Sithole is South Africa’s top wheelchair tennis player in the quadriplegic division, and the world number two.

Having survived a horrific train accident at the age of 12, Sithole has risen to become one of the biggest names in disabled sport.

His victory in the 2013 US Open, where he beat world number one David Wagner of America, saw him become the first African man to win a US Open tennis singles title. It earned Sithole a visit to the Union Buildings in Pretoria in April to receive the Order of Ikhamanga (silver) from President Jacob Zuma.

In 2013 he was voted the Disabled Sportsman of the Year, and also became the first disabled sportsman to be nominated as the overall Sportsman of the Year in South Africa.

SA wheelchair quad Lucas Sithole in action during the Wheelchair Tennis Clinic at University of Johannesburg on 10 October 2012 while the Duke of Kent Watches. (GETTY)
SA wheelchair quad Lucas Sithole in action during the Wheelchair Tennis Clinic at University of Johannesburg on 10 October 2012 while the Duke of Kent Watches. (GETTY)

While Sithole doesn’t want to talk about the day his life changed forever, it is the nature of his disability – that he is an amputee and did not suffer a spinal cord injury like most quads players – that gives him a distinct advantage on court in the power he generates with his left arm.

“With spinal cord injuries we have limited functionality in our hands, wrists and arms, and we’re missing certain abdominal muscles as well. But a player like Lucas has full arm and upper body function, so this makes him much stronger,” says Canadian Sarah Hunter, herself one of the top quads players in the world.

Sithole is fast making up ground on Wagner, who has dominated the world number one spot for over a decade. And the South African’s desire to get to world number one echoes the character of a man who has simply refused to give up on life.

Nicknamed Twister, Sithole never let his disability get in the way of living a full life. Off the court, he has his own band with his four cousins and younger brother, called Amathalente Amahle, which means Beautiful Talents. They recently released their first album – Ngidla Usizi.

But despite his status, meeting presidents and celebrities and appearing on CNN, Sithole remains a man who enjoys simple pleasures.

“My favourite holiday in the world is just going to my family home in Newcastle in KwaZulu-Natal,” he says.