He returns the tennis ball so much ferociously, perhaps a testimony of the tough life he finds himself. Kevin Cheruiyot is the best tennis ball player in Kenya today, yet he cannot even afford a tennis ball leave alone a racket.
He appears a very humble boy, speaks less and is very reserved. Yet behind that demeanour is a young man who has seen the roughest side of life at just 18. He nearly slipped into drug abuse, engaged in crime and believes he would have been rotting in the grave by now.
But tennis has given Kevin Cheruiyot hope in life yet even despite being the best tennis player in Kenya today, he has to scrounge for a living, surviving on well wishers. He had to drop out of school, due to lack of school fees. Some well wishers have had to sacrifice so he can complete his education, but still all he can do is home schooling.
While his tennis peers are going to the some of the best schools getting the best education and playing with the most expensive equipment, he has had to make do with what he can get, from well wishers. Tennis is his life, he trains virtually every day to improve his rankings, but because of his poor backround, he cannot afford to enter top tournaments that would see him achieve his dream of becoming the best player from Africa if not the world.
Yet, he has not given up. He has severally swallowed his pride and borrowed everything from training kit to playing gear. Born in the poor set up of in Mombasa at Mwembe Tayari, Cheruiyot has seen his friends slide into drugs and all the vices in life, some have been killed in police raids, some by rival gangs, some have died due to drug abuse while others are at rehabilitation centers.
To Cheruiyot, tennis is the only way out of poverty out of the sufferings in life and at his age, he knows that he has to work hard and stay disciplined to achieve his goals. Kevin has never met his father, and his mother cannot even fend for herself. “I play tennis because this is all I have. I work hard to become the best,” he told dimbasports.com.
“I grew up in tough conditions. Three meals a day to us has been a luxury. I had to run away from a life I saw was going to kill me at a very young age.” “My mum is poor, she cannot do much for my brother and I. But because of well wishers, I am what I am today.” He finds it hard to talk about his life, fights tears from flowing from his eyes when asked about his past, but states it is that past that inspires him to battle hard.
His peers in the Kenya team come from rich backgrounds, it is some of them who donate their already used equipment to him. “They have been very helpful to me. Some have offered me accommodation when I travel to different towns, some have helped pay my air fare to play abroad once in a while,” he says. He started playing at a young age, was orthodox in his approach according to his coach Rosemary Owino, but that has not stopped him from being where he is today.
Due to lack of sponsors, Cheruiyot has not been able to play in many International tournaments, yet deep down he has the belief he will one day play in the Wimbledon. Now ranked among the 300 best in the world, Cheruiyot has set a target of being among the top 100 players in his age group. Owino terms Cheruiyot a hustler, and indeed he is, he started off without even a racket, he would borrow to play, but with the little time he had on borrowed equipment, he ensured he did his best.
Spotted at a tournament in Mombasa, Cheruiyot started rising, he played in several tournaments in Nairobi, winning and rising and today he has played in the region and in Africa. He was in the Kenya team that was in Congo for the All Africa Games last September Last week he was with the Kenya team that participated in the Grade 2 of the International Tennis Federation junior championships in Tunisia where he showcased his skills and put Kenya on the tennis map.
Yet while he represents the country and fights to surpass the levels reached by legendary Kenya tennis player Paul Wekesa, his dreams may just come a cropper if he never gets sponsors.