Walking onto the tennis court, the player glances at his opponent. His surroundings fade away, as he prepares for the match. This is more than a game; it is a battle of the mind.
In fact, the iconic tennis player, Venus Williams once said, “Tennis is mostly mental. Of course, you must have a lot of physical skill, but you can’t play tennis well and not be a good thinker. You win or lose the match before you even go out there.”
Her words resonate truth as the match begins and the two tennis players set their sights on victory.
Neo Makhakhe is a tennis player, who learned from a young age that tennis was a sport that promised players epic rewards. All it asked for in return was dedication and an unyielding mind.
“I went to school in Maseru, Lesotho, and I used to play soccer. One day in 2007 when I was 10-years-old, while I was practising soccer, I was told to participate in a tennis tournament held at my school.”
It was then that Neo discovered that his talents did not lie on the soccer field. Instead, his sporting talent was found on the tennis courts.
“It was the first time that I held a tennis racquet in my life. But I managed to win the first four rounds. I made it all the way to the semi-finals, taking third place. Winning a bronze medal, I realised that I had never won anything while playing soccer and I then focused on tennis.”
This decision led Neo on a journey that he does not regret in the slightest.
“I have particpated in national and international tournaments. I have played in tournaments in Egypt, Kenya, Angola, Namibia and Botswana.”
In Kenya, Neo participated in the African Junior Championships for under 16s, while in Egypt he played in the African Junior Championships for under 18s.
While having a number of tennis championships under his belt, due to unforeseen circumstances, Neo was unable to go professional. However, this did not dampen his passion for tennis.
In 2016, Neo began coaching tennis and sharing his passion with younger players.
He is now a tennis coach at Curro Tennis, sharing his knowledge of tennis with local players.
“I joined Curro Tennis in 2018 after being in touch with Curro Tennis Director, Jared Temlett, when I met him in Namibia. He was touring with the South African Tennis Team as a coach and I was representing the Lesotho Tennis Team as a player at the time. I was lucky that my application was a success.”
With a deep-seated passion for tennis, coaching local players and assisting them reach their goals, Neo has high hopes for the future.
“My plans for the future regarding tennis is to help in the development of the sport by working at tennis. I also eventually want to have my own academy.”
Having reached substantial heights in his tennis career, why does Neo think tennis is so important?
“I think tennis is important because it helps one to develop independence. Also, it helps with quick thinking and can be played by everyone, even a 90-year-old,” he smiles.
As Neo coaches and still plays on a regular basis, he is truly a tennis star in the making as he develops his and his students’ skills.