Nigerians can still be optimistic about the future of the game of tennis in the country. Thanks to the impressive performances the country’s junior players produced at the African Junior Championship qualifying event in Togo in January, the outlook is positive.
Buoyed by Coach Abel Ubiebi who provided vital experience and tournament know-how, the Nigerian team excelled at the two-week individual and team event in Lome. After team talk, it was going to boil down to the individual brilliance of the players, and they did not disappoint.
Marylove Edwards, who’s at the IMG Tennis Academy in Florida, but has been a regular feature at the AJC events, competed in the Girls’ 16 & Under category, and made a remarkable run to the final before she fell just short to Vania Dotse in 4 hours and 20 minutes of gruelling tennis. The 13-year-old was also instrumental in the Girls’ U16 team’s run to the final, alongside Rebecca Ekpeyong and Mary Udoffa. The trio defeated Burkina Faso, Benin and Ghana 3-0 each to top their group. But they were beaten by Togo 2-1 in the final and had to settle for Silver.
The Boys’ 16 & Under team had an even more memorable outing. Led by Matthew Abamu, Usman Kushimo and Bristish-Nigerian Mukhtar Andu, the team registered 3-0 victories over Mali, Burkina Faso, and Benin to top their group, before going on to beat Cameroon 2-1 in the final and clinch Gold in the team event. In the individual event, however, Matthew Abamu shone brightest, easing through to the semifinals without the loss of a set.
Suleiman Ibrahim, in the Boy’s 14 & Under category, had the most remarkable run in the individual event. The prodigy made light work of the rounds before going on to beat Nermann Ndonfack of Cameroon in the final, rallying from a set down to secure a 1-6, 6-3, 7-5 victory and clinch gold- a performance that underlined the tenacity of the youngster.
Iye Onoja and Oiza Yakubu were particularly brilliant in the doubles event of the Girls’ 14 & Under category. Both youngsters joined forces together to power to the final, where they defeated Togolese pair of Valentine Talaki and Grace Tchamoussa in straight sets. Both girls also impressed in the singles event, with Onoja making the semifinals, while Yakubu finished as a quarterfinalist.
The impressive performances from the players saw Nigeria claim second on the overall standings at the end of the event.
Although, some of these players are yet to test themselves at higher levels, it is evident that they have the talent and technique to forge a successful career. For Nigeria, with these ones, it can be said with reasonable confidence that the future is bright.