Nigerian junior tennis team braces up for higher challenges

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Team Nigeria celebrate victory at the just concluded ITF/CAT Africa Junior Championship, West and Central Zonal Qualifiers in Lome, Togo

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The recent threat by Cote d’Ivoire to dethrone Nigeria in junior tennis came to nought as Team Nigeria once again proved their supremacy by emerging over all winners at the just concluded ITF/CAT West and Central Africa Junior Championship in Lome, Togo.

The 12-man Nigerian team coached by Ubale Mohammed and assisted Abel Ubiebi of Aces tennis academy garnered 950 points at the end of the ten-day tournament which featured 111 players from 11 countries.

The team saw off strong challenge from Cote d’Ivoire to keep the regional title for the six-straight year. Benin Republic and Cameroun came third and fourth with 780 and 715 points respectively.

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Despite their pre-tournament threat that they were going to end Nigeria’s dominance of the cadet championship, Cote d’Ivoire finished second on 800 points, after Day 6, restricting Nigeria to one gold, one silver and one bronze but Nigeria had a strong finish to post another memorable outing at the tournament which serves as qualifiers for the African Junior Championships billed for South Africa in March.

Aside from emerging overall winners, Nigeria’s impressive display saw the boys’ team bagged qualification for the Junior Davis Cup as well as the World Team Cup while the girls’ team also secured their place in the Junior Fed Cup. All the tournaments will hold later in the year and this is also the first time Nigeria will be qualifying for all the tournaments from a single competition.

Nigeria Tennis Federation President, Sani Ndanusa expressed delight at the performance of Nigerian players stating that the federation’s commitment to the development of the game particularly at junior level will be sustained with renewed vigour.

Nigeria’s title hope was almost slipping off with the injury sustained by Marylove Edward which forced her to forfeit the girls’ 14 and under title to compatriot, Oyinlomo Quadri and more crucially, her withdrawal from the doubles which denied the country a significant number of points but the team still proved its superiority with half of its representatives securing their places in the AJC.

In addition to Oyinlomo and Marylove, the quartet of Michael Osewa, Michael Ayoola, Matthew Abamu and David Dawariye, who defeated Andre Sydina of Senegal to the last ticket in the boys’ 14 and under category, will be rubbing shoulders with qualifiers from other regions of the continents. It also means Nigeria has the highest number of qualifiers from the CAT Zone 2.

This is no doubt a positive development for Nigerian tennis and the performance of the teen tennis sensations in Lome only goes to underscore the importance of early and adequate preparations for tournaments.

It will be recalled that before the championship in Lome, Team Nigeria had a week-long camping at the Old Trade Fair in Ado Ekiti which was bankrolled by Nigeria Tennis Federation 1st Vice-President; Yemi Owoseni.

After intensive training, the coaches of the team arrived at the players who went on to do the country proud in Lome. The NTF 1st vice-president had this to say about the camping in Ado Ekiti, “The atmosphere is great and the facilities here in Ekiti are of high quality and it will help the player to a very good outing in Togo.

“Ekiti has played host to their camping for various international assignments in the past and we believe that the effect of the hospitality and ambience they will experience here will help them to a successful campaign in the AJC.”

And as predicted by Owoseni, Team Nigeria went on to dominate the CAT/ITF Zone 11 championship which they have ruled in the past four years.

However, Nigerian sports fans, particularly lovers of tennis are asking how soon a Nigerian will feature in a major tennis championship like the USA Open, Australian Open, French Open or Wimbledon.

It will be recalled that despite racial barriers, the earliest generation of Nigerian players which included stars like Nduka Odizor, Tony Mmoh, Bulus Husseini, Saidu Agori, Sadiq Abdullahi, David Imonite merged forces to feature in some of the grand slam tournaments mentioned above.

As a matter of fact Odizor represented Nigeria at the 1988 Summer Olympics where he was defeated in the first round by American lucky loser, Robert Seguso.

Interestingly, most of these tennis players were awarded tennis scholarships in various schools in the United States of America where they graduated successfully.

Unfortunately, Nigerian tennis has declined so much that at the moment, there is no Nigerian on the ATP and WTA Tours. In addition, Nigeria is not doing well in Davies Cup just as the country is yet to feature in the Federation Cup which is like the women’s World Cup in tennis.

However, Nigeria’s junior tennis coach, Mohammed Ubale believes with the present crop of young players, Nigeria will sooner than later regain her lost glory in the game and begin to feature prominently in the various Grand Slams.

He told SHOT! that the present Nigeria Tennis Federation, NTF, under Engineer Sani Ndanusa has taken youth development seriously and very soon the fruits of such commitment would begin to manifest.

“Honestly it has been success all through these years for Nigerian tennis, especially for the junior team. Already we have Barakat Quadri who is just 14 years old but is already 375 in the world. For a very long time, we have never had a junior player who rose to that ranking. And mind you she is just 14 years old.

“We also have Michael Osewa in the boys’ category who was last year’s runners up at the Africa Junior Championship. There are players like Rebecca Peter, Marylove Edwards and so many others who are coming up strongly.

“This year again, we were in Lome, Togo, where we featured in the 14 and 16 under. After the championship, we came first beating Cote d’Ivoire who came second, with Benin Republic and Cameroon coming third and fourth respectively.

“Most importantly, apart from the qualifiers for the Africa Junior Championship, it is also the qualifiers for the Junior Davies Cup and the Federation Cup and the Youth Championships. Our boys and girls qualified for all the championships,” he disclosed.

The coach however said for Team Nigeria to do well in the tournaments they have qualified for, the government and other well meaning Nigerians must come to the aid of the Nigeria Tennis Federation.

He reiterated that once the necessary support is given, Nigerian tennis will bounce back strongly as he maintained that talents abound in the country but the problem has remained inadequate funding.

“So you can see this is big achievement. Now we have lot of international tournaments which we have qualified for. Unfortunately, the burden has been on the shoulders of the tennis federation. From our camping to participation in the tournaments, it has been the federation alone.

“So I want to believe that if we get the government and corporate bodies to support us, it will be a very simple task for us to play in the Grand Slams. This is possible but tennis federation cannot do it alone.

“Now we have the Africa Junior Championship in South Africa. We do not know if the government will come in and support us. This is a very big event. It is about Africa as a whole. We need to camp early and if possible go to South Africa in time to acclimatise.

“You know over there it is high altitude and the bounce of the ball as well as the weather and every other thing will be different. So we cannot go a day before the competition and do well. We need to train and get used to the courts there,” he pleaded.


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