BUCCANEERS TACKLE WHEELCHAIR TENNIS CHALLENGE
Orlando Pirates players Patrick Phungwayo, Brighton Mhlongo and Ntsiki Nyauza faced a test tougher than a Soweto derby at the Ellis Park Tennis Stadium in Johannesburg on Thursday.
The trio were given a taste of wheelchair tennis, being coached by the top South African players currently competing in the SA Open.
It was the first time Mhlongo had seen wheelchair tennis, let alone tried it himself, but by the end of the session, the Pirates goalkeeper was loathe to leave the chair.
“I had the best time of my life. It was a great experience – a very humbling experience rubbing shoulders with the SA wheelchair tennis stars and it was just amazing to see the talent that they have,” he said afterward.
“I’m overwhelmed to see guys with such disabilities with such passion and it’s inspired me to do more as an able-bodied person.
“I’m a fan of tennis but I have never actually watched wheelchair tennis before so I must say – we must come in numbers to support them because there’s so much talent here and it needs to be cherished.
“It was really difficult at first, trying to move the wheel and hold the racquet at the same time and I was wondering how they do it. The only thing they need now is our support.”
Teammate Nyauza added: “It was difficult but also exciting. I really enjoyed it. It was great experiencing something different to football.
“When you look at it, you might think it’s easy but when you’re in the wheelchair it’s quite difficult and that’s why I give them so much respect.”
Also part of the festivities was SA’s 15-year-old ‘Blade Runner’ Nthando Mahlangu, who last year powered his way to silver in the T42 200m at the Rio Paralympics in an African record time.
“I’ve never tried tennis before – it was my first time so I enjoyed it,” he said afterwards. “I remember some of the players from being on the Paralympic team together last year so it was nice to see them again.
“I really respect how they move and how fast they can go. I thought I was fast but they are faster than me.
“It was also great to see the Orlando Pirates guys here supporting wheelchair tennis,” added Mahlangu, who has qualified for the World ParaAthletics Championships and is looking forward to competing in London in July.
Meanwhile, after a morning rain delay, the men’s semifinal action continued at the SA Open with Stéphane Houdet of France, taking on Stefan Olsson of Sweden and Paralympic champion Gordon Reid up against Belgian Joachim Gerard.