Showcasing wheelchair tennis

GETTING TO GRIPS WITH IT: South Africa’s number one women’s player KG Montjane showing Premier of Gauteng, David Makhura, how to hold the tennis racket. Photo: Annette van Schalkwyk

A TEAM of brave South African celebrities switched their catwalks and studios for the tennis court in Johannesburg on Wednesday March 2 as they took on the country’s finest wheelchair tennis stars.

Popular radio and TV talk show host Anele Mdoda, Selimathunzi presenter and model Lunga Shabalala, radio and TV sports personality Cindy Poluta and former football player, and now sports anchor, Mark Haskins were all part of the fun at the University of Johannesburg tennis courts in Westdene.

The quartet took on former US Open champion Lucas Sithole, South Africa’s number one women’s player KG Montjane, and SA’s top-ranked Evans Maripa as part of the launch of the SA Open Wheelchair Tennis event which takes place at the Ellis Park tennis stadium in Johannesburg from April 10 to 14.

Among those taking part in the action were Gauteng Premier David Makhura and Gauteng MEC for Sport, Arts, Recreation and Culture Faith Mazibuko, who offered their support for the highly anticipated event.

Wheelchair tennis is one of the fastest growing wheelchair sports in the world and with South Africa boasting some of the world’s best in Sithole, Montjane and Maripa, who are ranked fourth, tenth and 14th respectively, growth has been swift in this country, too.

The SA Open forms part of the International Tennis Federation’s UNIQLO Wheelchair Tennis Tour and is classified as one of only six Super Series events held worldwide. The others are contested in Australia, Japan, France, Britain and the USA.

Sithole, Montjane and Maripa all represented South Africa at last year’s Rio Paralympic Games and will be looking to put in a good showing in front of an enthusiastic home crowd. Sithole won the SA Open title in 2015 but only reached the semi final last year so will be hoping to go a step further once again in 2017 in the quads division. Montjane and Maripa will also be hoping to go all the way.

The impressive line-up of celebrities were put through their paces as they tried to negotiate the combination of wheelchairs and tennis racquets for the first time.

Premier of Gauteng and number one wheelchair tennis supporter David Makhura tried his luck when he was pitted against his idols in an exhibition match.

“Certainly when you watch wheelchair tennis on television you think it’s easy, but there’s a lot of talent I saw here in the way they move. Just to move in the way that Kgothatso Montjane and Lucas Sithole play, you will see that these are very experienced and talented players. Talent is something that every human being has,” said Makhura.

“Today I appreciate how much it takes to play the way they do. These are not just South African players – they have won majors throughout the world,” Makhura added.

Meanwhile, SA Open Wheelchair Tennis tournament director Patrick Selepe was taken aback by the number of top entries. “Obviously the entries is very big – in the men’s we have seven players in the top ten; in the women’s we have top eight [players] and in the quads we have top four.”

South African number one women’s singles player and world number 10 Montjane says, unlike in the past where she put herself under pressure, this time around she will be out to enjoy herself. “For me I just want to get back some fun in tennis. I have been dealing with a lot of pressure as a player like expecting too much from myself, so I don’t think I awarded myself that room to enjoy tennis and when there’s joy, results will come.”

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Annette van Schalkwyk

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