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Monday, June 25, 2018

What's special about South Korean Lee Duck-hee, aiming to play at Wimbledon

At Old Trafford, Manchester,  Jos Buttler gave Australia one last nightmare to take home from an abject ODI tour of England as the hosts squeaked to a victory that gave them a first-ever 5-0 sweep of a series between the two nations. That they did so was largely due to Buttler, in the first innings of his ODI career to traverse more than 100 balls. Billy Stanlake's pace and hostility had reduced England to 50 for 5 in pursuit of 206 and they were no further than 114 at the fall of the eighth wicket.  Moving away from Cricket -   
                                                 Come July ~ Wimbledon, the grandslam – the exploits of Bjorn Borg and the ever unfinished agenda of exceptionally talented ice-cool (those days Dhoni) – Ivan Lendl would haunt me !!  - you are bound to clap for this player by the time you finish reading this post !!!

Wimbledon - is a district of southwest London, England, 7.1 miles (11.4 km) south-west of the centre of London.  It is home to the Wimbledon Tennis Championships and New Wimbledon Theatre, and contains Wimbledon Common, one of the largest areas of common land in London along with a Wimbledon Tennis Club. The residential and retail area is split into two sections known as the "village" and the "town", having first developed gradually after the building of the railway station in 1838.  Wimbledon has been inhabited since at least the Iron Age. 

The Grandslam event is week away and prior is the - Wimbledon Qualifying 2018 at Bank of England Sports Centre, Roehampton.    Imagine the "thwack" of the racquet hitting the ball, the line judge calling "out", the umpire declaring "deuce" and the crowd clapping and cheering. And now imagine being a professional tennis player and not hearing any of it.

~ and that’s what BBC writes about -  the reality for South Korean player Lee Duck-hee, who is deaf and is hoping to qualify for the main draw at next week's Wimbledon. "I'm very proud of myself as being the only deaf professional tennis player in the world at the moment," the 20-year-old told BBC Sport. "I feel huge responsibility that my every step as a tennis player will influence other deaf people. I hope my career could give them a hopeful message that they could also overcome their disability and make their dream come true."

Lee, who observes the way opponents swing for the ball as a way of reading the game and whose matches have been thrown off course because he has been confused by officials' hand signals, reached a career-high ranking of 130 in April 2017.  Now ranked 233, he has come agonisingly close to Grand Slam main draws, reaching the final round of qualifying at the French Open last month where he had two match points before losing in a third set tie-break. This week he takes part in the Wimbledon qualifying event at Roehampton, where he begins his campaign on Monday against Hungary's Attila Balazs and needs to win three matches to reach the tournament at the All England Club.

Lee, who was here at the 2014 US Open junior event, made his debut on the professional ITF Futures Tour at the age of 14.  From the moment he picked up a racquet at the age of seven because he had seen his cousin playing, Lee sought inventive ways to read the game he could not hear. He has said in the past that he was told he could never be a great player because he was deaf and that he sometimes felt like quitting but also wanted to prove the doubters wrong.

"I focus on watching and expecting the opponent's swing and movement, which needs very intensive concentration of my eyes and fast decision-making for the next move," he said. "I try to watch other players' matches on websites as much as possible when I have spare time - I need image training because it gives better understanding than giving me verbal coaching." Lee has not learnt sign language, so lip reads officials or looks at their hand signals - with often confusing and frustrating results. "Sometimes, I could not recognise whether it is 'let' or not because I cannot hear the sound from the net or the chair umpire's call, which leads to me missing the first serve," he said.

"I rely on umpires' hand signals, but they also sometimes give me a hard time when their hand signals differ from country to country, which often has influence on the match results. "I could communicate simple English through lip-reading with other players. However, it is impossible for me to communicate with ATP officials and referees when there is need for long conversation."

In the case of this interview to BBC Sport, he  provided written responses through a translator. Playing in front of a partisan crowd, there could be times when a player would really rather not hear the boos. "I think blocking out all potential distractions can be an advantage," said tennis coach Judy Murray, mum of two-time Wimbledon champion Andy. "It is possible playing an opponent who has a disability can be a distraction," said Murray. She has coached deaf players in the past and says it required her to take different approach. "One of the biggest things I learned was to not shout instructions whether they were looking at me or if they had their back to me," said Murray, who was speaking as part of UK Coaching's Coaching Week earlier this month.

Match officials also need to adapt when making the calls. "Deaf players are constantly looking at the umpire for scores and constantly checking the scoreboard," line judge David Bayliss told BBC Sport. "But there are problems, if you have a net on serve they don't always hear it and the umpire has to try and stop the rally. "And of course the player is focused, they are still watching the ball and still playing that point."

Will Lee ever achieve his Grand Slam dream is the Q ?  Lee says he has three "short-term" goals - breaking into the top 100, winning a Challenger title, and gaining direct entry to the main draws of ATP and Grand Slam tournaments.  He strongly believes that a day when he would become a champion of a major tournament  would come and his skills would improve.  He says his greatest achievement so far was reaching the final of the Kaohsiung Challenger in 2016, where he lost to Chung Hyeon - who reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open this year and is ranked 20th in the world.  He  dreams of one day playing against former world number ones Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal, who has praised him for his "strong determination and mental toughness".

The 2018 Wimbledon Championships will commence on Monday 2 July 2018 and is due to finish on Sunday 15 July 2018.  The  132nd  edition of The Championships, the 125th  staging of the Ladies’ Singles Championship event, the 51st in the Open Era and the third Grand Slam tournament of the year. Roger Federer is the defending champion in the Gentlemen's singles and has won the event eight times in his career. Garbiñe Muguruza is the defending champion in the Ladies' singles.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
25th June 2018.

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