28th February, 2012
Nigeria’s number one female tennis player, Abinu Fatima, revealed in this interview with Damilare Okunola why Nigerian tennis players have not been performing to expectations at international tournaments.
How has it been playing tennis for a while now?
It’s the same story for most tennis players in the country. We always have challenges but after struggling at the initial stage of my career, I’m beginning to enjoy the game better.
What major challenges threatened your progress?
Getting sponsors has always been a major problem for Nigerian players. This is one of the reasons I don’t always perform very well at major international tournaments. Recently, I’ ve the opportunity to attend tournaments outside the country with adequate sponsorship.
How many tournaments have you played so far?
That’s a very big question because I’ve lost count. I’ve attended every major tournament in the country and on the continent. I was at the All Africa Games in Maputo and the one at Algiers.
Which of these tournaments have you won?
Smiles… I’ve won several tournaments as well. In fact, I’ve won every tournament that I participated in on Nigerian soil and several others in the Juniors tournaments in Africa. I also won bronze medal at my first All Africa Games, which took place in Algiers, Algeria.
For how long have you been playing tennis now?
It’s been 13 years now.
What prompted your love for tennis?
There was a tennis court close to our house then in Apapa, where I used to watch people playing tennis. I developed interest in the game over time and I started picking balls for those players on the court. Those in charge of the tennis court later saw the interest in some of us, who were picking the balls. That was how we got our rackets too and the rest is now history.
What is your driving factor over the years?
My love for the gameis the motivation. I love the game so much and I think that is enough motivation for me to keep playing, at least for now that I’m still young and energetic.
What was your parental support like?
That’s one of the things that have kept me going. Every member of my family has been supporting me one way or the other. Virtually everyone in my family plays tennis. This is to show you just how much my family loves the game.
Which of the tournaments is the most challenging?
The All Africa Games in Algiers stood out as the most challenging tournament for me and also my best ever because it was my first appearance at the Games. Though I did not win the gold medal of the competition, I’m glad today that I won a bronze medal.
Surprisingly, you’ve won every tournament staged in Nigeria, but the Governor’s Cup has been a major challenge for Nigerian players.
The Governor’s Cup is another ball game entirely because of the foreigners that are involved. However, the only reason we’ve been performing below par is because we lack exposure. Many of the local players don’t have the opportunity to play outside the country. The last time we had a tournament in Nigeria was in November (The Dala Hard Court tourney in Kano) last year and we’ve been training on our own, waiting for the next tournament, which could be sometimes in June or July. But these foreigners take tennis as their way of life, that’s why they will always have upper hands when they play in the Governor’s Cup.
What else do you do apart from playing tennis?
I’m studying Accountancy at the Lagos State University, LASU, I’m in 300 level. Combining education and tennis has not been easy but that’s the sacrifice one has to pay to get formal education.
What is your biggest prize money?
When I won the CBN Open four years ago, the prize money for the winner of the Women’s Singles was N400 ,000. The CBN used the money to facilitate my travelling outside the country to play circuits. It was a big relief for me and I thank the CBN for this.
What’s your current ranking in Nigeria?
I’m the country’s number one but I don’t know my ranking yet on the continent. The major challenge of local players is getting the chance to participate in tournaments outside the country to boost our ITF rankings.
Do you have plans to pay back to the Nigerian society that made you in tennis in the future?
That’s my major aim, especially for the juniors players. For some time now, we’ve dearth of tournaments for the younger players. By the grace of God, I will like to do something for the junior players in the future.
Do you have any role model in the game?
Serena Williams is my role model. Though age is not on her side anymore, she still remains a player I admire most.
What advice do you have for the upcoming tennis players?
They should focus on their career. They should also know that it is not always easy to get to the top, patience should be their watchword.
Are you married?
I’m not married.
Is there someone?
Yeah, I have someone.
When will the wedding bells ring?
Laughs… it’s not time for that now. Of course, it’s every woman’s dream to get married and I’m not an exception. So when the time is ripe, everybody will know.
Do you have any regret playing tennis?
No regret. I’ve always enjoyed myself since I started playing the game. I pray that the excitement will remain till the day I will hang my rackets.
Your happiest moment?
Four years ago when I qualified for the All Africa Games in Algiers. Ironically, I lost my mum the same year.