Hearing impairment no hindrance for Lee

South Korea's Duckhee Lee was born deaf but that hasn't stopped him from adjusting to the tough grind of professional tennis.

Duckhee Lee’s best performance was when he reached the final of the Kaohsiung ATP Challenger in 2016, losing to country-mate Hyeon Chung   -  K. Keerthivasan

Sitting at the Players’ Lounge of the SDAT-Nungambakkam Stadium here on Saturday for the Chennai Open Challenger beginning on Monday, along with his girlfriend, Duckhee Lee presents a picture of calm.

His girlfriend giggles at Lee, after indulging in a banter in Korean. Neither of them know English. However, not knowing the language may be a minor issue for the South Korean player, for he has overcome far bigger ones. Like being an up-and-coming professional tennis player while being completely deaf.

Trained early by his mother — he was diagnosed as being deaf at six years of age — to understand lip reading, Lee has largely been able to adjust to the tough grind of big-time tennis and communicate with the officials and players in his own way even as he goes about his attacking style of play.

When he was a junior, recalled his agent Lee Gi Cheol through phone, he went on to lose in the semifinals of the Majors four years ago due to lack of experience.

“That”, Cheol said, was an eye-opener for Lee. To sum it up, Cheol says the 19-year-old has developed an “animal instinct and the ability to think fast” that has helped him stay competitive.

Lee’s best performance was when he reached the final of the Kaohsiung ATP Challenger in 2016, losing to country-mate Hyeon Chung.  On Chung, who became the first South Korean to enter the semifinals of a Grand Slam  — the 2018 Australian Open — Lee said he has known Chung from the elementary school. “I am trying to play catch-up now,” said Lee, ranked 207 in the world.

Lee said he is young, has a lot of opportunities to learn and travel to gauge his strengths. His aim is to get back to his best-ever ranking of 130 he achieved in last year. “I want to do well in Majors sooner than later,” he said.

Putting things in perspective, Scott Ray, ATP Supervisor told Sportstar, “It’s a good challenge to officiate Lee’s match. He doesn’t want to be treated any differently. The officials [chair umpires] will have to change the manner they communicate in order to maintain the same levels of fairness that all [other] players are entitled to,” Ray said.