Johannesburg - Should Kgothatso Montjane be regarded as one of South Africa’s greatest tennis players?
Having won two doubles Grand Slam titles this year, the consensus would be that she should be.
But Montjane doesn’t think so. Not yet.
“I still have a lot in me. I want to win a singles Grand Slam first then we can talk,” Montjane told the Saturday Star.
The star wheelchair tennis player arrived back in South Africa this week to a rapturous reception at OR Tambo International.
The tennis ace was welcomed back as a US Open champion after claiming the wheelchair women’s doubles title with her partner Yui Kamiji.
The two snatched the title after a walkover when one of their opponents in the final couldn’t play due to illness.
The pair were meant to play top-seeded Dutch pair Diede de Groot and Jiske Griffioen, who withdrew from the match.
Montjane’s title win over the weekend means that within the space of a few months, the tennis ace has won two Grand Slam titles, having won the Roland Garros women’s wheelchair doubles with her partner Yui earlier this year.
She says it’s been a dream come true.
“It feels so great. In the US I was fortunate to have the support of Billie Jean King and her team there, so that made it extra special, but also on my return my local team were at the airport to greet me, as were all the media. It was very special and truly amazing.”
She has now won two Grand Slam titles with her partner Yui, who she rates as the best double’s partner she’s ever had.
“We speak the language of tennis ... She is not only a great player but we manage to motivate each other very well.”
While Montjane’s latest Grand Slam title win may have come as a result of a walkover, she says it doesn’t take the shine off her and her partner’s latest triumph.
“We wanted our revenge from Wimbledon, but I suppose a win is a win and we did so well. For us, making it to our third Grand Slam (final) together in one year is really exciting, so to be winning this title with Yui is so special, and hopefully we can get many more.”
Despite being in such great form, Montjane is still insistent that she is not playing her best tennis yet.
“Things have aligned and are going my way, but I feel that I can do better, especially in the singles. Physically I’m in my best form, it’s just mentally I need to be stronger.
“Most of my opponents have been in tennis development their whole lives and the sport development systems in their respective countries have been devised in such a way that these girls are very well taken care of. But I am working on it.”
She does admit that the last few years of her tennis career have been the most exhilarating.
“There have been a lot of highs but some frustrating lows. With Covid-19 I was not able to travel and did not play competitive tennis.
“Thereafter an elbow injury and slow recovery kept me back from playing at my best. Now, fully recovered and reaching three Grand slam finals in one year is probably the most successful year to date.”
While Montjane says she is receiving the necessary support to succeed as a wheelchair tennis player, she has urged South Africa to show more support to wheelchair athletes.
“Personally, I am happy to be getting the necessary support.”
“I am well looked after by my sponsors Solvay, Discovery, Avon, Nike, Dunlop, Ottobock and my management team at Optimize Agency.
“On the other hand, most players are struggling to develop and get coaching. Once they show promise they need to travel, and to travel you need money. Regrettably, and since this sport is not a priority sport, players lose hope.”
Meanwhile , Montjane has also given a glimpse into how she and doubles partner Yui celebrated their latest Grand Slam title.
“We are both quiet individuals. We went for a lovely dinner and called it a day.”
Now that the dust has kind of settled, Montjane says she is aiming for more Grand Slam titles.
This time she is hoping to win a singles Grand Slam title.
“I will keep at it until I make it. I can feel it, it’s so close.”
She also expects to be playing tennis for a good few years more.
“Wheelchair tennis is different in terms of career span. For example, Stephan Houdet, who won the (men’s) doubles at the US Open, is 52. I feel I have a few years left in me. I am looking forward to the Paralympics in France next year. An Olympic medal is a target for me.”
Her tremendous rise in the tennis world has also made Montjane an inspirational figure to the wheelchair community in South Africa.
“It is so rewarding to me that I can inspire people,” she said.
“The fact that people are in awe of what I have achieved, of my independence and of my resilience, really pushes me to do even better.”
While Montjane won't rest on her laurels, she says she plans to enjoy her Grand Slam win, something she never imagined ever doing as a young girl.
“I only picked up a racket for the first time at the age of 19. The last place I thought I would be is on the international circuit travelling all over the world. The change in my life is quite surreal.”