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They Called Me Hazard – David Ekpenyong Says, Reveals Why He Quit Tennis For One Year

David Ekpenyong is fast becoming a household name in Nigerian tennis. Even those who are not familiar with Nigerian tennis now know that name.

His rise to stardom and the peak of Nigerian tennis ranking did not come as a fluke, neither did it come as an accident. It was a deliberate push and knack for success by the youngster.

At just 17, Ekpenyong is Nigeria’s highest ranked player on the Junior ITF rankings, and is the number one in the country.

He has recently shown the world what he can do and time and again, he has proven that his performances have been no fluke, has he has continued to churn out good results from games.

But who exactly is David Ekpenyong, and what exactly do people know about the man affectionately called Mr. Lanky?

David Ekpenyong CBN Juniors

He recently spoke with Nigeria Tennis Live about how he started playing tennis and how he almost quit the sport when it appeared as if he had nothing to benefit from the sport.

“I started playing tennis when I was about two years old because my dad was an active club tennis player, so, he was always taking us to the club even though we did not know how to play then.

“When he’s done playing with the members of the club, he just throws balls at us to hit on the court.

“I got fascinated with the game of tennis because of my dad. He was a handball player, but he switched to tennis because of his love for tennis.

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“It was he who got me my first racket, a baby racket. I think it was a head racket,” Ekpenyong said about his early days in the sport.

While his journey may have seemed to be flowing with milk and honey, the Nigerian teenager has not been without rough patches.

He abandoned tennis for a year and focused on football as he was no longer benefiting from or getting better at tennis.

Ekpenyong shared his story: “My saddest day in tennis till date, was when I was playing for an Academy in Port Harcourt, because I was not like performing really good.

David Ekpenyong

“I won’t say the coaches, because the people there, they looked down on me, they were not focusing much on me, like coaching me. They were focusing only on my sister, so, I had to leave tennis for some time.

“For like one year, I left tennis and started playing football. My dad was not happy with that, but that was how my tennis life was going down the drain.

“After a year, my dad spoke to me and I came back and started to play again. I was trying to push and saw that I had a good game style and I believed that I could do even more and better.

“So, I told my dad that I did not want to stay at the academy anymore. He asked if I was sure and I confirmed it, so he pulled me out of the academy when I was playing U-14,16.

“He decided to start working on me and was consistently coaching me, and worked on my game until I got back to my best”.

Not much has been said about his education, and not many are aware that he is a really educated young man. In fact, he already gained admission to study Hospitality and Tourism management at the University of Port Harcourt.

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But he dumped all of those for tennis and decided to focus on his passion, because, according to him, his tennis would not have gotten better were he still in school.


“I finished my high school before I started playing active tennis. I was 16 going to 17 last year when I finished.

“I already got admitted to study Hospitality and Tourism in Uniport but I had to join Aurum that’s why I didn’t continue.

“If I was in the university I’m not sure my level of tennis will be high. I wanted to play tennis, and since I had someone to support me, I chose to focus on tennis,” the defending champion of the CBN Open stated.

Like many dreamers, the Davis Cup player just knew that he had a mandate to stand on in tennis and stayed put after his recent triumphs in the junior cadre of ITF tennis.

He said: “After my first ITF J60 title in Togo and I made final in the J30, I knew I was going somewhere.

“And I wanted to start from national to international and I see myself do it gradually because I saw the kind of game I had. I just needed to be more focused because I have almost everything in my game to compete at the highest level”.

While it is not unusual for the fame and popularity to get into his head and attract goodies to him, Ekpenyong remains as focused as always.

In fact, he emphatically stressed that he does not have any girlfriend because he does not want any form of distractions on the court.

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“I don’t have any girl right now because my tennis is my first priority but I have girls that are my friends.

David Ekpenyong

“Sometimes, if I don’t play well, I think it’s because of the girls I talk to, that’s one of the reasons I don’t have a girlfriend, and you know tennis is mental, I don’t want to be on court thinking girl that don’t even care about what is going on.

“I will start ITF seniors from next year, maybe, I don’t want any distraction because in that race, no one will run it for you, It’s only you, the ball, the court, your opponent and the umpire,” the Accra J100 winner noted.

Luckily for him, he started making money from tennis at a rather young age, as he explained that “the first amount I made from playing tennis, if I can remember very well, it was during a tournament in Akwa-Ibom, in Youth Games.

“They paid like allowances, that was like the first money I made. I got N10,000.”

And like most tennis players, there have been good and bad days on the court. Weirdly, Ekpenyong’s happiest day is not the day he won his biggest titles or the day he reached number one.

According to him: “My happiest day would be when I beat Michael Chima in a national tournament about two years ago.

“I defeated him at the CBN Open second round, that was my first time of ever playing in the third round of a senior national event.

“My toughest match ever was that match against Michael Chima, because that match lasted for over four hours and I didn’t believe I could beat him because he beat Wilson (Igbinovia) then, when Wilson was in top form.”

David Ekpenyong

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Unsurprisingly, Ekpenyong admires one of the greatest players to step on the courts to play tennis. He said: “The player I admire the most is Novak Djokovic, because he plays really good tennis.”

On his preferred tennis surface, he prefers both hard and clay courts. and he gives his reasons too.

“I like the hard court because I believe that’s the surface I play on the most. My balls move faster and it helps my game. Why I like clay court is that the balls move slower and it helps you to think about your next move,” the former CBN Junior Open winner explained.

He only believed he would go far in tennis as recently as 2022 when he played to the final of the Dala Hard Court tournament in Kano State “because it was my first time playing that tournament and I played from the prelim. I didn’t ask for a wild card, I played from the prelim to the final.

“I lost to Oparaoji Uche who was the number one player as at then. That was when I believed that I could make it in tennis.

“CBN Nationals feels like my biggest tournament since I started playing tennis. Because I won the Juniors, and I was thinking of winning the seniors as well because I saw the calibre of guys there, it was a very tough tournament to play.”

David Ekpenyong

Nigeria Football Federation would have sent scouts to cop our Nigerian number one had he totally dedicated himself to the round leather game.

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He explains vividly and with excitement how he was so skillful that his friends nicknamed him Hazard after former Chelsea star player, Eden Hazard.

“If I was not a tennis player, I would be a football player because I have the talent and the skills.

“After playing tennis at the club, I’d rest for one hour and go to the field to play football with my friends. They even nicknamed me Hazard because I was that talented,” the 17-year-old Ekpenyong explained.

Like every tennis player, Mr. Lanky is a dreamer and his dreams are especially really big. “My aim is to achieve a very big thing in tennis because I’ve spent my time on tennis and everyone’s hope is on me. My family, they are praying for me to achieve the best.

“I want to achieve the best, if possible, winning all the Grand Slams in tennis and this would be my happiest day in tennis, and when I become the World number one.

David Ekpenyong

“A Nigerian can actually win a Grand Slam if they are focused and don’t have the mindset that the whites are better than them, because that is the mindset of most of the Nigerian players.

“I’ve played a lot outside the country, and I’ve seen that once you play good, the foreign guys will be scared of you and they respect you even more.

“I can’t tell a particular Nigerian player who can win, because if I mention a player and the person does not win, I appear to have said something terrible.

“But I can mention myself, because I have the mindset and the mentality to win.

“When I’m on court, I don’t think anything outside the tennis court. I just play the with the court and the balls and stay positive.

“I train for a minimum of four hours daily too, and I really hate it when I have a bad day on the court.”



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