JOHANNESBURG – Nearly a dozen sponsors have thrown their weight behind South African wheelchair star Kgothatso Montjane, raising her chances of becoming the world’s number one player.
Montjane made headlines last month when she became the first black African woman to play at Wimbledon, where she reached the semi-finals.
The Seshego-born player’s plight received countrywide attention when it emerged she had reached the pinnacle of her sport despite financial difficulties.
She had travelled to Wimbledon with her coach Gerald Stoffberg and maintained a top 10 ranking despite missing a few crucial tournaments on the international circuit.
On Tuesday it was announced that Montjane’s expenses for this year and a large part of the 2019 season would be covered thanks to the generous involvement of a host of sponsors.
Contributions ranging from R10 000 to R150 000 with the support of over 10 sponsors amounted to a total of R1.5 million in cash and other support.
“There were so many times when I wanted to quit because it was tough. It was frustrating for me not being able to win on the court with all these challenges and travelling under pressure,” Montjane said.
“Yes, there was a time that I wanted to quit but funny enough, I woke up the following day and carried on because of my love for the sport. If I didn’t love what I was doing, I don’t think I would have had the motivation and the will to do it.”
Montjane said she reached a low point in her career when she dropped out of the top eight in the world, battling to beat some of the players she had beaten in the past.
The four-time Swiss Open champion reached a career-high fifth place in the world rankings in 2013 and moved to sixth following her Wimbledon heroics when she beat Germany’s Katharina Kruger in the quarter-finals.
Only the top seven players in the world get invited to the Grand Slams with an eighth wildcard joining them.
“When I dropped out of the top eight it was the toughest thing because I know I wouldn’t get an opportunity to play in big tournaments,” Montjane said. I live in Africa and I have to travel all over the world to gain all those points.
“The most depressing thing was thinking how I would get back to the top.”
Emy Casaletti-Bwalya, chief executive of marketing agency Optimize, set the wheels in motion when she put feelers out to prospective sponsors.
“The fact she had travelled to Wimbledon without a coach by herself, where she carried her wheelchair and luggage all by herself, I thought this is a worthy cause we’ll take on pro bono,” Casaletti-Bwalya said.
“We got stuck in and we were so invigorated by her; she is such a feisty, gutsy young girl.
“All these sponsors are not here for charity, they saw potential in her; there is a big difference between CSI and sponsorship.”
Coach Stoffberg believes the investment in Montane is the shot in the arm they need to catapult her to the top of the world rankings.
“She is physically 100 percent able to win multiple Grand Slams, she has a very good all-round game and she is physically very, very gifted,” Stoffberg said. “What we’ve been working on is the fact that she has a sense of belief, firstly that she belongs there and secondly that she is able to compete with the best of the world.”
Montjane will be flying to America tomorrow ahead of the US Open from September 6-9 in New York, where she will be accompanied by Stoffberg.
While Stoffberg has full confidence in Montjane’s potential, his charge is more cautious about what the future holds.
“I would like to think that with all the support it would help me physically and mentally to be better prepared,” Montjane said. “Going into this tournament it is going to be tough as usual. The Grand Slams is only the best in the world and it is going to be challenging.
“It is every athlete’s wish to win a tournament and for me, I am going in with the mentality of wanting to win.”@Ockertde