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Deaf Korean aims to make Australian Open

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MELBOURNE — Young tennis player Lee Duck-hee is on the verge of reaching the Australian Open main draw for the first time.

There’s just one thing which distinguishes Lee, 18, from his opponents — he has been completely deaf since birth.

That has not held back the Korean, who has shot through the tennis ranks.

He has defied expectations to go from outside the top 1,500 three years ago to just outside the top 100.

In an interview with Australia’s Fox Sports, he said his disability made him no different than his opponents.

“Even though I’m the highest-ranked ever deaf player, I don’t care much about it,” he said.

The experience

Surprisingly, Lee said being deaf presents some advantages when playing.

Pundits debate sound in tennis is important to judge the trajectory and spin of the ball coming off the racquet. Lee argues he can focus purely on an opponent’s movement.

“I observe the opponent’s movement until the last moment,” Lee said

“I can only concentrate on the game since I can’t hear any noises. So I don’t agree that (it will limit my potential). It doesn’t influence my performance.

“I’ve never heard the strike sound, but fortunately my visual acuity is fast enough to chase the balls,” he said.

Not without challenges

Deafness still has its obstacles — namely recognising the “let” call and communicating with the umpire.

“There is no standard sign or gesture for the player,” Lee said.

Remarkable start

He is on the cusp of booking his grand slam debut at the Australian Open.

The teenager kicked off qualifying with a remarkable comeback against Argentine fifth seed Nicolas Kicker in Melbourne on Wednesday to win 5-7 7-5 6-1. — Various