Khololwam Montsi: From township to carrying SA’s junior tennis hopes in France
Johannesburg – A teenage tennis sensation from the township is carrying South Africa’s hopes in France as he prepares to break a 20-year dry spell in the exclusive sport.
Khololwam Montsi, 17, will be taking part at the French Open Junior Tennis Championships at Roland Garros in Paris starting this weekend. He will be the first black South African junior player at this top tournament in 20 years since Peter-Jon Nomdo in 2000. Nomdo is one of his coaches.
Khololwam told The Star yesterday how excited he was when he first heard that he would be competing at such a prestigous event.
“I was super happy. Out of all the Grand Slams, for me the French Open is the biggest and the one that I really want to win.
’’I found out a month ago about the tournament and I have been working super hard to prepare. I am super excited to compete and I can’t wait to get out there,” said the King William’s Town-born player on a phone call from France.
He said what excited him most was playing on clay which is an advantage for a player of his height at 1.65m.
His fitness coach Murray Ingram said the teenager, who now lives in Cape Town, is very talented and has big prospects professionally.
Khololwam has won seven tournaments in a row, which has seen him reach number one in South Africa and in Africa and number 13 in the world.
“I started working with Kholo 18 months ago. I knew the story of the two brothers and, being a sports fan myself, I was more than happy to help simply because it was kind of a story that was unique to tennis and a story similar to what we had been doing with ‘Connect to Rugby’.
“A kid from the Eastern Cape with no tennis history in the family now going on and being number 100 in the world.”
Connect to Rugby is a project aimed at supporting underprivileged players in the township.
Ingram described Khololwam as motivated and obsessed with sports.
“He is talented. He is a small player but he is fast and agile and has terrific hand-eye co-ordination. He is a humble young man as well.”
Khololwam started playing tennis at the age of 7, competing with his brother and his friends in the Eastern Cape. He got into tennis at primary school which was offered as an extramural activity.
“I always knew my way of making it in life and creating a future or wealth will be through sports and tennis has helped me find my purpose,” said Khololwam.
“My mom was a sprinter and my father played quite a number of sports as well, so it was inevitable that my brother and I would follow in their footsteps.”
He said he intuitively fell in love with rugby and always admired winger Bryan Habana but because he always looked up to his brother he eventually quit everything and joined tennis.
“I would see my brother playing tennis and when he started going to other countries to play I figured if I wanted to be close to him I would have to play tennis as well. It generally started because I wanted to go to Asia with my brother and so I quit karate and joined him,” he said.
Kholo’s parents Xolani and Pumla Montsi said it was not always easy to finance their children’s sporting interests.
“We have experienced a lot of financial challenges in order to support our sons’ tennis careers. My wife and I had to both quit our jobs in middle management positions in the government in order for us to be able to help them realise their full potential,” said the father.
Some of the costs included equipment, coaches as well as travel expenses to various tournaments.
“Tennis is an expensive sport and although we’d receive some sponsors for gear, we have to fund everything else ourselves.
’’Even today my wife and I had to stay back and not travel to Paris with him as we could not afford to attend. I urge parents to encourage and support their children in everything they do. It may not be financially but being there at their sports games and giving your time is very important.”
The tournament is scheduled to be played from Sunday to Saturday.