it is incredibly difficult to pick up the speed of the ball, the spider coming. We use our ears a lot to put things on "
Lee is doing well with his eyes, sharpening his focus on his opponent's swing, how that player makes contact, and the speed and rotation of the ball as he races towards him.
He makes matters even more complicated, he also does not speak English and reads lips instead of sign language. He relies on hand gestures from referees calling.
Not being able to hear the score announcements, he keeps track of points and competitions in his head – which can be more difficult in smaller events without job boards. Early in his debut in the main table, it led to a hiccup when he stood in line to serve after a game was decided.
"I think (the referee) forgot to give the signal" sometimes during the game, he said, adding that he "hoped he would give signals."
The debut in Winston-Salem is the next step on the tennis ladder for Lee, who started playing tennis at 7 o'clock – the year after he realized he was deaf, although doctors had determined his condition as a toddler.
"People joked about (me) because of the disability and said that (I) shouldn't play," Lee said, adding that his motivation was to "enjoy (my) life by overcoming my disability."
Lee debuted on the ITF Futures Tour at 14 and won eight titles before turning 18, then reached three finals of the ATP Challenger Tour, including one in June, who fell to Dudi Sela at the Baptist Health Little Rock Open in Arkansas. He brought a number 212 world ranking to the central hard courts in North Carolina.
He will always remember his first ATP level win this week – and not just because of the result. Lee was two points away from sealing the win when thunderstorms forced a weather delay of nearly 5 hours. He and Laaksonen returned to the court at approximately 10:15 am. – and ended their match in 87 seconds.
When asked how he spent the delay, Lee came to the point of imitating pantomime, someone playing table tennis and shooting basketball, because there was both a ping-pong table and a pop-a-shot machine in the player lounge.
He smiled when his translator said how & # 39; he likes the facility here & # 39 ;.
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