Wheelchair tennis stars have paid tribute to former junior world number 2 Thando Hlatswayo on International Disability Day following her death at the age of 20.

Hlatswayo passed away in the early hours of Tuesday just a few days after she suffered from Meningitis.

Two-time Grand Slam Champion Lucas Sithole who was very close to Hlatswayo echoed the sentiment of many on his Facebook: “So so sad and shocked to hear of Thando Hlatswayo’s death. Can’t believe it and only 20. Thinking of her family, sending lots of love and we are celebrating her life today on International Disability Day. At only 20 years she has done so much and proved that despite our disabilities we are able.”

The country’s top women’s player Kgothatso Montjane (fondly known as kg) said she was absolutely shattered to hear about Hlatswayo’s passing. “I am still in shock that Thando is no more but I find comfort in knowing that she was a fighter, a great tennis player with a special talent. She ran her race and showed the world that ‘your disability does not determine your ability’.”

Hlatswayo’s doubles partner Mariska Venter was moved to hear of Hlastwayo’s death, “From rivals to doubles partners to roomates, so many memories, so many tours and so many titles together! You were one amazing tennis player!! The court will never be the same without you. I will miss you dearly, rest peacefully my partner!”

Her closest friend Nokwanda Hlongwane was beyond shocked and did not say much, “Impossibly sad. Forever a team-mate, friend and sister. Rest in peace Thando.”

World number 13 men’s player Evans Maripa was amongst the stars pouring in tributes for Hlatswayo, “We are heartbroken beyond words at the loss of our ever-smiling, talented and determined Thando. Thando died a champion and we celebrate her life today when the world celebrates Disability Day”

Alwande Skhosana, the world number 4 junior who attended the same school with Hlatswayo also paid his respect, “Thando was like my sister, she was my school mate, my teammate. It breaks my heart that she died young before fulfilling her dreams. Our aim as a team was to bring more titles to South Africa and to be one of the best professional players in the world but the most important one was to inspire the world and show that we are not disabled but we are living with disabilities.”

Hlatswayo will be laid to rest tomorrow (Sunday) at 10h30am at her home in Paulpietersburg at Bilanyoni Section.