Lee Duck-Hee, an inspiration on the court and in life

By Jude Toyat
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‘NEVER JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER.’ This saying is totally true when it comes to South Korean tennis player, Lee Duck-Hee, a top seed quickly climbing the ranks. As of March this year, he ranked number 6 in the junior category in the International Tennis Federation (ITF).

Just by looking at his impressive resume, you would never guess that he actually has a hearing impairment.

Lee Duck Hee

Lee Duck Hee

Lee, 16, born in Jechon City in central South Korea, has been deaf from birth and first came to the world’s attention when Rafael Nadal tweeted about him to his 4.6 million Twitter followers after Lee earned his first ATP ranking point in April 2013.

This right-hander has won a series of junior titles and he is the Asian junior champion claiming his first senior title in May 2013 where he won five singles matches to collect the Epitok-Abris Cup in Budapest.

He won the Under-12 title at the Eddie Herr International Junior Tennis Championship held in Florida in December 2010, which is considered as one of the world’s leading junior tournaments, and proceeded to qualify in his first Grand Slam event in Australia. Lee also made his debut at Wimbledon in the boy’s events in June 2013.

He has always dreamt of a life at the top of the tennis world ever since he was 9 years old, and his unusual story has caught the heart and attention of world’s top professional tennis players Nadal and Roger Federer.

In tennis where players rely on the combination of sights and sounds to be able to strategise their game, especially on trajectories and shots that players have to play, Lee’s disability is considered by many as a great disadvantage. Nevertheless, Lee does not see it as a hindrance on the court and he refuses to make such a big issue of his deafness.

Lee’s involvement in tennis has encouraged many to play the game, sending a positive message to the younger generations around the world that his progress in tennis despite his deafness has made his achievements beyond remarkable.

Lee holding his trophy after his win over Australia’s Harry Boulter

Lee holding his trophy after his win over Australia’s Harry Boulter

Through lip-reading, then speaking through an interpreter, Lee told the Borneo Post SEEDS at Civic Centre Tennis Court in Petra Jaya, Kuching on Mar 16 that he is amazed by the fact that his hearing impairment had captured the attention of many. According to his coach Hyung Jun Yoon, Lee understands English but cannot  pronounce the words clearly.

He added that the people of Korea love him and always encourage him to be actively involved in tennis despite his inability to communicate with his supporters and people around the world.

“Communication between players and coaches is simple because the players know what they should do according to what they are told and what is important for me is that tennis should be considered as a healthy and positive activity for him to do, not a pressure on him to win the games. However, I am mostly happy that he has achieved more than what I have expected,” Yoon said.

Lee said that he first became interested in playing tennis initially after watching Federer playing it on television. Thereafter, he was inspired to play and with strong encouragement from his uncle who is also a tennis player and regards tennis as part of his life, Lee started taking tennis seriously.

Lee won the boys singles finals of the 23rd Sarawak Chief Minister’s Cup (I) ITF Junior Tennis Championship (Grade 1) here at SLTA Tennis Centre on March 16 defeating the second seeded player from Australia Harry Boulter 6-3, 7-6(1).

Lee states that he has overcome his disability and that he always follows his instinct when playing tennis. He can gauge his opponent’s reactions by sight and predict where the ball may go accordingly. As the years pass, he knows that his instinct will improve.

Lee in action during his match with Harry.

Lee in action during his match with Harry.

Although he cannot hear the umpire or line judge’s announcements and is often unsure if a ball has been called out, he does not view his deafness as a handicap.

Although he cannot hear his fans cheering him on, he claims that not hearing anything made it easier for him to concentrate without distractions and win the game.

He received his golden opportunity to play tennis with his tennis idols Nadal and Federer when he was invited to an exhibition match in Seoul in 2006 where he also got his chance to practice with them.

Lee was the first Korean player to appear in a TV documentary on Wimbledon, appearing alongside top names in tennis including Nadal, Federer, and Novak Djokovic, where he had the opportunity to talk about his dedication in tennis despite his physical disability.

When asked about his proudest achievements in tennis, he replied: “My greatest achievement was when I won the India ITF 1 (Grade 3) Junior Tennis Tournament in Chandigarh on March 2013 as well as being runner-up in the India Futures Games also held the same year.”

Lee, who dreams of achieving glory in the Grand Slam, has his sights set on being the world No.1 in tennis. With the continuous competitive spirit and inspirations flowing from many great tennis players such as Nadal and Federer, this South Korean tennis player might succeed in realising his dream of making a big noise in the world of tennis.

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