Montjane defies all odds despite unending challenges
Johannesburg - Kgothatso Montjane is used to fighting against the odds. Born with a rare congenital disorder that affected both her hands and her feet, Montjane has spent all her life having to do things the hard way.
So when South Africa's leading wheelchair tennis women's ace was told she would be travelling without her coach to compete at her debut Wimbledon tournament in the UK, Montjane didn't panic.
“I travelled alone because of the financial challenges we face at Wheelchair Tennis SA,” she said this week. “I just had to figure out how to make it work for myself. It actually helped motivate me further and pushed me to work harder.”
With a world ranking of eight in singles and doubles, she also had to assemble her wheelchair alone and had no practise partners to help her.
This is nothing new for Montjane. “My challenge has been real in the past few years.
"The lack of sponsorship or funding is still the top one that we battle with. I have survived through funding from Sascoc and my federation, and recently WBD Trust made it possible for me to play at Wimbledon.
“I have no racket sponsor nor clothing sponsor, but all this will never stop me from doing what's best for myself.”
Wheelchair Tennis SA's national public relations manager Anthony Moruthane told media this week that a severe lack of funds forced its hand. Leaving Montjane to travel alone was not an act of malice.
The organisation, he said, had been struggling since it lost sponsorship from the Airports Company South Africa 18 months ago.
Montjane, who hails from Limpopo, refused to let her disadvantages affect her at Wimbledon, putting on some unforgettable performances.
She cruised through to the semi-finals of the ladies singles at Wimbledon, defeating Katharina Kruger of Germany in the quarter-finals, to set up a mouth-watering tie against the world's number one wheelchair tennis player, Diede de Groot of the Netherlands.
However, De Groot had too much for Montjane in the semi-finals, defeating her 1-6, 5-7.
“Playing against Diede was a challenge because she is playing really well at the moment and she is number one in the world.
“So I knew it wasn't going to be an easy match, but I still had to compete because I'm capable of playing at that level.”
Montjane made history by becoming the first black South African woman to compete at Wimbledon.
“It was very special. It's a historic moment. I hope that it serves as a motivation to my fellow Africans. It's really good to see it happening after 25 years of our democracy. My family were really proud of me, and they said I need to keep doing my best and never lose focus.
“My experience at Wimbledon was great. I went in without any expectations, and I just found myself loving every minute of it. It really has been a dream come true, considering that I played in the other three major tennis tournaments and I was left with Wimbledon to complete the four.”
Along with coming up against the best wheelchair tennis players in the world, Montjane rubbed shoulders with royalty. The 32-year-old said it had been an “honour” to meet the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, at the women's singles final between Angelique Kerber and Serena Williams.
“It was quite an amazing moment to meet the Royals. She (Markle) was stunned when I told her I'm from South Africa, and she wished me all the best in my career.”
Montjane revealed her delight at seeing her fellow South African tennis players Raven Klaasen and Kevin Anderson succeed at Wimbledon. Both made it to the finals, but failed to go all the way.
“I'm so proud of the gentlemen. I think this was one of the rare moments where South Africa shone on such a big stage, and it's really great for South African tennis.
"With what the new CEO is doing, by making sure they have development centres in townships, is really great. It's clearly evident tennis is heading in the right direction.”
Meanwhile, Montjane said she was hopeful that disabled sports in South Africa would get more recognition.