With the lack of infrastructure and finances in South African sport, no one has made the best of their opportunities like Kgothatso Montjane.
Without a proper introduction and proper development, she climbed up the ITP ranking, where she now sits at 7th (highest ever 5th). She has become one of the most decorated South African athletes. Now 34, she is not slowing down until she has achieved all her goals.
Born in Limpopo, “KG” was born with a congenital birth defect and went through a single amputation below the knee at the age of 12 but 8 years later, she was forced to play tennis by her school teachers.
After being introduced to tennis in high school, she was dubious of continuing it in university where she would later graduate with a BSC Degree in Recreation and Leisure. She was sold after the tennis association urged her to take it forward because of her potential. She saw it as an opportunity that could allow her to travel the world and compete at the highest level.
This included a trip to the Beijing Paralympics in 2008 after only playing the sport for two and a half years. This was a result of winning a continental African tournament and getting a wild card to compete in Beijing.
“Wheelchair Tennis South Africa saw potential in me, they actually encouraged me to try it out after graduating to see if I like it or not. Being able to get to Paralympics in Beijing made me realise that wow these people can play so well and I really want to play like them and that’s when I started putting in a lot of work.”
This would be the beginning of a journey that would see her compete in competitions such as the US and Australian Open. Her favourite memory was her performance at Wimbledon where she became the first black South African woman to compete.
“After realizing I was so into the sport, I gave it my all. With the challenges that I came through I just never thought I would see anything like Wimbledon happening. It was a breakthrough and a turnaround for me. Wimbledon was the one.” she says.
However, just like any other sporting codes in South Africa, Montjane has revealed that wheelchair tennis also has its problems that players face day-to-day. Problems she faces despite being ranked 7th in the world.
Wheelchair Tennis used to have its own body but after losing its biggest sponsor it couldn’t survive on its own. This resulted in Tennis South Africa (TSA) taking much of the responsibility for it.
“With what we used to get at Wheelchair Tennis South Africa it used to be something so convincing because we were fully sponsored in terms of funding. They would pay everything and we could travel to any tournament but with that going away that actually exposes the kind of support we get in the country.
“It’s not easy to get individual sponsors so losing that sponsorship exposed that struggle of going out and saying “Here I am, this is what I’ve done. I need help”. It’s still a struggle to get proper endorsements.
The coronavirus pandemic resulted in the postponement of all big sporting events including the Paralympics, a competition Montjane was looking forward to. She was performing at her peak in 2020 which included her first semi-final appearance at the Australian Open so the Paralympics being pushed forward a year couldn’t have come at a worse time.
“I was so heartbroken because I thought this was the year. I was doing so well and everything we were working on was starting to fall in place, so for me, it was a bummer. My confidence levels were high.
“People say we now have more time to prepare, but I was prepared (laughs) but it is what it is. My team and I are going back to the drawing board and make sure we actually get the mind back to where it was.”
With many athletes starting to come back into regular training, Montjane admits, as an athlete with a disability, she found the lockdown period hard mentality she didn’t know what to occupy her mind with during the lockdown period.
Things are slowly getting back to normal and it’s only a matter of time until she gets back to fitness and competing on the court. Montjane recently pulled out of the US Open due to fears of her safety while travelling.
She is ready to reset and chase one of her biggest dreams of winning a Slam.