“They have always given me 9-0 but I am sure that one day I’ll start winning games. I love the game and play it passionately but it does not seem to be yielding fruits just yet. However, I am optimistic that I will start winning games soon and I shall be able to achieve my dreams of becoming a good tennis player.”
Those were the words of a timid eight-year old Mary Udoffa at the NNPC Junior Circuit in Kaduna in 2014, where she was playing her first national junior competition.
She appeared overweight and incapable to everyone observing her at the time but she remained defiant in spite of the impression people had of her.
But her coach, Gabriel Abinu, who took her up at that age, did not show any sign of pessimism, as he proudly informed that he was sure she would become great with her level of determination and drive.
And true to his beliefs, less than five years after that tournament, her story has changed and she is now fast growing to becoming one of Nigeria’s treasures in junior tennis.
Nigeria Tennis Live caught up with the youngster during the recent Azimuth Shipping Lines Junior Tennis Championship, where she explained how her game has evolved over the past few years.
Udoffa believes she is now 90% better than when she started playing the racket game and shared some of her thoughts on how she started the game vis-a-vis where she is today and how things have since evolved.
“People used to give me six-love, six-love before but I’m giving people six-love too these days. I have also played tough matches where I tied six-all and played tiebreaks.
“In Togo, there was a tough girl I played against and I lost in the third set… but I made sure that I gave it my everything,” a bolder Udoffa told our correspondent.
While revealing her goal of going abroad to play professional tennis, the Lokoja, Kogi-based tennis youngster noted that she wants to win grand slams and become a really great tennis star.
She said: “I’ve always dreamt of going abroad, winning grand slams… and becoming a really great tennis player” as she ascribed her tennis growth to her ever supportive father and coach.
“My coaches, my dad always sponsoring me to play in tournaments, my determination on the court and my focus. Those have been the factors responsible for my growth over the past five years.
“My dad takes me to training every day, and keeps telling me that he wants me to be like the Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, and the other top professionals. But then I know that if I am determined, I can also do whatever I need to do on the court,” Udoffa added.
In spite of all of these supports that the 2018 winner of the Girls’ U-14 at the Azimuth tournament has been getting from her family and coach, she’s always had her down moments.
According to her: “I thought I would never be one of these professionals, but when I continued training and kept my focus on the court, I started developing better and the tournaments also kept me going and got me stronger too.
“I train more every day, I have a more determined spirit and these have been responsible for my growth over the years.”
Like most youngsters who take to tennis at the early stage, young Udoffa also has another youngster whom she really looked forward to, and the guess is almost without rival – Marylove Edwards.
To her, Marylove appeared to be the best youngster at the time.
“When I was growing up, I thought she was always the best. I looked up to her and Oyinlomo Quadri as the best junior Nigerian players.”
And it was almost like a dream come true playing alongside the same player barely five years after idolizing her.
“I was happy playing alongside Marylove because it gave me a kind of confidence that we would always win our matches,” the 13-year-old tennis prodigy said amid smiles.
But the cry baby of 2014 is now more mature in thought than when she used to cry from getting six-love, six-love.
“I no longer cry because I am a much better player now,” she explained.
Coach Abinu who believes her development has been astronomical, explained that Udoffa should not be left to continue with her development in Nigeria as he believes she’s got all it takes to excel in the elite sport.
He said: “I am thinking in two years, she should be taken out of the country because I believe her determination and fighting spirit are strong factors that have helped her growth in recent years. I was glad seeing her play alongside Marylove at the AJC qualifiers in Togo.
“She also played up to the third round in her first ever senior national tournament she ever played in. I actually want to thank God for this young girl, and for the little efforts I could put in as a coach.
“She pushes me a lot, as well as her father, because she really wants to be the best. She keeps encouraging herself.”