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Wheelchair stars hold heads high after Turkey

The nation’s wheelchair tennis athletes have returned home after competing in the World Team Cup (WTC), in Turkey earlier this month with two of the players winning three out of four games each.

The players, proudly clad in green and gold proudly represented South Africa for the sixth time, at the 26th World Team Cup. The tournament is without doubt, that with the highest status event on the international tennis calendar and this year around 300 of the most talented players from 32 nations took to the court.

The tournament ran from 3-9 May and saw SA compete across three divisions: men’s, women’s and quads. The Rainbow Nation’s players performed well, sporting sheer guts and determination in every match.

The team’s goal was to collectively fight for a better international standing; and to qualify for the 2011 WTC. This will be hosted in South Africa for the first time, in Gauteng. This announcement came hot on the heels of SA being selected as the first-ever African host. This honour was bestowed on SA because of Wheelchair Tennis South Africa’s successful run of hosting international events since 2006.

South Africa’s successes in Turkey began with the first match; the country’s top ranked player in the men’s division, Sydwell Mathonsi won three out of four matches for his team. Double amputee Mathonsi set the scene for his tournament performance in his first match against Ecuador with an easy win, 6-1 6-0. Iran, his second match, was a little tougher with Mathonsi down 2-6 in the first set, but making an impressive comeback in the second set to win 6-1. With split sets the competitors went to a super-break and Mathonsi wrapped it up winning by six points ending 10-4.

In Mathonsi’s third match against New Zealand, two games were all he was willing to give away. The determined 24-year-old displayed enormous fight and took the match 6-2 6-2. Unfortunately his fourth and final match against Switzerland saw Mathonsi lose 1-6 3-6. Disappointingly, his convincing run in the tournament came to an abrupt halt when a pre-existing shoulder injury brought his winning streak to a close. He gave away point after point in what normally would have been an evenly-matched competition. Still, the gutsy player received countless compliments from global players and coaches on his game performance throughout the tournament. ÔÇ£I played my heart out, and even though I did not achieve my goal I am still proud of myself, and for what my wins meant to team South Africa,ÔÇØ said Mathonsi.

Dubbed SA’s up and coming star and recent winner of gold at the Asia Pacific Youth Para Games in 2009 is Evans Maripa. The 19 year-old Polokwane born double amputee, now residing at the elite High Performance Centre for gifted athletes and did the country proud with his two out of four singles wins. Playing Ecuador this tenacious youngster had his opponent doing wheel spins when he scored 5-7 6-4 with a super-break of 10-5. His two losses ÔÇô both marginal ÔÇô were against Iran 4-6 6-2 with a super-break 6-10; and Switzerland 6-4 6-2.

ÔÇ£My most challenging match was against New Zealand where my opponent and I were uncannily evenly matched. I went down in the first set 4-6 and recovered in the second taking it 6-3. In the super-break we were neck on neck for every point, and at 8-8 I lost focus and that was it; I lost by two points. But that’s the na ture of the game and also why I love it,ÔÇØ said Maripa flashing his golden smile which is sure to capture the hearts of international tennis fans on his rise to global tennis fame.

The women’s team was spearheaded by Kgothatso Montjane, SA’s golden girl, who recently won the women’s title at the SA Open when she beat an experienced British competitor. Montjane won three of her four matches in Turkey; her first match against an American opponent saw a tough yet favourable score for the South African who impressively won the first set 6-3, 6-7 narrowly losing the second set 6-7, and finally taking the third 7-5.

In Montjane’s second game against Spain she battled against nerves and unwillingly conceded at 3-6 4-6. In both sets she was 0-3 down to start with and wheeled her way uphill to get to 3-3. Montjane comically added that she “donated her points to Spain”. Montjane’s third game, against host country Turkey, saw the local golden girl hitting back in top form and unwillingly “donated one game to Turkey”, still winning 6-0 6-1.

Monthane’s fourth and final match against Columbia saw her fighting spirit rise to new heights with an impressive result, 6-3 6-3. Her tournament run was marked by on-court speed and strength and off-court heartiness, and indomitable energy. ÔÇ£Kgothatso is impressive ÔÇô there simply isn’t another word for her performance and our country’s hopes ride high on the wheels of this lady,ÔÇØ said Montjane’s coach Holger Losch, director of WTSA.

Lucas Sithole, the number one quad in SA ÔÇô and ranked as high as 13 on the world rankings in 2009 – took to court armed with what the South Africans term ‘the Sithole magic’. He was evenly matched against the top players that the world had to offer in Turkey, playing the likes of David Wagner from the USA who is currently number two in the world. Sithole faced the tennis giant with focus and single-minded determination. Sithole’s strength ÔÇô that of court speed and mobility stood him in good stead against opponents of this calibre. Although Sithole did not convert many matches to wins the fact remain that SA’s number one quad gave the world’s best quads something to sit upright for. Sithole, underexposed and only 22 years of age, is on the rise and used the WTC as a platform to flash a taste of what is yet to come.

ÔÇ£Our player’s performances, both individual and collective, are on track for the 2011 World Team Cup. This event, which puts us up against the world’s top tennis nations, presents an occasion to see how team Mzansi will fare with one more year’s tennis experience under their wheels,ÔÇØ said Losch.

The 2011 tournament ÔÇô not to be underestimated in stature ÔÇôis often referred to as the Davis Cup of wheelchair tennis. This is a big honour for the country and is a notable credit to WTSA, an affiliated member of the South African Tennis Association (SATA). The benefits are far and wide and include offering SA’s under-exposed players international game experience. Another is to show off our beautiful country and all WTSA’s tournaments include a distinctly cultural SA experience.

National and international tournaments are made possible by WTSA sponsor Airports Company South Africa which has contributed no less than R14-million to the sport since 2005. More recently the National Lottery Distribution Fund came on board as a secondary sponsor and to date has invested R2.5-million in the sport.

WTSA is determined to see physically challenged individuals making sporting choices that support the pursuit of happiness and the realisation of a full and meaningful life. Tennis teaches disabled people valuable life skills and all those who are interested should contact Karen Losch Tel: 083 325 1169 Fax: 086 651 6664 email:[email protected]


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