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From Tzaneen to the Australian Open

18 Jan 2022

Donald Ramphadi in action at the SA Spring Open 2021 singles tournament. Photo credit – Picture Café

By Asnath Morethe

A South African wheelchair tennis player is set to make his Grand Slam debut in Melbourne, Australia because he has been awarded a wild card into the Quads main draw at the 2022 Australian Open tournament scheduled for January 23 – 27.

Grand Slam refers to four major Open championships – the Australian, French, British (Wimbledon) and United States.  A wild card is awarded to young and up-and-coming tennis players by the tournament organisers which serves as an invitation to participate even though they do not qualify based on their current ranking.

Donald Ramphadi from Tzaneen, Limpopo received the wild card after his team wrote a motivation to the Australian Open organisation about his tennis achievements and why he deserved a wild card.

There are three categories of wheelchair tennis – Men, Women and Quads – with each category having singles and doubles tournaments. According to the International Tennis Federation (ITF), “Players with higher levels of impairment compete in the mixed Quad division.”

Ramphadi told Tennis SA, “The wild card means a lot to me. I have been working so hard over the last 10 years of playing tennis and I always had hope that one day I will make it.”

Even though 2021 has been challenging because of the covid-19 travel restrictions, the 28-year-old notched up some achievements. He made it to the finals and semifinals of the ITF Level 2 in Italy (June) and France (July) respectively. In September 2021 he won the SA Spring Open singles title at Ellis Park in Johannesburg and finished the year ranked world No. 18.

In October Ramphadi led the SA quad team which won the bronze medal at the BNP Paribas World Team Cup in Sardinia, Italy where he defeated six-time Grand Slam Champion and former world No. 1 player David Wagner from USA, and Japanese world No. 6 Koji Sugeno.

Ramphadi, who is ranked No. 1 Quads player in Africa, will play against the top seven ranked players who will be competing for the singles and doubles titles at this year’s first Grand Slam tournament.

“What I am hoping to take out from these tournaments is to learn, have fun and become a better player tomorrow,” he told ThisAbility.

Rampadi was diagnosed with bone fracture when he was 12 years old. He started playing tennis at the age of 15 in 2009. Before that he always thought tennis was only for white people. “After so much practice, I fell in love with the sports and when [I] am inside the tennis court [I] am the happiest person ever.”

Ramphadi’s coach of two years, Duncan Krisjan (43), said, “The boy has been playing and now it is all about preparing him for the big stages. He is ready, tennis-wise, and physically. Our only thing to do now is to keep supporting him this side so that he can be on point that side. We are a winning team and as a coach I think he is going to be a runner-up or a winner in this Australian Open because that is how ready we are for these tournaments.”

Siyabulela Nkachela (44), who has been Ramphadi’s business manager for over 10 years is confident that he will do well Down Under. “He is playing three events in Australia (the Victorian Open ITF 1 Series and the Melbourne Open Super Series preceded the Australian Open) therefore the immediate goal is to do well at those events. Medium goal is to improve his current ranking of 18 to go well into the top six in the world to ensure that he can play in more Grand Slams this year and stand a chance to compete with the best and be the best.”

One of Ramphadi’s biggest fans, Sizwe Radebe (42), says that he respects the player for what he has achieved. “What I have learned from Donald is that when you work hard, with patience, the universe will respond the same.”

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