South African veteran wheelchair tennis star, Kgothatso Montjane took an 11-hour flight to the City of London on her own to compete in one of the most prestigious grand slam tournaments in the world, without a coach.
It was on the 13th of July when Montjane made her Wimbledon debut to became the first black South African and African woman’s tennis player to take part in the tournament at the All England Club.
To the surprise of many, the Limpopo-born player had to play at the biggest stage of tennis without her coach being present.
Why Kgothatso Montjane Played Without Her Coach
The 32-year-old said her coach sent instructions via WhatsApp while she was at Wimbledon. She said she played without a coach because there was no funding from Tennis South Africa. “I had to pay the coach I found at Wimbledon from my very own pocket.”
Tennis South Africa claims they didn’t have sufficient funds to sponsor Kgothatso Montjane and her coach’s travel expenses to London.
According to eNCA sports journalist, Hloni Mtimkulu, Montjane generally travels alone and she sat out two months of the year because she didn’t have enough money to compete.
Mtimkulu said that Tennis South Africa is a small federation. As much as it’s a cliché, getting sponsors is a big part of the whole thing, it’s not only about getting help from the Government.
She said, “Continuing the cliché if you’re not competing in a popular sport (how many of us have an interest in wheelchair tennis?), will sponsors be interested?”
Earlier this month, Montjane also travelled to Switzerland alone where she successfully defended her Swiss Open title.
WTSA Has Lost its Major Sponsor
Wheelchair South Africa’s (WTSA) minor sponsors are The South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC), Sport and Recreation South Africa (SRSA), and Netcare. WTSA recently lost their main long-term sponsor, Airports Company South Africa after a decade of partnership. As a result, the tennis organisation cannot afford to send players to all the international events around the world.
Anthony Moruthane, National PR Manager of WTSA said there’s a list of tournaments that SASCOC funds, which Wimbledon didn’t fall into. He said: “Due to lack of Funding Wheelchair Tennis Players miss out on Major tournaments.”
If it wasn’t for South Africa’s former first lady, Zanele Mbeki, founder of the WDB Trust (see note below), Montjane would not have had the opportunity to play the French Open or Wimbledon. Rather, the WDB Trust was kind enough to fund the tennis star and paid for her travel expenses.
Kgothatso Montjane is Still a Winner
Despite the lack of funding and not being to travel with her coach to guide her, Monjtane still managed to make it into the semi-finals at Wimbledon, beating a shocked Katharina Kruger of Germany 6-3 2-6 6-1. But she went on to lose against the world number one, Diede de Groot in straight sets in the semis.
After winning the Swiss Open and reaching the semi-final stage at Wimbledon, Kgothatso Montjane jumped two places to number six on the International Tennis Federation (ITF) rankings. She will be in action again today at the British Open Super Series where she will face Katharina Kruger of Germany in a rematch of their Wimbledon quarter-final at the Nottingham Tennis Centre.
The Paralympian was grateful for the support and love she received. She said: “A big thank you to my federation, Wheelchair Tennis South Africa (WTSA), the WDB Trust, my family, friends, and all my fans for the incredible support this week.”
She said that having taken up the sport 11 years ago, she never imagined she would get to this level and play amongst the best in the world. “This is a great feeling.”