Nigerian tennis players have over the years, cut a frustrated figure off and on the courts.
The reason is not far fetched, they have been ‘starved’ of quality and consistent tournaments in the country and are often expected to perform as much as their foreign counterparts, or even better.
They have been reduced to bit-part players in most of the competitions they have participated in; home and abroad, and have even lost faith in the racket game in the country, stating that it would never work as long as what was being witnessed was concerned.
|“I’m proud of you,” Governor Fashola of Lagos state seems to be telling Michael Moses after becoming the first Nigerian player to win the Governor’s Cup Lagos Tennis Championship|
Such was the level of bitterness that one of the top players in the country, Kehinde Alade, once ranted, “forget Nigerian tennis, I don’t think it will ever work again”.
From about five- six national tournaments that they were accustomed to playing, the players were limited to playing just three; the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN Open, the Dala Hard Court Championship and the Governor’s Cup Lagos Tennis Championship (a Futures event which involves international players).
Aside the inconsistency of the tournaments, the fact that they were played at odd periods of the year also drew criticism from the players, who had always clamoured for a minimum of one tournament per quarter. But, since the turn of 2014, there has been a massive improvement in the number of tournaments the players have had to participate in throughout the year.
And for the first time in as many years, the players and coaches rated the year 2014 as one of the best years in Nigerian tennis in a really long while.
|KehindeAlade, who was really hurt with the dearth of tournaments in the country, is now based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, UAE|
A total of six tournaments were played in the country; the annual CBN Open, the Ekiti All Nigeria Tennis Open, the Abridged Governor’s Cup, the Abuja Open, the Dala Hard Court Championship and the Ikoyi Masters- for the very top players in the country.
The beauty of the tournaments last year was the way they were organised to hold one after the other. The players left Lagos after the Governor’s Cup, went to Abuja almost immediately afterwards, left Abuja for Kano and returned to Lagos for the Masters.
Such was the luxury of tournaments at their disposal that some players could afford to lose their matches because they wanted to play in another tournament which was going to start before they ended the ones they were participating in.
“We could not have asked for a better year,” respected coach, Benson Ishicheli, told Naija Tennis Special during that period of tennis consistency in the country.
But, the real heroes of the resurgence of tennis in Africa’s most populous country must be identified and celebrated where necessary.
Mr. Yemi Owoseni (Former Vice President, Nigeria Tennis Federation, NTF)
Staunch passionate tennis fan as he is, he worked really hard to ensure that the Ekiti All Nigeria Tennis Open was held in his Ekiti state, where he was the Permanent Secretary for Youth and Sports Development under the administration of the former governor of the state, Dr. Kayode Fayemi.
|Mr. Yemi Owoseni, former Vice President of the Nigeria Tennis Federation, NTF, ensured the hosting of the Ekiti All Nigeria Tennis Open|
The tournament was held a few days before the governorship election in the state and it was duly attended by some of Nigeria’s top stars, despite the relatively meagre prize money and ranking points.
Asked whether the tournament will hold this year despite a change of government, Mr. Owoseni confidently replied, “of course, it will. It is a tournament which has come to stay and we shall surely continue for as long we can”.
Nigerian Ports Authority
The NPA Open had been in the pipeline for long as Engr. Sani Ndanusa, President of the Nigerian Tennis Federation, NTF was always assuring of a ‘new’ tournament.
“We are working really hard to get a new tournament. I can assure you that we are trying our best and we shall soon notify you when the tournament will officially kick off,” he always informed prior to the signing of the MoU at the NPA office in Marina.
|The NPA Boss, signing the MoU in Lagos last year|
The tournament was held in Nigeria’s Federal Capital and it was a huge success. Kudos must be given to the NPA for ‘test-running’ the tournament with the prize money
Mr. Godwin Kienka (Director, International Tennis Academy, ITA)
A former International Tennis Federation, ITF Umpire, Mr. Kienka has built a reputation for being extremely passionate about tennis in the country.
His ITA organises about four-six junior tournaments every year, but that was improved on last year, when he added the Ikoyi Tennis Masters to his growing ‘CV’ of tournaments organised in the country.
|Mr. Godwin Kienka, (left), poses with world’s number one tennis player, Novak Djokovic, before he attained the post|
Being the vice-captain of the tennis section of the Ikoyi Club 1938 may have helped his cause, however, his professionalism and sheer knowledge of the game have remained unrivaled in the country.
Through him, Nigeria had a return of a Masters tournament last year.
Someone once joked about, “Kienka being the only ‘serious’ Nigerian that does tennis at the moment”.
Such is his visible passion for the game of tennis in the country.
Engr. Sani Ndanusa (President, Nigeria Tennis Federation, NTF)
This piece cannot be complete without a mention for the President of the tennis federation, who has shown doggedness and serious zeal to ensure that Nigerian tennis, not only survives, but gets a new lease of life under his administration.
|Engr. Sani Ndanusa, President, Nigeria Tennis Federation, NTF|
The former Nigeria Olympic Committee, NOC President had been touted a failure by many pundits and followers of the sport in the country and deservedly so, because of the serious lull being experienced in the racket games for years.
But he did not relent in his efforts of always “assuring” anyone who cared to listen that the sponsors were around the corner and he lived up to expectations when the tournaments eventually started pouring in.
With 2015 already a quarter less, the players are already getting set for another tournament and will have their hands full this year.
We shall bring you the real heroes of the 2015 Tennis thus far in the concluding part of this piece.