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2019 Winston-Salem Open: Duckhee Lee becomes first deaf player to win ATP main draw match


Duckhee Lee
Duckhee Lee

Duckhee Lee beat Henri Laaksonen of Switzerland in the first round of the 2019 Winston-Salem Open to become the first deaf player to win a main draw match on the ATP Tour.

Congratulatory messages for the South Korean poured in from his fellow players after he reached the milestone.

Tennys Sandgren, who played a Challenger match against Lee few years ago, opined, "You learn so much about how your opponent hits the ball based on the sound of the shot. If you can’t hear it… You have to have insane skill and insane talent.”

Fellow pro Andy Murray, who played at the ATP 250 event in Winston-Salem said, “If I was to play with headphones on, it’s unbelievably difficult to pick up the speed of the ball, the spin that’s coming off the racquet… We use our ears a lot to pick things up.”

Lee was born deaf but doesn't rely on sign language to communicate. He can pick up vibrations but not words and was made to learn to lip read in Korean by his mother.

The South Korean is a two-time runner-up on the ATP Challenger Tour, with his most recent appearance at that level being a defeat to Dudi Sela in the final of Little Rock, US. Lee has thrice lost in the third qualifying round of Grand Slam tournaments (2017-18 Australian Open and 2018 French Open).

Lee now awaits Poland's third seed Hubert Hurkacz in the second round of the Winston-Salem Open following his landmark first round win over Laaksonen.

Lee, who speaks little English and often uses an interpreter to communicate in the language, talked about his first win on the ATP Tour. “My message for people who are hearing impaired is to not be discouraged. If you try hard, you can do anything," he said.

Indeed, as is so often true in life itself, no disability, shortcoming or obstacle is big enough if one tries one's hardest.

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