Nigerian tennis has produced many players, who are currently enjoying from the labour of their past achievements. The players, who emerged from the developmental grassroots initiative of the Nigerian Tennis Federation and later rose to become forces in the game in the past, are still alive but no longer involved in the local game.
This development, perhaps, prompted the Nigeria Tennis Federation President, Engineer Sani Ndanusa, to however challenge these Nigerian former top ranked players, like Nduka ‘Duke’ Odizor, Sadiq Abdullahi, Tony Mmoh and Suleiman Ladipo, to come back home from their sojourn abroad and give back to the game that brought them fame and honour.
The former Minister of Sports said he would be delighted to see the former internationals come out to support the game from the grassroots and help give tennis good identity in Nigeria, as many up-coming players would be eager to see the game’s role models around.
Engr Ndanusa said everything about life is not money, as their presence means a lot to the country.
“People may have forgotten these great players, but their ideas and contributions could go a long way in sustaining the tempo we have built since we took over the affairs of tennis in Nigeria. By the grace of Allah, we have produced more quality players who are presently making waves in the game internationally,” he said.
Odizor, Abdullahi, Mmoh and Ladipo were household names in tennis in Nigeria and Africa during their playing days. They played the game with passion and determination. They were the only reliable entries in the International Tennis Federation circuits and Davis Cup in the past.
Tennis buffs always come around to see the beauty of the game when these players represented the country in any international competition and since they left the stage, Nigeria has yet to produce another stars like these great players.
Odizor, popularly called ‘The Duke’, Abdullahi and Mmoh represented Team Nigeria at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. The three players could not go beyond the first round of the singles event. Odizor was defeated by American ‘lucky loser’ Robert Seguso. The right-hander won one career title in singles (Taipei, China, 1983) and seven doubles titles. He reached his highest ATP singles ranking of World Number 52 in June 1984, while Abdullahi lost to Spain’s Javier Sánchez.
At the same time, Ladipo who turned professional in 1993, was the best Nigeria could offer at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, but he was defeated in the first round by Australia’s Jason Stoltenberg. He reached his highest singles ATP-ranking on April 3, 1996, when he was ranked 245th in the world. He currently resides in Indianapolis, Indiana, coaching at Indianapolis Racquet Club East.
Now, the NTF has been working tirelessly to return the game to its glorious days, putting in motion machinery to raise the standard of the game and also produce the best players who would be good enough to carry Nigeria’s flag at grand slam events. The federation always like to see Nigerian players at the annual French Open known as Rolland Garros, US Open, The Wimbledon Open, and Australian Open. It is every player’s dream to feature in big tournaments of such magnitude and NTF is currently working in such direction to build a new foundation for Nigerian tennis, according to Engineer Ndanusa.
“I am a proud Nigerian with the organisation of the Governor’s Cup tournament in Nigeria every year, we have the privileges of bringing top tennis players to the country to fight for mega bucks”
“We are already on that process with the introduction of tennis league across the federation for under-aged players and Nigerian players have been picking points through the ITF developmental circuits in West Africa. Some of our players are on the ranking system in the sub-region and Africa. We have always tried to encourage them to feature in many ITF point-scoring events to enhance their status as professional players,” he said.
Nigeria recently emerged overall winner of the 2016 ITF West/Central Africa Under-18 Circuit, in Lome, Togo.
The country topped the medals’ log with four gold and a silver medal. Oyinlomo Barakat Quadri was the stand-out player in the three-leg circuit. The 13-year-old debutante won a total of four gold and a silver medal which notably include an unprecedented three straight girls’ singles titles. She also paired her Aces Tennis Academy team-mate Toyin Asogba to win one doubles title, while she also partnered Angel Mcleod to win silver in the doubles.
“We are excited about the achievement of Barakat, who the ITF identified as one of the best junior players in Africa, going by the scholarship she was offered recently. The NTF focused more on junior tennis in recent years and that is why we are now among the top teams in Africa and we are not resting on that alone, as we believe so much in our young players’ future; we know there is hope for tennis in this country,” Ndanusa said.
Speaking on the on-going Governor’s Cup in Lagos, Ndanusa said the purpose of introducing the event is to boost the game in Nigeria, West Africa and the continent as a whole.
“I am a proud Nigerian with the organisation of the Governor’s Cup tournament in Nigeria every year, we have the privileges of bringing top tennis players to the country to fight for mega bucks. This year alone, we have 28 countries across the world in Nigeria with the unbreakable support of the Lagos State government. We are grateful to former governors of the state, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) and the present governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, for not only supporting the gesture, but also expanding the scope of the tournament,” he said.
Worried about the performances of Nigerian players since the inception of the competition, Ndanusa said: “It is high time for our players to rise up to the billing. It is a great challenge to our players that foreigners come into our country and win the highest honour in the game. The presence of the foreigners is a motivation for Nigerian players. We expect our players to take their rightful place and compete with the foreign tennis players.”
Recession seems to be playing a big one on the championship as some major sponsors pulled out in this year’s edition.
He said Nigerian tennis players can only achieve success in the championship if they are fully prepared to give the foreign players a run for their money.
“Time has come for our local players to prove to the foreigners that they can compete with them. They need to raise their game and remain focused. Nigerians are looking forward to the day one of the local players will win the Governor’s Cup,” he said.
When asked to comment on the falling standard of Nigerian sports as a former Minister of Sports, Ndanusa bluntly refused to utter a word. He said he would not say anything. “Please we all know what is going on in Nigerian sports. I cannot talk to you on that issue. I will like to talk as President of the NTF and anything after that, count me out,” he said. Ndanusa was appointed Minister of Youths, Sports and Social Development in December 2008.
He left office in March 2010 when the then acting President Goodluck Jonathan dissolved his cabinet. He was Vice-President of the Nigerian Tennis Federation for four years, and was appointed President of the NTF in 2001. He was also President of the Nigeria Olympic Committee.