13th March, 2012
Africa’s number one wheelchair tennis player, Wasiu Yusuf, spoke to DAMILARE OKUNOLA on how the game shapes his life among other issues
What are the challenges of playing wheelchair tennis over the years?
It’s been wonderful for me playing series of championships around the world. I’ve been through a lot but I thank God for where I am today.
For how long have you been playing wheelchair tennis?
I’ve been playing since 2002.
What prompted you to start playing the game 10 years ago?
I used to be a table tennis player. One day I was at the National Stadium where Coach Frank Termena saw me and said that I could make it as a wheelchair tennis player. I followed his advice and it started from there. The first tournament I played was the Fanta Championship, which I lost in the final.
Did you have the backing of your family members when you started playing wheelchair tennis?
Of course, every member of my family supported me because they knew that this was what I wanted to do . They know I derive joy and satisfaction from it.
Which other tournaments have you played?
I’ve featured in the New Era Championship on several occasions. I had a sponsorship deal to play in Holland and stayed there for a month after which I participated in a tournament and lost in the semi final. I went to South Africa for the Beijing Olympics qualifying tournament. I did not only get a ticket to play in the 2008 Olympics, but also emerged as the African champion at that tourney. Remilekun Basanya and I were sponsored to London to play the British Open; I lost in the third round. I played the African Championship in Kenya, where we qualified for this year’s Paralympic Games in London.
What’s your current ranking on the continent?
I’m still Africa’s number one player at the moment, but I’m not ranked on the world stage yet, maybe our performance in Kenya will enhance my ranking.
Which tournament are you preparing for at the moment?
We’re preparing for a training tour of Libya and also the World Team Cup (Davis Cup) in Korea.
How will you compare Nigerian players with those you’ve played against outside the country?
The foreign players are not better than us. The only advantage they have against us is that they have the facilities to enhance their performance. We have players in our country that can make it to the Top 10 in the world, but we are confronted with a lot of limitations.
What has been your driving force over the years?
It’s just the strong desire and the determination to play and win. When I started, I discovered that I could play the game and that is what I have been doing ever since. I’ve tried as much as I could not to miss my training sessions.
There have been a couple of challenges, but I thank God that I’m better than when I started. There were times I did not have money for transportation and some other times I had to train on empty stomach. But things are better for me now. My coach tells us that our destinies are in our hands, that we can decide who we want to become. He also told us that someday, we shall overcome our biggest challenges and see them as history.
Who is your role model in the game?
Japanese wheelchair tennis star, Chingo Kuineda, while Rafael Nadal is my man in the able bodied tennis.
How would you rate your compatriots, especially Alex Adewale?
I’m very happy that Alex has improved a lot in his game. I will be very happy seeing many good players coming out from my country. Seeing many opponents around me motivates me to work harder and step up my game, because if there isn’t anyone to challenge me, I may remain the same player or even get worse.
Which tournament would you rate as your best ever?
It’s the recent Olympic qualifiers we played in Kenya. I was happy because I did not have good training prior to the tournament and I wasn’t even prepared for the trip. But God answered my prayers; we won the tournament and pick an Olympic ticket for Nigeria.
You lost in the second round at the Beijing Olympics.
It was a very tough match for me because I played against world’s number seven player, but it was not also easy for him because he did not defeat me easily.
What is your most challenging moment?
It was that Beijing experience. I could not believe that the game was like that until after the match against the guy. The Beijing Olympics also made me realise that we have nothing in Nigeria in terms of facilities. The guy I played against used the latest brand of wheelchair; even the Moroccan that I played against in Kenya also used a sophisticated wheelchair.
What would you say to the people with disability on the streets who think they are useless to the society?
I want them to know that they are not useless, there’s still ability in their disability. All they have to do is to believe that they can do it and work towards it because I believe I could do it that’s why I’m the African champion today.
What else do you do apart from playing wheelchair tennis?
I’m a multi-talented sports man; I play table tennis and basketball. As a matter of fact, I just returned from Asaba, where I participated in the National Wheelchair Championship which I won before we left for Kenya. That’s why I said earlier that I did not train prior to the trip.
How has playing wheelchair tennis affected your life?
It has really shaped my life because I’m okay at the moment. I don’t know if I would have been better than this if I have done something else. I really love the game because it has brought me great joy and the fact that I’ve achieved a lot today.