Kgothatso Montjane scaled the heights at Wimbledon recently but has being doing South Africa proud for many years. Photo: Anna Vasalaki
It was a flash of brilliance but it took 13 years of hard graft for Kgothatso Montjane to make history at Wimbledon earlier this month.

The South African was awarded a wildcard at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, becoming the first ever African wheelchair tennis player at the iconic tournament. The 32-year-old sensationally beat German ace Katharina Kruger 6-3, 2-6, 6-1 in her opening match before losing to Dutch world number one and reigning champion Diede de Groot.

This week Montjane’s plight received more attention than her actual achievements.

Her achievements only highlighted her character despite the lack of funding and the difficulty of not having her coach with her at major tournaments.

Montjane has managed to be among the world’s top-10 female wheelchair tennis players for many years which has earned her spots at the Grand Slams.

Only the top seven players in the world get invited to the Grand Slams with an eighth wildcard joining them on the court.

“People picked up that I went out there without a coach and it got a lot of attention but I don’t think people really understand that I’ve always been out there,” Montjane said.

“I don’t see people really reflecting back on how I have been playing, and where I have been in the world.”

Montjane reached a career-high fifth place in the world rankings in 2013 but it is her performance at Wimbledon that really shone a light on her star status.

The four-time Swiss Open champion will complete a Gram Slam full-house for the first time when she takes to the court at the US Open in August.

The Pretoria-based player has been supported by the SA Sports and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) and the the Women Development Business Trust, allowing her to play in the major tournaments around the world.

“To maintain that spot at the top is difficult in wheelchair tennis because it can only be awarded to seven players among 500-odd players in the women’s division,” Montjane said.

“I don’t think people understand the hard work of just getting into that category, never mind how you perform in the tournament.”

Wheelchair Tennis South Africa (WTSA) lost Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) as sponsors almost two years ago which has made it difficult on players like Montjane.

While she has been able to secure funding to travel to the tournaments it was not enough to have her coach Gerald Stoffberg join her.

If it was not enough for Montjane to be without Stoffberg, she had to adjust to playing on grass which is considered to be the most difficult surface for wheelchair players.

“When with me, my coach can advise me on what shots I need to play on different surfaces. He can tell me I need to be aware of the weather, where the balls will be heavier or lighter. Also, this is how you need to string your tennis racquet and adjustments I need to make playing in different conditions. And my coach also helps me with all those small little things like ‘it is grass, keep slicing', 'it is hard court, keep hitting flat’. He's there to guide me with things like that.”

Montjane hopes coverage of her funding battles would not only improve her situation but attract sponsors to the sport as a whole.

“I think wheelchair tennis has about 500 players from the grassroots levels upwards and if sponsors climb on board it is not only for me,” she said.

“There are a lot of kids that rely on this sport; there is so much talent out there.”

The Limpopo-born athlete now turns her attention to the US Open where she will be looking to break the stranglehold the Dutch currently have on women’s wheelchair tennis. She hopes funding will not only help her in her pursuit of a maiden Grand Slam title, but also get her to her fourth Paralympics  in Tokyo in 2020.


Saturday Star

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