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 yesterday, 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.”
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. 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.”