Sixteen-year-old South African wheelchair tennis junior Mpho Mhlongo from Mohlakeng in Randfontein says wheelchair tennis changed his life, that’s following his first ever international tournament in France last month.
Mhlongo represented the country at the recent Cruyff Foundation Junior Masters in Tarbes, France together with world number 4 junior Alwande Skhosana and says the experience was life-changing.
“Wheelchair tennis gave me so much hope and life,” said Mhlongo. “It is through the sport that I got an opportunity to fly for the very first time and travel overseas. I couldn’t believe that I was really travelling to compete abroad”.
“I learnt so much in France, gave my best in every match I played, and I was excited to win a match against world number 5 Riauri Logan of Britain. This experience taught me that despite one’s disability, you can still be anything you want to be in life”
Mhlongo who was awarded a wild card impressed in his debut at the prestigious junior event. He lost his opener against Conner Stroud 3-6 0-6, staged a stunning fight against Jucelio da Silva Torguato (BRA) but fell to the Brazilian in a captivating match 1-6 6-3 4-6.
He enjoyed his first match win after Riauri Logan retired at 6-2 3-6 1-0 due to a burst tube.
Born with a congenital birth defect, Mhlongo’s association with wheelchair tennis started at the age of 13 and a year later he was ranked number 23 in the world. Mhlongo proved to be the country’s rising star when he broke into the top twelve in the world with just only three years in the sport.
“I have always liked individual sports and tennis was challenging but I knew it was for me,” commented Mhlongo.
Mhlongo’s advice to people living with disabilities is, “Never keep your head down. Doors and opportunities to see the world are out there, just be positive, work hard and never let your disability gets in the way of your dreams. That’s what I did and playing wheelchair tennis changed my life.”
Mhlongo said the sport need more financial assistance to support lots of other talented wheelchair tennis players to travel, be more competitive, gain international exposure and succeed in the sport, “There are lot of talented players out there and with more financial support, the sport can continue to change more lives like it did with mine”.
Photo credit: Reg Caldecott