The Sunday News
GROWING up in Bulawayo for any budding tennis player, Amakhosi, White City and Tshabalala stood out for the kids who fancied being Africa’s version of Arthur Ashe, Bjorn Borg or John Mcnroe, heroes of the sport of the yesteryear era.
Born in Bulawayo and bred in Mpopoma, Mike Mlambo a former Lukhanyiso Primary School, Mpopoma and Msitheli High Schools, he had a dream to be a star player in the game. Pursuant to that dream was several trips to White City for training under the then National Tennis Development programme which was chased by the Katz family in Bulawayo.
“I used to play tennis at White City dreaming big as a kid. Little did I know that I would make it as a career beyond my playing days,” said Mlambo.
A not so strong family background inhibited him from playing in as many tournaments to improve his game. Against that, he was limited to cameo roles and would not advance that far.
“Being from a poor background restricted me from playing in as many tennis tournaments, that caused my national rankings to stay low,” he remembers.
So bad were things that at the age of 10, his stay at home his grandmother and pensioned dad could not afford to pay his fees.
“Lady Luck smiled on me as my brother Thembinkosi came on board and assisted but my tennis was affected as a player,” said Mlambo, a man of a few words who is very passionate about development of young talent.
His journey to a successful coaching career started at the age of 17 at White City in 2003 under Nqobile Sithole.
“I was Nqobile Sithole’s assistant coach at White City when I started and then I went to Raylton Tennis Courts, Robert Tredgold Primary School and then moved to Municipals where I worked under Zebediah Mawisire,” said Mlambo.
Mawisire has been one of the city’s most successful coaches with two of his daughters, Vimbai and Fadzai considered tennis legends having won several national tournaments and scholarships to pursue their studies and tennis in the US.
Mawisire is a former boxing champion and trainer who in 1996/7 tried his hand and the end result was championship players and coaches like Mlambo. The tennis coaching field at times subjects one to a rolling stone that gathers no moss as he found himself on the again to Eveline High School.
“It is where he joined Team Sibbs’ Tennis Excellence Centre then we moved to Old Miltonians where I nurtured the Sibanda brothers Mehluli and Mzingaye Sibanda,” said Mlambo who worked with the boys’ tennis mad dad Tendai a former taxman and Inyathi Mission playwright.
He also worked with Tendai’s other sons Chriswell, Bongani, Mengezi and Ethan from their infancy.
“I am happy to have worked with Mehluli and Ethan who made it to Zimbabwe Davis Cup team.
“Ethan became Under-14 became Under-14 champion and Africa’s Number Two (2) in the singles, Mehluli was Zimbabwe’s Junior Sportsman of the Year in 2017 and Junior Sportsperson of the Year,” said Mlambo who is proud of his contribution to the development of the sport in the city and is still yearning for more.
His success was not limited to Team Sibbs, he has found his footing again at Fadzai Madzimbamuto-Tomasik Tennis Foundation where he is churning out champions.
But despite all that Mlambo does not see himself as a hero. He emphasizes on Team Work.
“If we work as a team we can achieve more. All the successes would not have been achieved if I did not have players, families and administrators to work with,” said Mlambo.
Tinashe Whata who is on a scholarship in the United States, Hillary and Nigel Ncube, Ronald Munzwenga, Keletso Mlane, Bukhosi Moyo, Bukale Bukombwe are among some of the players that have made a provincial and national impression that he has worked with.
Mlambo took Sunday News Leisure through his journey with Tomasik Foundation.
“Since 2019 with the Foundation I have been able to produce players who have played at high level events such as the International Tennis Federation, Confederation of African Tennis, regional and African Junior Championships. These are Courage Ndlovu, Akeelah Khanye, Makanaka Whata. I know and I believe I am yet to produce more big name players,” said Matshobana suburb’s unsung sporting hero.
Among some of his top players in recent years with Fadzai Madzimbamuto-Tomasik’s Emakhandeni project, Mlambo has polished Pamela Moyo, Princess Dube, Lethukuthula Dube, Mbali Dube, Sinolwazi Dube, Michelle Khanye, Romeo Khanye, Tafadzwa Chanaiwa, Joseph Magutshwa, Nonhlanhla Nyathi, Ideal Chienyenye, Nomhle Masuku.
One of the most supportive parents at Emakhandeni, Glad Khanye said they were happy that Mlambo had brought vibrancy to Emakhandeni.
“Aaron Mpofu did so well to brand Emakhandeni Tennis Courts, Mlambo has given it vibrancy that is second to none, our kids are in good national rankings and are playing international tennis.
“May all of Emakhandeni and neighbouring suburbs come forward and support the project and Coach Mike with whatever possible means. He is taking kids off the streets and giving them hope in sport and beyond with positive life skills,” said Khanye.
Fadzai is also happy with Mlambo.
“He has done a fantastic job. We are all impressed at the Foundation and it is what is keeping us going and fundraising when your coach is producing good results. We are all happy with his results and we are prepared and welcoming other players to come on board and help us take the project to the next level with Coach Mike,” said Fadzai a former East and Central Africa ITF Satelite singles and champion.
Mlambo has promised more champions.