Johannesburg - For years, Kgothatso (KG) Montjane has dreamt of winning a Grand Slam tennis tournament. She has come close, but often found herself falling at the final hurdle.
Last weekend things were different for the South African wheelchair tennis player. She rewrote the history books by becoming the first black South African to win a Roland Garros tournament.
Montjane and her Japanese doubles partner Yui Kamijin defeated Diede de Groot and Maria Florencia Moreno 6-3, 6-2 in the women’s wheelchair doubles finals at Roland Garros in Paris.
Montjane joins an elite group of tennis players to win Roland Garros. She follows in the footsteps of Tanya Harford and Ros Fairbank, who claimed the doubles title in 1981, and Mariaan de Swart who won the mixed doubles in 2000.
“It’s indescribable, a dream,” says Montjane. “After overcoming so many obstacles in my career, reaching this pinnacle really makes all the sacrifice worthwhile.”
The tennis ace says she is delighted to have become the first black South African to achieve such a feat.
“It makes me realise the restrictions that were placed on black South Africans, and appreciate the sacrifices that were made (during apartheid). I feel extremely proud to be in a position to represent my nation without any barriers today, and show the world that we have what it takes.
“This was all made possible with the support from my agency Optimize Agency, who told my story to Discovery, Avon, Macsteel, Dunlop, Ottobock, Nike, Virgin Active, and Solvay to support my game. I will forever remain grateful.”
Montjane revealed that she went into the Grand Slam tournament nursing a forearm injury that had held up her progress last year.
“This injury set me back both physically and mentally. With my physio and determination, I slowly managed to get over it. Training on clay for this Grand Slam was challenging. Clay courts are known for their uneven bounce and the physical challenge they pose. You need to tweak your game.
“My pre-tournament work also involved some mental work, and self-doubt always creeps in. Overall, a lot of preparation both on and off the court, which certainly paid off.”
This was the fourth time that Montjane has teamed up with Japanese tennis ace Yui Kamiji.
“We were in Japan, Madrid and Barcelona together in the past months, where I won singles and together we won doubles. We teamed up then and have agreed to play together in all the Grand Slams this year.
“We are friends on and off the field, and even though communication is sometimes challenging, the language of tennis sees us through.”
She says believing in herself was a huge reason she went all the way at Roland Garros this year.
“It requires pushing through all the challenges, physical, mental, and logistical issues, both at home and abroad. You have to believe in yourself. Your mind has to be in the right place and you have to go out and fight for everything.”
Despite finally getting the Grand Slam monkey off her back, Montjane says there are still plenty of things to achieve in her blossoming tennis career.
“I have not come full circle yet. I need to win a singles Grand Slam for my career to come full circle. Moreover, a Gold in the Paralympics next year would also be an absolute turning point.”
Speaking about her journey in her tennis career so far, Montjane says it's been tough, but filled with plenty of rewards for the hard work and dedication she has put in.
“Starting to play tennis took a lot of convincing at first. It was not my first choice of sport, however, my teachers saw something in me. I did not have the traditional development most of my current opponents had. I was catching taxis with my wheelchair from Limpopo to Pretoria to compete.
“I realised that I was actually quite good, and competed in all I could in South Africa. But I needed to travel to compete. This requires funding, and its thanks to my management team, my sponsors, and partners that I have been able to travel the world to hone my skills.
“Most of my opponents started playing at a very early age and have had qualified coaches and scientific advances. It’s been a tough, but highly fulfilling journey for me. I plan to go further and become a role model to the youth on the continent and show that no matter what life throws at you, with determination and perseverance you can overcome.”
Having not really celebrated in Paris after her historic win, Montjane says she is looking forward to coming home to celebrate with those close to her.
“It was a very quiet time in Paris, I’m looking forward to a proper celebration on my return. My family and team are over the moon, but not too much celebrating because I head off to Wimbledon soon, so I need to be level headed, grounded and ready.”
Now that she’s scooped her first Grand Slam title, Montjane says she is eyeing further titles.
“I’m currently playing in the l’IIle de Re ITF2 tournament this week, also as a means to garner points in order to improve my ranking, but I’m happy to say that I have qualified for Wimbledon and I am eyeing this out as my next feat.”