January 10, 2003
THE MODERATOR: We'll direct the questions to Coach Hee June Choi, and he'll interpret for us.
Q. Could you please ask Mr. Lee, what did he think his chances were of playing three qualifying matches, and suddenly he's in a final for the second time in his career?
HYUNG-TAIK LEE: He came from Doha after about a 16-hour flight. We arrived on Friday night. He played 10 in the morning the following day, Saturday morning. He didn't think that much, he was just happy to win a first match. Then he found out later that he had to play another match that afternoon, that was another three-setter. So he just took one match at a time. As far as his chances of being in the final...
Q. Never in his wildest dreams?
HYUNG-TAIK LEE: No, no.
Q. Was he disappointed not to get a chance to play against Marat Safin?
HYUNG-TAIK LEE: Actually, to be truthful, he says he is very grateful because he got the one-day rest. He was able to play with 100 percent today.
Q. He played a very good match against Pete Sampras at the US Open in 2000. What has taken him so long to get back to that kind of level? What has improved in his level?
HYUNG-TAIK LEE: He played him in Tashkent as well. But US Open?
HYUNG-TAIK LEE: Because he was able to play Pete in the big stadium in Flushing Meadows, without being nervous or anything, that gave him a lot of confidence. Ever since then, whoever he played, he never got nervous because he was able to return a big serve from Pete and all that. So it helped him a lot.
Q. Does he regard tomorrow as his greatest-ever achievement in tennis?
HYUNG-TAIK LEE: Being in the finals, you mean?
HYUNG-TAIK LEE: As far as the size of the tournament -- well, he was in the finals in Houston. It's the same size, the prize money is the same, but the caliber of the players is totally different. So, yes, it is the biggest achievement so far.
Q. Could you ask him his opinion about Juan Carlos Ferrero, his opponent tomorrow.
HYUNG-TAIK LEE: He played Juan Carlos two years ago in Sydney Olympics and lost to him. He had two matchpoints against Juan Carlos. He is very happy to be in the finals, and we don't really know. No one knows. That's the fun aspect about sports - you don't know until you go out on the court and play. It's yet to be seen, he says.
Q. Is he looking forward to playing him tomorrow?
HYUNG-TAIK LEE: He's been taking one match at a time, so he says it's just the same.
Q. Was it a big thrill for him to represent Korea at the Olympic Games? Was that more important to him than winning a tournament on the tour?
HYUNG-TAIK LEE: He says it's different because it gave him a lot of pride for the Davis Cup, as well as the Olympics. But last couple of years, last three, four years or so, he's been playing tour events. It's different feeling, yeah, he says.
Q. How would he describe himself as a player? What, in his opinion, are his best weapons?
HYUNG-TAIK LEE: Ground strokes. Mostly ground strokes, feet, mental part as well. Those are the strengths.
Q. What will he be looking to do better this time than at the Olympics when he had two matchpoints? Where does he think he'll have to improve on that performance to win?
HYUNG-TAIK LEE: He wants to win (smiling). That's the only thing he says.
Q. Did he freeze, choke, when he had two matchpoints against Ferrero?
HYUNG-TAIK LEE: Are you just reminding him now?
Q. No, asking what happened.
HYUNG-TAIK LEE: No, no. Those two points, two matchpoints he had, Juan Carlos played very aggressively.
Q. Perhaps this was asked before, I arrived late. A few years ago he had a very good performance at Key Biscayne, at Miami. I think at that time it was The Lipton.
HYUNG-TAIK LEE: Who did he play?
Q. In Miami, he had a very good performance.
HYUNG-TAIK LEE: He never done well in Key Biscayne. Maybe you're confusing him with somebody else.
Q. I saw him in another championship. He was playing very good tennis. Then in these last two years, it seems he didn't confirm what he was showing. What happened to him? Because now, it seems he's back. I saw he's very fast, his backhand is beautiful, very strong. What happened in between?
HYUNG-TAIK LEE: How many years, two years ago?
Q. The last two years, why he didn't grow.
HYUNG-TAIK LEE: When he first -- I'm not sure if you're talking about the same time frame, but he says when he first came on the tour, people didn't know who he was. He's talking about US Open. He did well, and people didn't know how he play, but people found out very quickly. And then he had to make many adjustments. To answer the question, to answer your question, he didn't -- it's not like he didn't do anything wrong, he thinks. It's just that people found out who he was and he had to go home, do his homework and improve his game.
Q. Who or what inspired him to take up tennis? When was it? What are the facilities like for juniors in Korea?
HYUNG-TAIK LEE: When he was in the third grade, in his primary school, elementary school, they built a tennis team. He like all kind of sports and he was very athletic at the time for his age. His coach recommended him to play tennis. To answer your question about the facility, he's from very rural area, not from Seoul. It's not like you guys have it here. It's very different, very not up to par, so to speak.
Q. Very limited opportunities?
HYUNG-TAIK LEE: Very limited in many aspects - training, coaches, tournaments, coaches, everything. But since elementary school, he's been moving toward Seoul. Finally, when he went to university in Seoul, that's when our -- we're from Samsung team. That's when we picked him up and start investing in him.
Q. There aren't too many Korean speakers on tour. Does he find it very lonely on tour not being able to speak English?
HYUNG-TAIK LEE: Just normal thing for touring pros. Language barrier is a big problem for him, jet lag and all that, yeah.
Q. Does he come from an affluent family or from poor people?
HYUNG-TAIK LEE: Poor family.
Q. What were his parents, farmers or what?
HYUNG-TAIK LEE: He was a soccer player for his region.
Q. What do his parents do? A job, what job? He comes from a poor family.
HYUNG-TAIK LEE: He was a farmer.
Q. Potato farmer?
HYUNG-TAIK LEE: Yes, how did you know? His province, Kang Won Do, is very famous for potatoes. Very good (smiling). We say potato makes you stronger. We have a lot of players from his region. They're all very strong.
Q. Another Asian player, Paradorn, has made great strides in the last 12 months. He's had more time on this circuit. Does he think he's capable of reproducing the same sort of form that Paradorn has?
HYUNG-TAIK LEE: That's what he wishes, and that's what he's working for.
Q. He was in the final in the Asian games with Paradorn.
HYUNG-TAIK LEE: Yes, he lost to Paradorn in two sets, I believe.
Q. How close?
HYUNG-TAIK LEE: 6 and 4 or 6 and 5, one of those two.
Q. Coming from the qualifying rounds, does it surprise both of you to be in the final, or is it something you were expecting for a long time and arrives now?
HYUNG-TAIK LEE: I think that we answer that. We just took one match at a time. I mean, when we arrive on Friday, Saturday morning he hit with me for 15 minutes. He said his legs was just giving out. He played six sets that day, so... We go day by day, you know, just like everybody else.
Q. I saw in the crowd there was a lot of red T-shirts. Will he be expecting many more Korean people tomorrow?
HYUNG-TAIK LEE: He thinks more than -- more people will show up tomorrow than today.
Q. Will they be as fanatical as the World Cup crowd?
HYUNG-TAIK LEE: He hopes so, yeah (smiling).
Q. He'd better have some potatoes for dinner tonight.
HYUNG-TAIK LEE: He's been having, actually, as a matter of fact.
End of FastScriptsÃ¢â‚¬Â¦.