&#91SPORTS VIEW&#93In tennis, the odds swing in Lee's favor favor

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[SPORTS VIEW]In tennis, the odds swing in Lee's favor favor

Sometimes on holidays I buy one or two lottery tickets just for fun. But I never have any luck. So far the most I've ever won is 2,000 won ($1.60), which is a payoff the lottery companies give out en masse to lure us suckers back.

I should learn that I'll never win the lottery. That 5,000 won I blow every holiday probably adds up. But despite all the statistics classes I took in college and the warnings I've gotten that you can't beat the odds, something tells me that next time I might win. Of course, I'll try to beat the odds if I can have an Aston Martin as my fifth car.

Skimming the papers on Sunday, I read about how a very, very lucky person hit a 6.5 billion won lottery jackpot. Forget for a moment the book that he'll write one day: "How I Won It All and Then Lost It All Just the Same." Instead, think about the feeling this person must have experienced when the winning numbers were revealed.

On Sunday, another Korean had luck on his side, and hit an emotional high as well: Lee Hyung-taik. The country's best tennis player won his first ATP tour title, the International in Sydney. It marked the first time that a Korean had captured a title on the professional tour.

Lee's historic win came in an upset over the much-favored Juan Carlos Ferrero from Spain, who is ranked No. 4 in the world. Lee came into the match ranked 85th.

Lee's victory must have been sweet for it avenged a loss at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the only time the two had previously met in competition. His victory stands out even more because he had fought his way through three qualifying rounds to enter the International and then went on to topple four players in Sydney who were all ranked higher than him.

Lee pocketed $48,600 for taking the International. Since joining the ATP tour in 1995, he has collected about $550,000 in prize money. Granted, that's nothing compared with what superstars like Andre Agassi routinely pull in. But as a Korean, Lee certainly beat the odds Sunday.

Tennis isn't exactly a popular sport in Korea, and inside the local tennis community people often say that the country should try to support women players more than the men, believing that women's odds for success will be better.

Before Lee's feat last weekend, the first significant advance by a Korean on the tour level came in 1989 when Kim Bong-soo made it to the quarterfinals of the Korean Air Grand Prix, a tour-level event.

Lee is the only Korean player to take titles on the international stage. Last December, he won the Yokohama Challenger tournament in Japan; in 2000 he made a big splash with local fans when he advanced to the round of 16 at the U.S. Open, which is one of the four major tournaments that make up the tennis world's Grand Slam.

Lee's Gangwon province hometown, Hoengseong, is ecstatic with his success. It has hung signs and banners celebrating the victory. Lee even got a congratulatory call from President Kim Dae-jung after the win.

Lee beat the odds. Now his goal will obviously be to keep improving his game, so that his next tour victory will not even be considered an upset.

by Brian Lee
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