Joseph Imeh is , at this moment, the only Nigerian with most appearances at the Rainoil Open Tennis Championship which is a clay court event. But does that make him the master of the surface in Nigeria?
After losing four consecutive national tournament finals, including (losing 6-3, 5-7, 6-2) at the inaugural edition of the Rainoil Championship in 2017, many Nigerian tennis followers began to get worried for the player. Ironically, the Davis Cup player rose to become the Nigerian number one during this period as well.
Coincidentally, the former top junior predator chose the same competition (in 2018) to cop his first ever silverware in the seniors, by taking his revenge against… guess who? Henry Atseye! The same player who beat him to the title in 2017. He won 6-3, 6-2. But this time, it was on a hard surface.
Exactly one year after tasting his first national championship silverware, Imeh landed in his third consecutive Rainoil Open finals, but was only unlucky to have come up against an extremely in-form Sylvester Emmanuel who ran away with a 6-2, 6-3 win and the clay court title.
Currently in its fourth edition, the current Nigerian number one who’s hoping to complete his Nigeria Slam with the competition hosted at the Lagos Country Club, Ikeja, has waltzed his way through to the finals of the championship by putting up a good fight.
But to earn the bragging rights, he has to defeat Atseye who has now become his clay court nemesis and (now emerging) rival in the country.
Observers are now speculating that, Imeh, who has played the most finals on a clay court tournament in Nigeria (three) in recent years – same as Atseye, may have become Nigeria’s king of clay court tournaments, a development which will definitely gladden the hearts of the Nigeria Tennis Federation (NTF).
Also, the organizers and sponsor of the competition may be gladdened by the fact that the Rainoil Open Tennis Championship may have successfully built a track record of prepping Nigerian players, over the years, no matter how little, for their participation at the Davis Cup competition, a competition which is being played on a clay surface.
But will anybody be wrong to call Imeh Nigeria’s king of clay if he can get one past Atseye?