South Africans have hailed the first African to win a US Open title on his return from the tournament in New York. Wheelchair tennis player Lucas Sithole beat current world number one, David Wagner, in the singles section of the Quad tournament. A crowd of fans gathered at the OR Tambo airport to welcome him – some queuing in their wheelchairs for hours. Sithole lost both his legs and most of his right arm in a train accident in Dannhauser, KwaZulu-Natal in 1998. His coach Holger Losch said he was proud of his player and believed he could go all the way in the Brazil 2016 Paralympics games. It would be Sithole’s second appearance at the games after he was knocked out early in the London Paralympics last year. Proud country After defeating home favourite Wagner 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, Sithole is ranked world number two. The 26-year-old said his life changed once he realised he could still enjoy a full life even after his accident. “It all started when I accepted myself after my accident, I didn’t stay indoors – I went to look for help and my primary school was a big help,” Sithole said, reports Sapa news agency. Tennis South Africa (TSA) president Bongani Zondi congratulated both Sithole and his coach on his victory. “We are proud as TSA to have a champion at long last and also a black South African,” Zondi said. “When people with special needs are recognised, they can achieve anything,” said Deputy Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu at a press conference for the sportsman. Officials say wheelchair tennis has grown in the South African in the last decade and are hoping Sithole’s win will help to raise awareness about people with disabilities and the importance of affording them equal opportunities not only in sport but in society, says the BBC’s Pumza Fihlani in Johannesburg.
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