The distinct “thwack” sound when racquet strings connect with tennis ball is nearly inaudible for Christopher Daniels, a 33-year-old Los Angeles resident who was born hearing impaired, but fell in love with the game of tennis growing up in Carson as a young teenager.
Daniels recently qualified to play in the World Deaf Tennis Championships in Antalya, Turkey, but was unable to travel to the event because of a family emergency.
“It is unfortunate I didn’t make the trip, but hopefully I will have the opportunity to play it someday,” who has also represented the U.S. in the Deaf Olympics.
Daniels plays USTA Open tournaments and team tennis, but has been logging most of his hours on the court teaching others.
“I became a player and a coach at age 17 so I’ve just always tried to find that balance,” said Daniels, who currently coaches at Harvard-Westlake Middle School and has also worked with juniors at Windward and Calabasas Highs.
Daniels, who played one season for El Camino College after two seasons of high school tennis at Carson High, said he never had a coach growing up who could communicate with him the way he needed. “I have never used my lack of hearing as an excuse,” he said. “The challenge for the hearing impaired is being coached the right way. When you don’t have the right coaching, you have to just be patient and work at it.”
Daniels said he read tennis instruction books when he was learning to play tennis, and also recorded professional matches. “I would watch Pete Sampras and Agassi,” he said. “Once my game improved it became a little bit easier.”
Daniels has followed with interest the career of Duckhee Lee, a South Korean ranked No. 250 in the ATP World Tour rankings who this past summer made headlines for becoming the first deaf player to win an ATP-level match.
“I wanted to be the first person to win an ATP point but he beat me to it,” Daniels said. “Of course I’m familiar with his story and he’s an inspiration to other deaf players like me.”
Daniels said he wants to keep working on his game, and that he had a to give his students.
“My goal is to be the best version of myself so I can be respected as a player,” Daniels said. “As a coach I’m very well respected. But I want that as a player. I want to be respected for my hustle and my energy. That’s something I want to pass on to my students. That’s my personal goal right now.”
Steve Pratt’s columns appear every Thursday at southerncaliforniatennis.org.