When Chisomo Lumeta’s father, McKnight, received a tattered tennis racquet as a gift from a British national in 2005, he hardly realised it was a special tool that would propel his son to stardom.
The caddie master at Gymkhana Club’s golf section in Zomba did not foresee that he was taking home something that would give birth to a lawn tennis whiz-kid who is now based at the International Tennis Federation (ITF) Training Centre in Morocco and is ranked number two in Africa in the under-16 boys’ category.
“The Englishman gave me the racquet as a ‘thank you’ for my work as a caddie. He encouraged me to do some exercises with it after work to keep fit, but I ended up abandoning it in my house,” said the father of the 15-year-old star.
Then, as a six-year-old Standard Two pupil at Mponda Primary School in Zomba, Chisomo fell in love with a number of sporting activities, including golf and tennis at the club, but the scarcity of equipment was his biggest challenge.
Fortunately for him, a lawn tennis career beckoned after he saw the abandoned threadbare racket in his parents’ house one day. He innocently ‘smuggled’ it to a tennis court, where he joined a group of older boys for practice sessions.
Since then, he became so addicted to the sport that he always carried the racket to school for some warm-up sessions against the walls during break. Sometimes he could even sacrifice his lunch to train at Gymkhana tennis court.
This annoyed his mother, Emily, who frequently engaged herself in a cat-and-mouse chase with the child to confiscate the racket, give him some few slaps and stop him from pursuing his new hobby.
“I was very concerned as a mother because my son could not take lunch once he got hold of the racket. I also felt this could be a stumbling block to his studies,” said the mother.
It was only after Chisomo claimed gold during the Southern African Junior Circuit Championships in South Africa in 2009 to win the scholarship at ITF Training Centre that she started to seriously appreciate her son’s choice.
The firstborn in a family of three won his first title during the now-defunct Banja La Mtsogolo Junior Championships in 2006 and has since won under-10 and under-12 categories during national competitions.
Meanwhile, Lumeta won another gold medal during this year’s Southern African Junior Circuit Championships in Botswana. He has since made rapid improvements on world rankings in his category since 2011, moving up 1 269 places to position 343 out of over 2 000 rated players in his category.
But Lumeta admitted that he is lucky to have made a breakthrough on the international scene, considering the scarcity of standard lawn tennis facilities and sponsored competitions in Malawi.
“It was not an easy road,” said Lumeta on Friday in a telephone interview from Kenya where he is representing the country alongside under-14 female player Zione Nkhoma at the ongoing African Junior Circuit Championships scheduled to kick off tomorrow.
“It was by the grace of God that I won the ITF scholarship. Most of us attended training sessions barefooted and our rackets had too few strings to hold the ball. Worse still, we had few competitions to test our strength.
“Many of my peers continue to face such challenges and I hope stakeholders will do something to change things for the better,” he said.
Lumeta attributed his rise on world rankings to proper training schedules and facilities, good diet and frequent participation in various international competitions during his stay at ITF Centre.
According to Lumeta, he participates in at least 20 international competitions per year, trains for four hours per day during the week and avoids eating junk food such as chocolates and chips.
The Form Three student, whose exploits were recently included in the latest General Secondary Certificate of Education (GSCE) physical education book last December, would like to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in accounting upon the completion of his secondary education in Morrocco at the end of this year.
Currently, the tennis gem says he is working hard both in class and on the tennis court to realise his dream to become a successful professional player like his idol Roger Federer and help his parents earn a good living.
“I know where I come from and I will one day appreciate the love and care I got from my parents and Lawn Tennis Association of Malawi (Ltam) officials in a special way once I become a successful professional player,” said the athlete.
His childhood friend and former partner in doubles events during local and international competitions Chipangano Sandukira described Lumeta as an inspiration.
Sandukira, however, revealed that his interest for tennis is slowly wearing thin due to lack of domestic competitions.
According to Ltam national coach Hackson M’methiwa, Lumeta, who comes from Matache Village in Traditional Authority (T/A) Chikowi in Zomba, has always been a hard-working, persevering and disciplined athlete since they spotted him in 2005.