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Wheelchair aces go international

A number of our junior and senior wheelchair tennis players, refusing to be held back by their disability, have qualified to play in a number of upcoming international tournaments.

Resolute athletes, they have conquered the restriction of their chairs to display talent, determination and great courage and  their efforts have been rewarded with the selection of a group of top performers to compete in European events.

The tenacious senior players representing Wheelchair Tennis South Africa (WTSA), will leave for the shores of Spain and Belgium to compete in three different tournaments.┬á SA men’s number one ÔÇô a very determined double amputee – Sydwell Mathonsi was accompanied by the women’s number one, Kgothatso Montjane, a single amputee who is known for her formidable presence on court.┬á The pair will travel with coach Jean Pierre de Lange.

The tournaments are “individual based” and the gutsy mobile-impaired athletes will use them as a platform to climb the tennis ladder, with one goal in mind: qualifying for the 2012 Paralympics.┬á ÔÇ£It is really important that Kgothatso and Sydwell qualify on merit and thus the race is on to accumulate points and climb as high on the rankings as possible before the Paralympic qualifying cut off date,ÔÇØ said Holger Losch, director of WTSA.

The tournaments serve as a platform for the athletes to gain invaluable exposure so critical for game experience.┬á The variation of court surfaces ÔÇô clay versus hard courts is also important for the local athletes to become accustomed to.┬á The players are expected to reach the quarter or semi finals in this series of tournaments according to Losch, but if Montjane can reach the finals in the ladies draw, and Mathonsi the semi’s in their first series of events, the players can tick one box of the many, on the road to the Paralympics.

The junior team, headed by Coach Terrey Schweitzer, will participate in a “Junior Development Camp” to be held in Holland.┬á The young up and coming set have been hand-picked and invited to attend the camp in the Netherlands.┬á These hard-working players include Limpopo’s Donald Ramphadi, 17, Mariska Venter, 14, from Mpumalanga, and 15-year-old Thabang Lekhanyane, from Gauteng.

ÔÇ£These are juniors with great potential and we are expecting them to match the performance of the 2009 SA contingency,ÔÇØ said Losch. Last year the SA players rolled away with three out of four top positions, leaving international competitors in awe.┬á ÔÇ£This year the players have big shoes to fill after the great performances by Zachele Buthelezi, the tournament winner, runner-up Moses Malatji, and Tsholofelo Sibanda, a semi-finalist in a predominantly male draw.ÔÇØ continued Losch.

The opportunity abroad gives the youngsters a chance to work with the best coaches in the world, and the schedule includes testing how their game stacks up against other international players in a four day clinic , ongoing coaching of the highest calibre, and wrapping up with a competition where they will implement their newly learned skills. ÔÇ£The pedigree of all the top players in the country includes participating in this clinic and we believe the tournament has great merit for our future tennis stars,ÔÇØ said Losch.

Over the last few years WTSA has hosted an impressive list of tournaments on an international level and 2011 will see six international events and the probability of a signature event – a first for Africa ÔÇô is in the tender stages.

International tournaments such as these, alongside local equivalents are made possible by the generous sponsorships offered by Airports Company South Africa (Acsa), the official sponsor of the sport, as well as the secondary sponsor, the National Lottery Distribution Fund. Acsa has contributed no less than R14-million to date and has committed to a continued investment in the sport as its flagship CSI project.

Getting involved in wheelchair tennis is as simple as finding the closest weekly coaching programme;┬á these are held at schools or disabled centres around the country and aim to develop and support those starting out at the game. For more information contact Karen Losch Tel: 083 325 1169 Fax: 086 651 6664 Email:[email protected] or visit the website