SA’s hero of wheel­chair ten­nis

Pa­trick Selepe re­cently re­tired from the sport on a high and is now nur­tur­ing its fu­ture stars

CityPress - - Sport - DANIEL MOTHOWAGAE dmoth­owa­gae@city­press.co.za

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.

PHOTO: REG CALDE­COTT

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

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