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Lee Deok-hee becomes first deaf tennis player to win an ATP match

Lee Deok-hee becomes first deaf tennis player to win an ATP match

Posted August. 21, 2019 09:36,   

Updated August. 21, 2019 09:36


South Korea tennis player Lee Deok-hee got his first win at the ATP Tour, overcoming his hearing disability. Lee has become the first hearing-impaired player to win on the ATP Tour.

Lee, who is ranked 212th in the men’s tennis rankings, beat Henri Laaksonen of Switzerland 2-0 with his nine serve aces in the first round of the Winston-Salem Open held in North Carolina, the U.S. on Monday. Before this tournament, Lee got eliminated in the knockout stages in five ATP tournaments. Accompanied by his fiancée Jeon Su-bin this time, Lee, who was on a standby, was allowed to compete in the main draw match, filling a vacant position.

“I can’t believe I got a win at an ATP tournament. People made fun of me for my disability. They told me I shouldn’t be playing, but I wanted to show everyone that I could do this,” said Lee. ““My message for people who are hearing impaired is to not be discouraged. If you try hard, you can do anything.”  

Despite his disability, the 21-year-old South Korean was known as a tennis phenom as a child. He joined the Seoul Metropolitan Office professional team after graduating Mapo High School. He was ranked 130th in 2017 at the age of 19. He became the youngest Korean tennis player to win an International Tennis Federation (ITF) Futures Tour at the age of 16 years and one month.

The ATP Tour posted the news of Lee’s victory on the front page of its website. The BBC also covered Lee’s first victory. After his story was featured by major news outlets, Rafael Nadal of Spain and Novak Djokovic of Serbia encouraged Lee by inviting him as their training partner. British tennis player Andy Murray said that if you cannot hear the sound of the shot, it is difficult to pick up the speed of the ball. “It’s obviously a huge disadvantage, so to be able to do what he’s doing is a huge effort,” Murray added.

Lee will play against No. 3 seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland in the next round.

Bae-Jung Kim wanted@donga.com