Have you ever heard of tennis players with hearing disabilities? Even if you are a fan of this captivating sport, the chances that you have heard of such a person are pretty slim, as no deaf tennis players had achieved such high success on a professional level until Lee Duck-Hee made his mark on the court. On November 21st, 2016, he officially earned a global ranking of 143rd in the world, competing against top tennis players who have no major hearing problems. His determination, successes, and aspirations inspires many, as he attempts to leave an impressive final legacy.
Lee Duck-Hee was born in Jecheon, South Korea in 1998. To be specific, he was born deaf, only able to hear vibrations. Park Mi-Ja, his mother, wanted her son to be independent enough to support himself in real life, so she taught him to speak and read lips so he could communicate without depending on sign language. His parents knew Lee would not be able to obtain a secure job, so they turned to sports as a career. When he was seven years old, Lee found his true passion while watching one of his cousins play tennis, and when he got the chance on the court, he demonstrated immense talent for the sport.
However, despite his amazing ability, numerous coaches rejected the opportunity to train him because they believed he only possessed the ability to play junior level tennis. Renowned players all reveal that fast reactions to the incoming ball depends on the sense of hearing, the swing, and the bounce; therefore, few saw Lee’s potential to advance his tennis career as opponents became more competitive.
Despite others’ doubts, through persistent practice, Lee’s consistent victories during tournaments in South Korea amazed the audience and tennis coaches. He learned to predict the kind of shots his opponent would make along with the location and speed of the ball all by observing his opponents’ swings. With the help from his high school and current coach, Chung Hyo Woo, Lee have claimed ten titles in the International Tennis Federation Junior Circuit (ITFJC), of which he placed No. 3 overall in the rankings competing with global tennis players under the age of 18. Entering the professional level at age 14, Lee continues to improve and move up in the ranks: in 2013, he was ranked above 1500th, and now raced up the charts to 143rd worldwide. Recently this year, he won tournaments in Japan and China, and competed in the ATP Challenger Tour (the second highest level of professional tennis), gaining points for draws into the ATP World Tour (the highest level).
Through hard work, Lee Duck-Hee has already achieved what no other deaf tennis player has done previously. But, he still has more ambitions: Lee is aspiring to become the best tennis player in the history of South Korea and eventually move up the ranks to become No. 1 in the world.