SUPERSTAR SITHOLE EYES SOUTH AFRICAN OPEN TITLE
Lucas Sithole is a genuine superstar – the South African number one quadriplegic tennis player made history last year when he won the US Open title to become the first African in 40 years to win a Grand Slam.The world number two quad player is hard at work preparing for next month's Airport Company South Africa Autumn tournament series to be hosted in Gauteng. For the first time since that memorable title win in New York, Sithole will be playing at the highest level on home soil and is excited and optimistic about his chances.
Tragedy hit Sithole when he was 12 years old. He lost both legs and his right arm when he fell under a train – a setback that would overwhelm most people, but he says going to school with other disabled children helped him to come to terms with what had happened to him.
In 2005, he was invited to a wheelchair tennis camp, when the sport was launched in South Africa. Sithole took to tennis like a duck to water, and the following year, he represented South Africa for the first time. Although he was badly beaten in his first outing, he has gone from strength to strength since then. He is ranked second in the world and has two Super Series titles and a Grand Slam title against his name. Earlier this year, he reached the final of the Australian Open in Melbourne, losing to arch rival, world number one, David Wagner.
Sithole – known to his rivals as "Twister" – has made history in many ways, including becoming the first disabled sportsman to be nominated as Sports Star of the Year at the SA Sports Awards last year. He wants to carry on making history, and he has his eyes on a medal at the Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. However, his immediate aim is to regain his South African Open title.
Two wheelchair tennis tournaments are to be held next month. The first is the Airports Company South Africa Gauteng Open, to be played at the Gauteng East Tennis Centre at Benoni Lake from April 23 to 27. It is a grade one event, and one of only 13 such tournaments in the world.
Top international players are expected to participate, in preparation for the even more prestigious Airports Company South Africa SA Open at Ellis Park from April 20 to May 3. The Airports Company South Africa SA Open has Super Series status and is one of only six such tournaments. The others are played in Australia, France, Japan, Britain and the United States.
Sithole will be a major draw-card at the tournaments, and he is hoping South Africans will turn out in their numbers to support him and the other South Africans taking part."I am looking forward to the two tournaments," he said."It is always good to play at home in our conditions and in front of our fans."I believe my game has improved since last year's tournament, and I hope to do better this year, and lift the title."
Participation in local and international tournaments such as these is made possible by the generous sponsorships offered by Airports Company South Africa, the official sponsor of the sport.