From dusty township to the pampered lawns of Wimbledon

2016-03-11 16:53
Wimbledon (File)

Pretoria - Although Mpho Makhoba's dream of climbing the tennis ranks was deferred by an untimely diagnosis of asthma at the age of 18, her love for the sport never diminished.

In 1998, Makhoba who comes from Atteridgeville, west of Pretoria, represented Gauteng North in the junior division, but her trajectory in the sport was destined to change. Instead of becoming a household name with a racquet in hand, she would now be involved in deciding the outcome of matches.

Makhoba is the first female official to receive an international qualification under the joint certification programme run by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) incorporating the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and Womens Tennis Association (WTA).

She is also only the fourth South African woman to achieve an international Chief of Umpires qualification.

"I used to represent Gauteng North in some of their junior tournaments. One day we had an exhibition match which I went to watch with my coach and he was one of the technical officials.

"The way they were calling lines and the techniques that they were using actually caught my eye and I decided that I also wanted to try and do that," she recalled with a grin.

"It came at a time when I was informed that I was asthmatic and I also had a heart problem - unstable Angina. It came in handy for me to move [in a different direction] while staying in the sporting code that I love the most."

With her mind made up, Makhoba started with a level one officiating course while she was still in high school. She passed, but that was not enough and not long afterwards she had registered for level two.

She passed, thanks to her dedication and determination. Next she found herself heading to Wimbledon.

"I did my first tournament, the Futures Tournament, the very same week I passed my level two. I moved on from there and went and applied to do an ITF level two course which is a white badge.

"I passed it and immediately after passing I got an invite to do Wimbledon and other tournaments in Faringdon and Felixstowe."

Futures is a tournament run by the ITF with prize money of between $10 000 and $15000 (R153 500 and R230 250) and ranking points from 1 to 35. The competition allows players ranked anywhere from 2000+ in the world up to about 150.

Makhoba lights up as she speaks about officiating at the tournaments. She said it was an opportunity for her to see the professionals and the people that she used to admire on TV.

"It was also nice being the first lady from South Africa to go there. From that point on I did a lot of tournaments - the Davis Cup, Futures, Junior ITF's - to try and gain experience in tournaments," she said.

She beamed with pride when she recalled some of the matches she has been involved with.

"I remember when Rafael Nadal was playing Nike Junior Masters when they came to Sun City, I did his match. I did Anna Kournikova's match, I did Amanda Coetzer's match, and I did Kevin Anderson's match when he was still up and coming.

"I also did Jeff Coetzee's match and some of the players that are playing Davis Cup like Tucker Vorster and Jean Andersen and I was actually one of his managers when he was playing interpro for Gauteng North." 

Determined to be even greater, last  October she did her level three - a silver badge - in Morocco. She described the course as one of the toughest classes she had ever attended.

"There were 36 candidates from across the world and I was the only lady doing chiefing in class and only two chiefs passed. I was the only one from South Africa who passed," she said.

But all the hard work paid off. Last Friday, Makhoba was the Chief of Umpires at the Davis Cup when South Africa played against Luxembourg in Irene, Pretoria.

While there, she was awarded Technical Official of the Year at the Gauteng School Sports Awards for the second year running.

Read more on:    tennis

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