SA’s hero of wheelchair tennis
Patrick Selepe recently retired from the sport on a high and is now nurturing its future stars
South African wheelchair tennis is more than just Lucas Sithole and Kgothatso “KG” Montjane.
Behind the success of these top-ranked athletes is the sport’s unsung hero, Patrick Selepe, a recently retired player who had a hand in the duo’s development.
Selepe, who turns 39 next month, can claim a stake as one of the founders of structured wheelchair tennis since the introduction of the sport in the country in 2002 and the inception of Wheelchair Tennis SA (WTSA) in 2005.
Today, as the WTSA’s national development officer, he has been tasked with unearthing and nurturing the country’s future stars on wheels.
Selepe had his left leg amputated above the knee in 1996 due to bone cancer, but that setback became a turning point for the man who hails from Botlokwa in Limpopo. [the current SA number one]. I used to be these players’ guardian and coach when they were coming up the ranks.”
Thursday was a proud moment for Selepe after Montjane clinched the women’s doubles final in Melbourne, Australia.
Sithole finished as runner-up in the final of his doubles category at the same tournament. The two – together with SA’s number one in the paraplegics’ category, Maripa – have already qualified for this year’s Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Selepe, who walks with the aid of a prosthetic leg, bowed out with a win in the doubles at the Mauritius Wheelchair Tennis Open last month.
With 73 singles and 53 doubles career wins, he is still SA’s number three, behind Maripa and Leon Els (second) in the male paraplegics’ section.
“The men’s section is very difficult,” says Selepe, who was busy putting together the logistics for a qualifying camp in Soweto next month.
He hopes South Africa’s wheelchair tennis players will emulate their successes of last year – the sport received six nominations at the SA Sport Awards. Sithole walked away with the Sportsman of the Year with a Disability award.
He is tipping 15-year-olds Nokwanda Hlongwane and Alwande Skhosana to be the country’s future stars to succeed Lucas and KG.
Hlongwane, who was nominated for Newcomer of the Year at the Sport Awards last year, is ranked second globally in the girls’ singles, while Skhosana is the boys’ world number three.
WORDS OF WISDOM Patrick Selepe (standing in the background), who holds a white badge as chair umpire, briefs aspirant players during a coaching session in Pretoria last year