My grandmother introduced me to the sport of tennis. She herself always wanted to play when she was young but she never got the opportunity because of her background. I was 10 when my grandmother took me to the newly revamped Arthur Ashe Tennis Centre in Jabavu, Soweto. The centre was donated by Arthur Ashe, world champion and the first African American to win the US Open, Wimbledon and the South African Open.
I quickly fell in love with tennis and ended up walking myself to the centre every day after school to play.
In 2016, world champion sisters Venus and Serena Williams visited the centre. My coach Oupa Nthuping told me about the visit and that I would get to not only meet them but also to play a game with them! Imagine my excitement.
When the Williams sisters came, I was wearing new shoes. I remember being so uncomfortable and nervous. The shoes kept making squeaky sounds as I walked.
“Hello Mmabatho,” greeted Serena Williams. I was in awe and was only able to reply after what felt like an eternity.
I got to play with my favourite of the sisters, Serena. She picked me and said she liked me “because you have a body like mine, and I believe you play as good as me”. Just imagine! Venus doubled up with another student and Serena and I won the match!
The experience inspired me to carry on strong and do well in tennis. It raised my self-esteem and the body-shaming comments from my peers, who said that my body is built like a man’s, started affecting me less. I walk like her now. — Mmabatho Makgale (17) as told to Tiisetso Lesotho