When Duckhee Lee won his first career match Monday at the Winston-Salem Open, the roar of the crowd after the final point likely meant very little to him.
That's because Lee, 21, is deaf. Remarkably, Lee — a South Korea native — became the first deaf player to win an ATP Tour main draw match. He defeated Henri Laaksonen 7-6 (4), 6-1.
"People made fun of me for my disability. They told me I shouldn’t be playing," Lee said after the match, per the ATP. "It was definitely difficult, but my friends and family helped me get through. I wanted to show everyone that I could do this.
"My message for people who are hearing impaired is to not be discouraged. If you try hard, you can do anything."
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Tennis player Duckhee Lee, of South Korea, poses following his tennis match, Monday, Aug. 19, 2019, at the Winston-Salem Open in Winston-Salem, N.C. Lee became the first deaf professional to play in an ATP-level tennis tournament. (Photo: Joedy McCreary, AP)
Making history ☺️??
South Korea’s Duckhee Lee is the first-ever deaf @ATP_Tour player – and picked up his first ATP win in Winston-Salem
Former opponent Tennys Sandgren recalled a moment from a few years ago to demonstrate Lee's determination. Lee had just lost to Sandgren, but still pulled up Google Translate to type out a question to Sandgren: "What are my weaknesses?"
Tennis is an audible sport. The sound of the racket connecting with the ball can tip off the receiving player to the shot's spin, velocity or direction. Lee does not have that advantage. On Monday, a scoring discrepancy led to a brief stoppage in play when a scoreboard error caused Lee to pause before the umpire realized what was happening.
Even more of a challenge for Lee is that he does not use sign language; he was taught to read lips in Korean at a young age. The English questions in his post-match interview on Monday had to be translated by a tournament volunteer from to Korean for his fiancee, who then relayed the questions to Lee. He gave his answers to his fiancee, which she gave to the translator who then told the press.
On Tuesday, Lee took the first set from third-seed Hubert Hurkacz, but ultimately fell in three sets 6-4, 0-6, 3-6.
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