2nd April, 2013
Nigeria’s former top junior tennis star, Umoru Balami, told Damilare Okunola in this interview how he has been able to weather the storm while trying to be a top player. He also bared his mind on why Nigerian tennis players have not been performing well at the annual Governor’s Cup
Not much has been heard about you recently, what have you been up to?
Well, I don’t think there has been any reason for me to be heard yet that’s why much hasn’t been heard. I’ve been around but there hasn’t been anything to do.
How has it been playing tennis?
For me, it’s been all smooth since I started as a ball boy at the Lagos Lawn Tennis Club, Onikan. I’ve been opportuned to travel outside the country as a young player so it’s been good for me.
Which country did you travel to?
I went to the International Tennis Federation, ITF Centre in South Africa.
What was the experience like?
It was when I was a ball boy that I got the scholarship to go there and it was a great experience for me. While I was there, I learnt so much through their tournaments and I also learnt professionalism. It was really an eye opener for me at a young age.
Which other tourneys have you played in?
The African Junior Championship, AJC Qualifiers, Chevron Junior Masters, ITF tourneys and CAT championships.
Of all the championships you’ve played in, which was your most challenging?
The AJC1 because it involves so many top junior players on the continent.
The farthest you have gone?
Because they are tough tournaments, I’ve not gone beyond the Quarter-final stage.
What are you up to now?
I’m preparing to leave for the Orange Cup in America. It’s a club tournament and I was given an invitation.
You seem to have sponsors…
I don’t have any, I’ll be going there on my own. That’s how I’ve been moving round.
Why do you think Nigerian players have not performed so well at the Governor’s Cup?
It’s not really for me to say because we have a federation that should take care of that for us. But I believe that if we have more tournaments, we will do better than we’ve been doing. I played and qualified fron the preliminary stage, about two years ago.
What’s your Nigerian ranking?
I don’t actually know my ranking at the moment. I don’t have ATP points to play pro-circuits outside the country but I’m working to get that now.
Your Educational Background…
I had my high school at Clapham High School in South Africa and I’m trying to go to college next year.
Your role model in the game?
Rafael Nadal; simply because we’re both left-handed players.
What do you hope to achieve as a tennis player?
I really want to play professional and get to the top 400 in the world.
Did your parent really support your ambitons and dream?
Yes, they did. My father is a kind of person who supports his child in whatever the person does.
Have you really won much playing tennis?
Yes, I’ve won about N1.4m and that was at the Junior Chevron Masters in Lagos.
How did your friends at school react to your choice of sport?
They asked me to leave tennis for football because they did not like it but I stuck to my gum and I think I’ve made my mark in the game, though not totally.
Your advice to prospective tennis players?
Tennis is tough, not as easy as people think it is. People often think the players are lazy but they don’t know what we always go through on the court. So, younger players should learn to work really hard and go for what is good for them.