In Malaysia’s capital city of Kuala Lumpar over a decade ago, a father gave his young son a racket, propelling him on the journey he is still on today.
Now, senior Christian Lee is one of the top tennis players at the University of Arkansas, with a record of 6-3 this season.
Since the age of two, Lee has played tennis. He said he also competed in track and soccer, but had to decide to focus on one sport.
“My mom and dad gave me a racket to play in the squash court - like a racket ball court - when I was about two,” Lee said. “I was really into soccer at the same time to tennis, and track too. I kind of grew up with those three until I was about 16, and I had to decide I wanted to play tennis.”
Because, he said, not many people in Malaysia competed seriously in tennis, Lee played internationally at Garden International School and Saddlebrook Preparatory School.
“I started competing in tournaments at 8 or 10 years old,” he said. “The development is getting better now (in Malaysia), but when I was playing there wasn’t many good players at the time.”
Lee played extensively in the ITF juniors circuit, earning a No. 1 ranking in the U12, U16 and U18 categories and a career high ranking of 270 overall. In singles, he has won 37 matches as well as 26 doubles matches during his time on the ITF circuit.
Transitioning from international play to the world of college sports was a good one for Lee, he said, but it did require a higher level of maturity.
“College tennis is very different than individual tennis,” he said. “This is the first time I played on a team. It is hard to explain, but you feel more together with everyone.”
When Lee decided he was interested in college tennis, he said he only wanted to be in the Southeastern Conference.
“When I first heard of college tennis, I thought of the SEC because everyone said it had such good collegiate schools for athletes and applied to a few of the schools,” he said. “I came to Arkansas and fell in love with the campus and the people around. It is a nice place.”
With an 8-2 singles record, Lee had a great start to his career as a Razorback. He ended his freshman season in dual play with a big win at the number two position against UT Pan American's Ricardo Hopker his freshman season. Lee played in two conference matches for the Hogs and also recorded a 5-2 doubles record.
Although he has only been head Razorback coach for one season, Andy Jackson said he has already seen improvement in Lee.
“I think that he has gained some self confidence and he makes the other guy play,” Jackson said. “He has a very good backhand and is athletic at the net. He has a good potential and can do more this year.”
Lee said his favorite moment in college tennis was the March 9 match against Alabama where the team grabbed their first SEC victory of the season, winning 4-3.
“It was actually about a week ago,” Lee said. “We were down three matches to one and our guys managed to come back and tough it out. It was a really good experience, and we got our first win over Alabama in like 8 years.”
Tennis is more than a sport to Lee. He said it is a family tradition that started with his parents, Vun-Tsiu and Maria Lee.
“They played tennis before and that’s how I picked it up,” he said. “It was like their dream come true for me to play. My brother plays too and when we go on holidays, we always play tennis together.”
Lee said he hopes to play tennis beyond college, but he has another year to figure it out for sure. He said his focus now is helping his team get to the NCAA tournament.
“College tennis is a good stepping-stone to hopefully go professional in the future,” he said. “I am still debating because I still have another year as a senior. I will play a few tournaments and see how that goes. Hopefully, I will make it pro.”
Jackson sees great potential in Lee, being one of the better players he has coached as far as pure ability, however, Jackson said Lee would have to step up his game if he wants to go pro.
“Tennis is a skill based game. I think if he gets enough motivation it can be done,” Jackson said. “Now is he playing that level now? No. But it is always possible.”
Lee and the rest of men’s tennis will play next at Ole Miss Friday, March 21.