When Will Nigerian Players Get It Right?

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If there has been a sport that has witnessed a downward slide in Nigeria over the years, it has to be tennis. Most of the players are declining in form and they find it difficult to get to the very top in the sport, especially when they are competing with their colleagues from other parts of the world.

In all fairness, these players train very hard (go to the stadium and you’re sure to find these players there, sweating profusely during training sessions), but their major challenge is participating in major world championships, which has really been the bane of the sport in the country.

Some of the players even confessed that they are always ready for tournaments but lack of sponsorship always prevents them from playing circuits outside the country, hence their failure to improve on the ITF ranking. The highest ranked Nigerian in the ITF ranking is still within 900 and 1000 in the world.

For the junior players, there is respite though, as they have been churning out very impressive performance, especially with the recently concluded qualifying tournament for the African Junior Championship, AJC, which was held in Togo, where five players qualified and one other player got a wild card.

Nigeria keeps producing exciting and future players in the junior category, but finds it hard to get to the apex in the senior category.

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The winner of the first leg of last year’s Governor’s Cup, Lagos Tennis Championship, Bhambri Yuki, was just nineteen years when he achieved that feat. He came from India and made Nigerian players look like they never prepared for tournaments. He defied all odds as a junior player and decided to compete in the senior category, yet none of the big boys could stop him from lifting the Men’s Singles trophy.

The issue of sponsorship is indeed a very big one in the country. Is it that corporate organisations don’t have confidence in the players or are the players the culprits? If Nigeria has to get to the very top on the global scene, stakeholders in the sport have to get their acts right, put their house in order and encourage these players, who have chosen to excel in tennis. They should be adequately motivated to give their best at international tournaments.

Secretary General of Nigeria Tennis Federation, NTF, Ikhana Mbora, told Tennis Special that hope is not lost after all. The NTF scribe said that she was impressed with the junior players’ performance at the just concluded AJC qualifier in Togo.

“I believe that with the foundation that we’re laying now, the future is bright for tennis in the country. Those junior players were tremendous in Togo, despite the fact that the hosting of the tournament was shifted from Nigeria at the last minute,” she said.

—Damilare Okunola

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