South Africa’s excellence in wheelchair tennis was celebrated at The Ability Challenge at iThembelihe Lsen School in Primrose, Germiston on Tuesday, with some of the country’s wheelchair stars taking on top players and celebrities in a team competition.
The iThembelihe Lsen School is one of the development schools earmarked by Wheelchair Tennis South Africa to introduce and develop the game.
Wheelchair tennis stars
World number two in the quads division Lucas Sithole, number seven in the women’s rankings KG Montjane, and men’s number 15 Evans Maripa were among those in action.
TV and radio anchor Robert Marawa acted as master of ceremonies and and a festive vibe of music, dance and top-class tennis entertained the 400-strong crowd, which included former First Lady Zanele Mbeki.
Four teams – Expresso Brews, e-Flava, Power of 5 and Ten-Spiration – battled for title honours in the challenge, with each team consisting of a celebrity, a wheelchair tennis player and two able-bodied players.
The winning team was Ten-Spiration, the SABC Morning Live team, which featured anchor Vaylen Kirtley, wheelchair tennis star Leon Els, Danie Visser – formerly a world number one in doubles – and tennis professional Michelle Sammons.
They defeated the team of Expresso Brews – presenter Adrian Hogan, professional coach Holger Losch, Evans Maripa and professional player Madrie Le Roux – 4-3 in a thrilling final.
Morning Live presenter Vaylen Kirtley said she was happy to have won the title with her team and was honoured to be part of the event. “What a great initiative and hats off to Airports Company South Africa and Wheelchair Tennis South Africa for putting the challenge together,” she said afterwards. “This sets the tone for the forthcoming Gauteng and SA Open events, which are sure to be a great success.”
‘A shining example’
South African Davis Cup captain John-Laffnie de Jager, part of the Power of 5 team, said he felt honoured to be part of the day. “Wheelchair tennis in our country is a shining example of what a sporting code needs to do to encourage interest and participation,” he said. “The atmosphere was unbelievable and what great fun was had by all. I’ll be back, if invited again.”
DJ Milkshake, another member of the Power of 5 team, was equally enthusiastic about the day. “That was really wicked! What a cool day, and I am real blessed to be part of it. Just a pity my team didn’t smack it,” he enthused.
‘This is so good for the game’
Former ATP professional and Davis Cup player Jeff Coetzee, who turned out for e- Flava team, said the Challenge was inspirational. “Tennis is such a fun loving sport, the game of a life time, and the game of love. Today we had tons of fun, saw players and fans of all ages, and everyone just loved the day. This is so good for the game. What tennis needs is more Ability Challenges,” he reckoned
Members of South Africa’s Fed Cup squad – Natalie Grandin, Madrie Le Roux, Natasha Fourouclas and Michelle Sammons – also participated in the Challenge.
Unathi Batyashe of Airports Company South Africa, the sponsors of the event and of the two big forthcoming international wheelchair tennis tournaments, commented: “Disabled sport is globally becoming more recognised and Airports Company South Africa have earmarked wheelchair tennis as the disability code they are committed to supporting.
“We were excited and delighted to have exposed more people to wheelchair tennis and to our top wheelchair players at the Ability Challenge.
“We believe through the event more people appreciated the skills and performances of these players by watching them in action at iThembelihe Lsen School.”