Deafness no problem for rising star Lee

MELBOURNE – Korean youngster Lee Duck-hee dreams of life at the top of the tennis world. It is a dream shared by elite junior players the world over, but what makes Lee different is that he is deaf.

In a sport in which players lean heavily on their hearing to calibrate their timing, gauge levels of spin and power and feed off the support of the crowd, Lee’s disadvantage is greater than might first be suspected.

But the 14-year-old who has been deaf from birth refuses to make a big deal of his disability.

Lip-reading, then speaking through an interpreter, Lee told reporters at the Australian Open that, in fact, he would rather not even mention his deafness to opponents or officials.

“The one thing that’s difficult is the communication with the umpires, both chair umpires and linesmen,” he said. “I don’t hear the calls, especially the out calls, so sometimes … just continue. That’s kind of difficult but it’s nothing special.”

It happened a number of times during Lee’s second-round clash with Chile’s Christian Garin in the junior event on Monday, a match Lee eventually lost 6-3 6-3.

“I do worry about that because today it happened a lot of times,” said Lee, who gets round his deafness in doubles by lip-reading his partner.

“The chair umpire already called ‘wait’ but I couldn’t hear that, so there were a lot of lets. I wanted to see big (gestures) from the umpire during the match.”

According to the Australian Open, officials received no specific direction before the match to let them know Lee is deaf but on a number of occasions, umpire Thomas Sweeney used his hands to communicate.

For most players, hearing the sound their opponent’s racket makes when they strike the ball is crucial to judging how hard it will be and how to react to the spin.

LOFTY GOALS

Lee copes well, however, and said that if anything, not hearing anything from the crowd makes life easier on court.

“Actually I don’t care about my disability at any time, and on the court it’s easy to focus on my match because I can’t hear anything,” he said. “So it’s more convenient to play.”

Lee has already proven that he may have what it takes to succeed against the odds, having won the Eddie Herr International, a top under-12 title held each year in Miami.

In Melbourne, he qualified for his first grand slam event and though he was beaten in the second round on Monday, he said he was determined to return.

“I am really happy to be here for the first time,” he said. “It’s a really good opportunity to judge my ability against other players in the world. I am really happy and hope to be here next year again.”

Lee’s coach, Hoon Park-kyung, said the pair have a special relationship because of the disability.

“Communication between players and coaches in Korea is usually quite simple because the players think that they should obey what they are told,” Hoon said.

“I just wanted us to play together, not just teach him, but say small things and if there are any difficulties, say everything (that needs saying). That’s the priority.”

At 14, Lee is an outstanding prospect and his ambition is to finish in the top 10 in juniors by the end of this year.

In the longer term, he wants to be world No 1.

“I actually played with (Roger) Federer,” Lee said, pulling out a photo on his phone of him at an exhibition in Korea, aged eight, sandwiched between Federer and Rafael Nadal.

“Actually, yesterday Federer passed by in the hall and he didn’t recognize me. I was very disappointed. I really wanted to take a picture with him. Maybe I can in the future.”

(Editing by Ossian Shine)

Read more :
  • Maria Sharpova returns to world no. 1
    Maria Sharapova has returned to the summit of the women's tennis rankings following her French Open win on Saturday. The ranking completes a remarkable comeback for the Russian, who last s...
  • PH junior chess team bags 5 medals in Iran meet
    The national junior chess team bagged two gold, one silver and two bronze medals in the 2013 Asian Youth Chess Championship held in Sari, Iran. International Master (IM) Jan Emmanuel Garci...
  • Cuello challenges Zhong for WBC belt
    Denver “The Excitement” Cuello CONTRIBUTED PHOTO FILIPINO pug Denver “The Excitement” Cuello will challenge World Boxing Council (WBC) minimum weight champion Xiong Zhao Zhong of China on ...
  • Biado finishes fourth in Ultimate 10-Ball
    Unheralded Carlo Biado finished fourth overall in the Ultimate 10-Ball Championships held at the Harrah’s Resort in Tunica, Mississippi. Biado ousted compatriot Alex Pagulayan in their do-...
  • Rio Ferdinand withdraws from England squad
    Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand has pulled out of the England squad for the World Cup qualifiers with San Marino and Montenegro, national team coach Roy Hodgson announced on Monday...
  • Churchill Brothers fail to script win against Salgaocar
    Churchill Brothers Sports Club's lead at the top of the table is now three points but the title favourites will ponder on missed opportunities as they were forced to settle for a goalless d...
  • 2014 World Cup Qualifying: England held by dogged Montenegro
    Montenegro produced a rousing second-half display to earn a 1-1 draw at home to England on Tuesday that enabled them to preserve a two-point lead in their World Cup qualifying group. Wayne...
  • Bibat fends off rivals, nails maiden win
    Michael Bibat ended a five-year long search for a breakthrough victory, fending off a slew of rivals in a wild, woolly finale to nail the ICTSI Rancho Palos Verdes crown with a two-under 69...