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English tennis player Robert Dee, 23, lost 54 consecutive matches and 108 successive sets at the international level, before he finally beat an unranked 17-year-old in Spain in April 2008. The British media just lapped up the story. The Daily Mail, Guardian, Sun, and Telegraph newspapers all published articles about Mr. Dee's success (or lack thereof). Even the BBC joined in.
Mr. Dee was not amused, however. He demanded an apology and, in some cases, damages from over 30 media organisations for disparaging his tennis ability. All, bar the Telegraph, agreed to apologize. Indeed a few paid Mr. Dee tens of thousands of pounds in damages to avoid an expensive libel lawsuit.
The Telegraph has remained steadfast in its refusal to settle, however. It has lined up a host of tennis celebrities, including six-time grand slam winner Boris Becker, to testify on its behalf.
The paper printed two articles about Mr. Dee under the headlines 'World's worst tennis pro wins at last' and 'A British sensation - the world's worst'. It claimed Mr. Dee did not win a single match during his first three years on the professional circuit and compared him to Olympic ski jumper Eddie "the Eagle" Edwards and the swimmer Eric "the Eel" Moussambani.
Mr. Dee admits losing 54 consecutive matches at international level, but claims that over the same period he enjoyed "modest success" in professional national tournaments in Spain.
His attorney, Queen's Counsel Andrew Caldecott, says: "In the interests of entertaining readers Mr. Dee was wrongly branded as the world's worst tennis professional, and his record and ranking were wholly misinterpreted on the front page of a national newspaper, which would have been widely read by his friends and acquaintances."
The articles "ridiculed and embarrassed" his client, and could adversely affect his career as a professional tennis coach. To suggest Mr. Dee suffered "an unrelieved catalogue of failure" was simply untrue and defamatory, he said.
In court, David Price for the Telegraph insisted Mr. Dee had the world's worst losing run in professional tennis. A Guatemalan player also lost 54 consecutive matches, he said, but unlike Mr. Dee, actually managed to win a set in one of them!
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