Donald Ramparti won the French Open in a wheelchair, can he do it at Wimbledon?

Leonard SoulesExclusive to ESPNJuly 5, 2023, 03:29 AM ET5 minutes of reading

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South Africa’s Donald Rambadi may have won the French Open quad wheelchair doubles title with Andy Lapthorne, but due to lack of funds, Rambadi is still struggling ahead of Wimbledon.

Rambadi is one of two South African wheelchair tennis champions at Roland Garros Kodatso Montjane won the women’s wheelchair doubles with Yui Kamiji.

Both players spoke about the lack of funding from South Africa’s Ministry of Sports and lack of major sponsors. Rambadi has been forced to retire from competitions in the past due to faults with his second wheelchair.

In a big blow when a major sponsor of the local sport withdrew their funding before Covid, Rambadi told ESPN: „The airport company [ACSA]This is a company that really makes things happen in wheelchair tennis [withdrew support]. We had six matches in South Africa and now we are down to one.

„I knew it was going to affect us, especially because we didn’t have the right sponsors individually. In fact most wheelchair tennis players [relying on] Tennis South Africa should do most of the things for us.

„When we were told that everyone should stand with us, we knew it was going to be very difficult because in South Africa, it’s very difficult to get individual sponsors.”

Donald Rumbadi won the French Open quad wheelchair doubles title with partner Andy Lapthorne in June and is hoping to make a comeback at Wimbledon.Daniel Kopatch/Getty Images

Montjean, who is eyeing her first Wimbledon title in 2018, told ESPN last month: „I hope all of this inspires change. I want to see a difference. That’s why I’m connected to everyone in this sport. I’m doing it all in a very small way.

“I had everything here [in Paris] It was my company that went out and got two sponsors. I still don’t have everything a tennis player needs. It will break my heart if nothing changes.”

Despite the funding challenges, Rambadi, who sponsor Wilson’s equipment, is confident of joining the All England club this year.

„We celebrated [the French Open triumph]. That’s enough now. Get back to work,” he told ESPN.

Rambadi was able-bodied until the age of 12, but osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as a bone fracture disease, left him in a wheelchair. Having played football, South Africa’s most popular sport, he only took up tennis in his late teens.

“I started playing tennis late [in] 2009 and I was studying at Letaba Special School, located in Tzaneen, Limpopo. I never saw myself playing tennis. I always thought it was a white man’s game. That was the mindset I had,” recalls Rambadi.

„The day I started playing tennis I was bored, so I thought: 'I’ll go and try it.’ When I started playing, I was told that I had a talent. From there, my teachers watched me practice. Going forward, I fell in love with it.

Donald Rambadi told ESPN that the Australian Open is his favorite Grand Slam and that he is the runner-up in 2023 with quad wheelchair doubles partner Yamanitu Silva.PAUL CROCK/AFP via Getty Images

The rules of wheelchair tennis are mostly the same as able-bodied tennis, with the only major difference in the rules being that the ball is allowed to bounce twice instead of once.

Initially competing in the main wheelchair tennis men’s draw, Rambadi was cleared to play quad wheelchair tennis in 2018.

Rambadi explained: “When you play in men [wheelchair tennis] Division, only then if you have disability in your legs, if you have many problems with your legs and your body [including your playing arm]You would be classified as a quad player.”

When he was classified as a quad, Rambadi knew immediately that he would become one of the best players in the world.

“The moment they classified me, I knew I was going to be big in this category,” he said.

“After we lost our sponsors, I knew it was going to be tough, but I also knew I wasn’t going to give up. [I was going to] Go out there and play and try to get into the top 10.

Rambadi and Montjean are united by their desire to inspire the next generation of black South Africans to play tennis.

„I didn’t like the way I was thinking as a kid – I didn’t like the things I thought, tennis was a white sport and all that. Now that I’m a Grand Slam champion, I have to change the way. The aim is for young kids to think at home,” Rambadi said.

„In this world, [I want them] See that nothing is impossible. See it, follow it and work hard – no matter who you are, nothing is impossible for all people.”

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