Tanya Okpala became a household name in the 90s as a result of her tennis brilliance and excellence. But she has become an internet sensation again, for a not-so-good reason.
The former US-based tennis player who hails from Anambra State, became a subject of social media commentary and was portrayed as a homeless and helpless woman, who needed help to get back on her feet. This is not the Tanya that was known to tennis lovers during her hey days.
Even though her speech in the viral video and subsequent ones portrayed someone who was in her right senses, the impression many ran along with was that of a woman whose ingestion of drugs outweighs her achievement as a tennis superstar.
But who really is Tanya Okpala? Why are all tennis stakeholders running to her rescue after the recent video became viral?
For starters, she was a former national champion who grew up in Onikan area of Lagos State – three minutes away from the popular Lagos Lawn Tennis Club, and rose to the ladder of Nigerian tennis, having defeated every player in all the competitions she participated in.
Not only was she a multiple national champion, she became the Nigerian number one female tennis player at the age of 15 and represented the country and Africa at major international events.
“Na my hand dem born that girl, she beat every player she came up against, all of them. She was a really solid player,” one of those who spoke with Nigeria Tennis Live about the player offered.
“At that time, there were many more tournaments in Nigeria than what we have now – All-Nigeria Open, Gulder, Dala, CBN Open, and she won all of them.
“She became a senior national champion at the age of 15 and there was nobody that could beat her in the country at the time, that’s the Tanya that I know.
“There was also another player like her then, Jacqueline Okwueze, but you see this Tanya, she was a player to beat at the time,” he added.
Nigeria Tennis Live gathered that following her stellar performances, Okpala, whose mum is from Belarus, was rewarded with College Scholarship to attend Howard University in Washington DC.
“As soon as she got to the US in the 90s, she replicated her performances in Nigeria in her school. She won laurels non-stop for her institution,” another person who spoke about Tanya noted.
Not only was the Nigerian lady one of the most outstanding players at Howard University which produced Hollywood superstars like late Chadwick Boseman, Taraji P. Henson, Diddy, et al, she also rose to become the team captain during her time there.
Such was her brilliance that the Lagos Lawn Tennis Club, Onikan, Lagos, described her as one of their ‘golden children’ whose talents exceeded the courts.
“Memories of her, her sister, and their warm, friendly parents flood my mind as they were integral parts of our club, virtually growing up within its nurturing environment.
“Witnessing the hardships life has inflicted upon Tatya was truly heart-wrenching,” one of the members of the Lagos Lawn Tennis Club said about the ex-tennis star.
While the internet is awash with tales of the former tennis star as a drug addict and one who abused substance, it is pertinent to note that she was indeed a talent to behold.
The Tanya Okpala we know remains, to us – as a tennis family, one of the brightest tennis stars to ever come out of Anambra State, Nigeria and Africa as a whole.