For Duckhee Lee, tennis is an outlet that lets him talk on equal terms or in his words, is “the best opportunity to survive in a normal society.”
Realizing he was deaf at six, Lee has not let his differences stop him from pursuing a tennis career. His mother, Mi-Ja Park, instilled in her son to read lips as a primary form of communication. Lee admits he’s had his fair share of challenges, particularly with understanding umpires on court or hearing the score. He is extremely reliant on eye-sight and movement to make up for an inability to hear the ball off his opponent’s racquet.
Having turned pro at 15, Lee achieved his best ATP singles ranking of No. 130 just three years later in April of 2017. He’s come agonizingly close to competing in the main draws of Grand Slam events, falling at the final hurdle on three occasions—and even held two match points at Roland Garros last year before succumbing to Jaume Minar.
Though the South Korean has found mixed success on the ATP Challenger Tour and endured a drop in the rankings, Lee’s determination led to a major milestone on Monday at the Winston-Salem Open: becoming the first player to notch a main draw victory at an ATP tournament. The 21-year-old was forced to wait a little longer than anticipated after getting within two points of closing out Henri Laaksonen.
Lee opened up a 7-6 (4), 5-1, 30-15 lead when a rain storm came crashing down. When the two took the court to resume roughly five hours later around 10:15pm local time, Lee had no problem finishing the job at hand to clinch the landmark win.
Currently ranked No. 212, Lee will look to post his best career victory when he faces world No. 40 Hubert Hurkacz, the No. 3 seed, in the second round. Lee previously defeated No. 98 Yuichi Sugita in the 2016 Kaohsiung Challenger semifinals and Taylor Fritz, then No. 99, in the first round of the 2017 Ningbo Challenger.