How a Soweto kid made it to Wimbledon

 
 
 

Amukelani Mokone had her opponent sized up. Just minutes into the final of the Heritage Day Tournament, Mokone noticed her competitor had an obvious weakness – her fitness. So Mokone made the other girl run, tiring her out to secure a win. Her display of quick, tactical thinking combined with natural skill showed an astuteness beyond her years. Mokone was only 10 years old at the time, but her star was on the rise. Her journey to Wimbledon four years later is testament to that.

Mokone has been playing tennis since 2010. Her grandmother, the woman who raised her, was instrumental in her sporting development. One day, while walking together to the local library, they passed the Arthur Ashe Tennis Centre, named after the record-breaking American player who advocated for desegregation and racial equality on the courts during his heyday. Encouraged by her grandmother, Mokone signed up. “The first time I saw a tennis court, I was immediately captivated,” she says. It wasn’t long before the student from White City, Soweto, was beating everyone who challenged her. She currently represents South Africa as an under-15 player. In 2017, Tennis South Africa invited Mokone to participate in a tour to the UK. But excitement turned to disappointment when she realised the costs involved – a R20 000 non-refundable deposit due within a week, followed by thousands more in total. “I thought I wouldn’t be able to go,” Mokone says.

Recognising how deserving Mokone was, Soweto locals rallied together to raise the funds. She made the deadline, and together with 21 other players embarked on the journey of a lifetime. “It was amazing how the community came together to support my dream,” Mokone says. The trip included a visit to Wimbledon, where Mokone caught a glimpse of her future. Currently a learner at St Mary’s School, Waverley, the 15-year-old juggles school work with her pursuit of sporting excellence. This year, Mokone spent a week training at the Rafa Nadal Academy in Spain, after which she watched some of the world’s best players perform at the Barcelona Open. Mokone’s dedication to the sport has taken her out of Soweto and around the world, and in the process showed her community what can be accomplished when we help each other reach our goals.