Fourteen-year-old Amukelani Mokone will finally get to live her dream when she travels to the Wimbledon tennis tournament in the UK on Wednesday as part of the Tennis South Africa junior team.
In April, Mokone made headlines as her family couldn’t afford to pay for a trip to the UK with the junior team. She had been selected after an excellent showing at a schools tournament in Pretoria.
The community of Soweto, businesspeople and other high-profile individuals stepped up and raised R70 000, which was presented to her by Kaya FM at an official ceremony. The radio station was the first to make the public aware of her plight.
SA Schools Tennis chair David Jaquire said 22 players would represent the country during the UK tour, which incorporates Wimbledon.
They will play against Somerset College on Saturday and against Sutton Tennis Academy on July 3, he said.
Jaquire said they would spend two full days at Wimbledon as each player had tickets to the tennis showpiece.
The players were writing exams last week, but he was hoping they would “hit a few balls” before leaving. He added that he believed the team was very strong and would do well.
Team coach Marius Masencamp said: “The team is scattered around the country, but I have seen some of them play at interprovincial level.”
The team is divided into three categories: under 15, 17 and 19, with seven players in the first two categories and eight in the Under-19 squad.
“In a perfect world, it would be great to see them play in training, but, unfortunately, it is costly, and it would be great if we had a sponsor,” Masencamp said.
The coach, who is based at St Stithians College in Johannesburg, said this was an important tournament for the juniors.
“It is a great thing for these junior players to go to these big tennis events. It will inspire them to play there one day.”
Masencamp also coaches Bertus Kruger, who recently played well at the French Open.
The coach said he found working with children rewarding: “To see them grow in confidence, and see their highs and lows on a tennis court is fulfilling. It also helps them face other life challenges.”
Meanwhile, Wilfred Lepule, the owner of Lepule Consultants, one of the companies that had come to Mokone’s rescue, said it was disappointing that her coach, Oupa Nthuping, would not be joining her on the trip.
“We were prepared to pay for him, but TSA flatly refused, saying Masencamp was the only coach that should go with the team,” said Lepule. “They even threatened to disqualify her [Mokone] if Nthuping went to the UK.”
Jaquire declined the allegations, saying Nthuping should have applied to go with her but was late do so by the time it came to his knowledge and Mokone was never threatened to be disqualified, but procedure had to be followed.
Lepule said the sponsors felt it would have been good for Nthuping to accompany Mokone, who trains at the Arthur Ashe Tennis Centre in Soweto, which the coach heads.
Lepule has also called on other businesspeople in Soweto to help the struggling academy.