LONDON: Rafael Nadal draws inspiration from Lee Duck-Hee, a 15-year-old tennis junior who is completely deaf but does not see it as a hindrance on court—except that he will never hear anyone cheering him on.
The South Korean, making his debut at Wimbledon in the boys’ events, was born deaf and however far his career takes him, his achievements will always be played out in silence.
His unusual story has already caught the attention of Grand Slam greats Nadal and Roger Federer, who have been aware of his exploits from an early age.
Painstakingly conversing through lip-reading with his father, some writing in Korean, and then into English through his agent, Lee said he relies on instinct to compensate for being unable to hear his opponent striking the ball.
On court, he cannot hear the line calls nor the umpire, how loudly the ball comes off the racquet or the grunt of his opponents when they hit the ball, but does not view it as a handicap.
“When I play tennis, my hearing doesn’t give me any difficulty. No problems at all,” he told Agence France Presse.
“If I was to hear, I want to hear the fans cheering.
“I feel—by my body, I’ve got the instinct—the reaction of the opponent. So I already think he’s going to hit harder or slower, even though I don’t hear it, though actually through my eyes I’ve got the instinct and can get the sound of the opponent.
“From now on, I’ve got to build up that instinct, so I’ll do it. No problem that the opponents makes whatever sound, whatever body language he does I don’t really care about it.
“Because I cannot hear, I have already overcome this disability so as far as I’m concerned it doesn’t matter at all. I’m growing up and that instinct will grow.”
From Jaechon in central South Korea, the right-hander has already won a series of junior titles and has his sights set on Grand Slam glory one day.