Which Way For Nigerian Tennis?


With the 34th Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN Open underway at the National Stadium Tennis Court in Surulere, Lagos, many are of the opinion that this year’s edition will be stiffer; with the increase in prize money for female tennis players to bring them at par with their male counterparts.

The improvement in their play betrayed their lack of match practice, though they may not have been happy about that.

This is also in line with the disappointments that these players have had in recent past with unkept promises made by many administrators and the would-be sponsors. The players get empty promises which they often bank on but at the end of the day, get nothing in return; this alone is quite discouraging and may have caused many of the players to fall into a deep lull state.

Fortunately, individuals have shown great interest in ensuring that the sport comes alive again, but it doesn’t seem to be effective when compared with the outcome with what is actually expected of the country tagged the “Giant of Africa.”

Prior to the Olympic qualifiers, tennis players in the country lamented the fact that they were not going to get involved in the games whatsoever, stating that there was no Nigerian in the top 100 in the world. Isn’t this a disgrace to a country with over 150m people, the most populous on the continent and about the tenth most populous nation in the world?

Nigeria has more than enough human resources but still finds it very difficult to utilise them to the fullest. The country seems to be concentrating more in a particular sector; one which has given more heartache than encouragement to teeming lovers of the sport in the country.

While there are countries with relatively lesser population thriving in tennis, the country still struggles to cope with the rigors of trying to get players, who are good enough to represent the country at major tourneys.

This issue has been over-flogged for some time now, while pundits have registered their displeasure, but nothing of note has been done up till date. This shows how bad tennis has become. It lacks adequate attention and the required support from corporate bodies. Interestingly, the foreign tennis players often get corporate sponsors to organise tourneys and go on tours, Nigerians find it difficult to get sponsors for local championships, a very bad one for a country aiming for the skies.

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Administrators have kept heaping blames on their inability to get corporate sponsors, but one will seek to know how well they’ve fared in their own responsibilities.

Nigeria’s number one player, Abdul-Mumuni Babalola, in a recent interview, suggested that every member of the Nigeria Tennis Federation, NTF, should be saddled with the responsibility of organising a tournament from their constituencies. He further said that this should be one of the requirements for joining the executive board.

“I’m not happy with the way the sport is doing in the country at the moment and it’s beginning to make our players fall in their rankings. I think the way forward is for those people at the helm of affairs to ensure that every member of the board organises a tournament in his or her states at least once in every year.”

“I also believe that it should be one of the criteria for appointing members of the cabinet.”

What has happened to the Port Harcourt Open, which players used to look forward to at the beginning of each year?

If tennis must wake up from its present lull, something drastic has to be done. The administrators have to be active and the players also must stand straight on their feet. Also, the Corporate bodies have to be incorporated into the big business of sponsorship and make it a regular activity and not a once in a year thing.

If the right strategy is employed soon, things will fall in place with time. But the big question is; who will bell the cat and when will the fortune of the game of tennis change for the better in Nigeria?

—Damilare Okunola

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