In a mere four years, Zikhona Xate (12) has gone from knowing nothing about tennis, to being the first Eastern Cape player to win gold at a Tennis South Africa (TSA) Super Eight tournament.
Xate, a Grade Seven learner at JK Zondi Primary School in Zwide, Port Elizabeth, represents the Emntsalani Junior Tennis Club.
She started playing tennis when her coach, Mbulelo Lugogwana, recruited her at school. “I fell in love with the sport and have never looked back,” says Xate.
Xate started playing tennis at Zwide Stadium. “As I got better, I trained at Wembley Tennis Club in Mill Park. Now I take private lessons there.”
Headed by Lugogwana, Emntsalani Junior Tennis Club recruits, trains and organises tournaments for children from no-fee paying schools in Zwide. It has 27 players, ranging in age from seven to 14, and 13 of them are registered with TSA.
“We recruit players from these schools because they don’t have access to resources,” he says.
Lugogwana says Xate’s success is helping to promote tennis in the area.
The club partnered with Wembley Tennis Club to improve the quality of training the players receive. “Our partnership ensures our players are coached by more experienced coaches, who have a deeper knowledge of the game,” says Lugogwana.
“It also gives township-raised kids a chance to play at professional level. Players like Zikhona are the future of the sport in South Africa,” he adds.
The players who train at Wembley Tennis Club also receive conditioning training at one of the best gyms in the country. Lugogwana says their physical development is a key aspect to sustaining them in the sport.
Xate’s mother Piwe Xate (32) says her daughter’s tennis progress has astounded her, and her grades have also improved since she started playing tennis.
“Even her teachers are encouraging her to play tennis. Parents must support their children’s dreams by watching their games and ensuring they have everything they need to play the sport,” she says.