Nine-year-old Siyolise Schultz holds the tennis ball high as she gets ready to serve on a hot summer’s afternoon at the Anthony Harris Tennis Academy in Sea Point.
Sweat trickles down her small body, her shoulders are fixed in place and she sways in her sponsored trainers.
She takes the shot with all the confidence of Serena Williams or Africa’s number one ranked junior tennis player, Khololwam Montsi.
Siyolise made the provincial tennis team last year but her success was hampered by an injury.
Her smile on the court hides the struggle her family goes through on a daily basis to help her play the sport.
Siyolise is led by her mentor and father, Garymcquire Mantile, who introduced her to the sport at the age of 3.
Siyolise also tried dancing, which she did not enjoy and swimming, which she did like, but it was tennis which ultimately stole her heart.
Her father believes she needs to play with the best of the best in her age group from all around the world to become stronger.
Her family is from a small location called Boast, in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth.
Mantile’s work required him to move around a lot, leaving Siyolise with her mother in New Brighton. He said moving around a lot had a major impact on his daughter’s extramural activities.
Siyolise and Mantile would update each other on the phone every day but it was not the same until she moved to Cape Town to be home-schooled and play more tennis.
Before receiving a scholarship to the Anthony Harris Tennis Academy (AHTA), Siyolise trained at the Franschhoek Tennis Club as her father owned a dance company in the area.
She played in her first tournament in July last year and lost dismally to one of the players from the academy.
She went home and cried, saying that she did not want to play tennis anymore but her father had words of encouragement, saying, “You have to lose in order to win. The struggle is all a part of the journey to become successful.”
They carried on training harder, and one afternoon while at a tournament in Port Elizabeth, Mantile received a phone call from the academy saying they saw a video of Siyolise on Facebook and they would like to invite her to a trial session in Sea Point.
“It was a big opportunity but then I didn’t see it like that. I thought about my job and she had already changed schools six times. Obviously we were excited but it was more concern than joy,” said Mantile.
He said he had to drop his job, his company in Franschhoek and move to Khayelitsha for his daughter to play in the academy ranked first in Africa and 10th in the world.
“At the moment the academy covers all tournament expenses. We have to raise funds for travelling. Last year she was going to go and play in a tournament in Spain but she couldn’t because of funds.
“Her coaches said she shouldn’t worry because there will be plenty of international tournaments in the future,” he said.
Mantile said Siyolise needs to embrace her struggles because, “No one sees the hard work but only the success.
“I think she needs to understand that in tennis and in life there is not always success. I think she can become a success. And it comes at a price. She is going to face a lot of obstacles. She knows we struggle financially, we stay far away and have to wake up early to make sure she catches the bus or a taxi.
“There are so many challenges that she will face, it is not just about the money. But what I’m saying is she shouldn’t be tough, she has to enjoy her struggle because tomorrow it will be her story,” said Mantile.
Siyolise said her biggest dream is to represent the country at Wimbledon.
“I enjoy playing tennis. I love it. I look up to Kholo (Montsi). One day I would like to meet Serena Williams and play in Wimbledon.
“At the moment we are busy with pre-season training. My training starts at 10am in the morning and we have another session in the afternoon.
“I get here early and serve, stretch and then I do some fitness with the team,” said Siyolise.
Her coach, Eitan Adams, said when Dionne Harris (Anthony Harris’ wife), saw the video online, she immediately shared it on the AHTA coaches’ group chat and they all promised to help polish Siyolise’s talent.
“This is exactly the type of tennis player we at the academy are searching for – and so we immediately offered her a spot at the academy,” he said.
Adams said as a full-time academy player, they are working with Siyolise daily, to make sure all her fundamentals and technique are built correctly, to give her the best chance of competing and succeeding at the highest level.
“As a young black player myself, who emerged during the end years of apartheid, like Siyo and others, our opportunities and exposure to play tennis both nationally and internationally were limited,” he said.
Adams said, growing up, he was a part of a lost generation whose hopes of opportunity were limited by the myth of transformation – tennis was still not an affordable, and therefore accessible sport.
“As a former player my passion as a coach is driven by my experience, and most of all the desire to make an African tennis champion, and inspire a new generation. Together, the academy and the M.A.T.C.H (Making A Tennis Champion) foundation strongly believe in Siyo’s abilities, and truly believe that with the necessary support and structures, she can be the next African champion.”