'Why Nigerian Players Are Poor, Backward'

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“I fight more than my opponents in every game I play because I need the money and  points more than they do and fortunately, I often get them.”

The above was the assertion of Lopez Perez, winner of the Men’s Singles winner at the recently concluded 12th Governor’s Cup Lagos Championship, as he went home with the $15,000 prize money and a massive 30 points in the ATP world ranking.

Though the Governor’s Cup is organised annually for the local players to interact with their foreign counterparts and expose them, but none of them has won the tournament since it became an International Tennis Federation, ITF sanctioned competition with a $80,000 prize money about 9 years ago.

However, their consistent poor performances have been attributed to lack of sponsorship and the administrators’ poor vision and retrogressive planning by some stakeholders.

“Most of these foreign players have what I can call personal sponsorship, that’s why they are able to travel around the world to play championships. If Nigerian players can also get this, I think they’ll also be flying high in the Ranking,” the President of Nigeria Tennis Federation, NTF, Engr. Sani Ndanusa said.

Scotland-based Nigerian female player, Yinka Thompson Elizabeth, also believes that there has to be a level of commitment from a certain ‘sponsor’ if the players are to thrive in the racquet game.

She said: “Rafael Nadal has a lucrative sponsorship deal with the Spanish Tennis Federation, and, look at height it has taken him to today. If Nigerian players can equally get such financial backing, I think they’ll do much better than they are presently.”

Notably, one cannot rule out sponsorship from the game of tennis, but the players themselves must be personally good and hard working before the sponsors could step in to shoulder high their financial responsibilities.

Comparatively, the twenty-four year old Perez recalls with nostalgia, how he had to re-string racquets, sleep under bad conditions, while also playing tennis just to make both ends meet.

“I used to re-string racquets wherever I went to play any major circuit outside Spain and I’ve also had to sleep under unfavourable conditions to make it as a player.

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“I wasn’t getting the best that an average tennis player needs, but I always strived hard to attain success,” the Spaniard told P.M.News.

Consequently, Nigerian players may have had their fair share of challenges playing without sponsors, but it hasn not been so bad that they cannot afford a ‘pair of earrings’ as most of them often flaunt this during major tournaments.

If tennis must return to its glorious days, when Nduka Odizor, Thompson Onibokun (of blessed memory) and a host of others, used to hold sway, the stakeholders say Nigerian players should learn some lessons from their foreign counterparts.

According to those who spoke to P.M.News, the players must learn to be humble as individuals, and change their style of play.

One of Nigeria’s revelations at this year’s championship, Kehinde Alade believes that success can be achieved through hardwork and consistency. He disclosed that these are few of the factors, which helped him to create some upsets when he defeated two Americans in the qualifiers of the Gov’s Cup in Lagos last month.

“I know that success is not achieved in a day, that’s why I’ve been working very hard to do my best and the result is gradually showing. I believe hardwork and consistency in training and match situations are key to success in this game,” the one-time ball boy said.

Despite their general poor performances, Gov’s Cup Tournament Director, Prince Wale Oladunjoye diplomatically hailed some Nigerian players, and singled out Henry Atseye, a player he believes has come of age after winning the Men’s Singles event of the CBN Open in 2011.

“Nigerian players have been impressive, but my pick of the pack is Atseye. He has been consistent since he won the CBN Open in 2011,” Oladunjoye said.

—Damilare Okunola