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South Korea's Duckhee Lee has his sights set on a maiden ATP Challenger Tour title this season.

Teenager Lee Juggles Tour Transition

South Korea's hearing-impaired NextGenATP player on steep learning curve

The step up for a former top junior prospect is fraught with hurdles even at the best of times. Form, fitness and finding yourself – let alone the right coaching mix – is all part of the juggling act as a teenager about to take on the world. 

For former junior World No. 3, Duckhee Lee, this is only compounded having been born deaf. The #NextGenATP Korean can hear vibrations, but must rely on hand gestures from the umpire and line judges. 

Coached by Woo Chunghyo, Lee rose as high as No. 130 in the Emirates ATP Rankings in April. It has been a tough few months since, however, with the 19 year old falling to his current mark of World No. 171. 

“Last year I start to play in the Challengers, but I feel it was too tough for me,” Lee said this week from the Jinan Challenger event in China, where he fell in the quarter-finals to former World No. 50 Ricardas Berankis. “This year is getting better, but I still have lots to improve. I still get nervous before a big match. So my results aren’t too sharp this year because it’s also my first full Challenger year.” 

The teenager said he felt he was beginning to turn his season around. But the jump up, even from Futures to the ATP Challenger Tour, was a steep learning curve. 

“I feel in Futures, even if I lose first round it doesn’t matter. I believe I can get good results in the next tournament,” Lee said. “But in Challengers, I will meet lots of players ranked higher than me. So it’s not easy to keep my performance at a steady level. That’s something I need to work on.”

Last month, he reached the quarter-finals of the Presidents Cup Challenger event in Astana, Kazakhstan before falling to Bosnian Aldin Setkic. His two match wins there snapped a six-match losing streak.

Last week, he fell in the opening round in Chengdu to Zhe Li, a Chinese player ranked No. 288. The answer to his early exit in China, however, may be simpler than you’d think.

“I play lots of Challengers in China,” Lee said. “I was not comfortable with Chinese food, but now I am getting better, especially the soup noodles.” 

Lee is the first to admit it is all part of growing as he builds towards his goal of cracking the Top 100. His main goal for now is to land a breakthrough Challenger title.

“If I can get a title, I will try to play more qualifying in ATP World Tour tournaments,” he said. “I am working a lot with my serve and forehand, especially the serve. That’s the key for the men’s game.”

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