Six players will represent Nigeria at the African Junior Championship 12 & Under qualifying event in Cotonou, Benin Republic this week. Before the tournament gets underway on Wednesday, the 6th, we bring you up close with the players—3 boys and 3 girls—who will be the leading the charge for qualification in both categories.

Precious Ikeuba

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Ikeuba was born on the 29th of June, 2007, and represents Rivers State. The right-hander took to playing tennis at the age of 3 and has made the Port-Harcourt Club in his home state as his training base.

For Ikeuba, his happiest moment in tennis was winning Gold in the boys’ Under 10 category at the NNPC/SNEPCO Junior Championship two years ago, beating Seun Ogunshakin, who’s his teammate in Cotonou, in the final.

He takes Novak Djokovic as his role model and he says it’s because of the Serb’s composure on the court.

Seun Ogunshakin

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Ogunshakin, who turned 10 less than a week ago, was born on the 28th of February, 2009 and represents Ekiti State. Ogunshakin, the youngest of all six players, started playing tennis 9 years ago. Surprising, eh? Well, according to him, his father said so! The young gun is left-handed and practices at the Tennis Section of Fountain Hotel in Ekiti.

His most memorable moment was earlier in the year when he clinched Gold at the Azimuth Junior Tennis Championship at the VGC Club, Lagos, beating Idris Mohammed in the Under 12 Boys final.

Ogunshakin takes Abdulmumin Babalola, his coach for this tournament in Cotonou, as his role model because they’re both left-handers, and also, because Babalola is kind and knows how to play and also a star. Unsurprisingly, Spanish great, Rafael Nadal, another left-hander, is the player he admires on the international scene.

Imole Afolabi

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Afolabi was born on the 14th of July, 2007, and represents Oyo State. She started playing tennis when she was 8 and practices at the Liberty Stadium in Ibadan.

The right-hander vividly remembers winning the Under 12 Gold at the CBN Junior Tennis Championship in 2018, when she defeated Mary in the semi-final before going on to beat Esther Oni in the final, and describes that as the most memorable moment in her fledgling career.

Like Ogunshakin, Afolabi’s role model is Abdulmumin Babalola. Afolabi says she likes “his movement and everything about him”. “I usually go to watch him during his training sessions at Adamasingba Stadium in Ibadan,” she revealed. “I also like Roger Federer because of his volley,” the 11-year-old added.

Niniola Ajulo

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Ajulo was born on the 22nd of November, 2007 and represents Ogun State. She started playing tennis at the age of 10 and swings with the right hand. She has her practice place at the Ibadan Recreation Club in Ibadan.

For Ajulo, compatriot, Sarah Adegoke is her role model on the local scene, while she also admires Serena Williams because of her forehand.

The 11-year-old says she doesn’t have too many memorable moments, but reaching the semi-final of the Under 12 Girls category at the Azimuth Junior Tennis Championship this year clearly stands out for the youngster. She’s, however, confident about achieving bigger accolades sooner rather than later.

Salamatu Haruna

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Salamatu Haruna clocked 12 a month ago. Born on the 9th of February, 2007, Haruna began playing tennis at the age of 7 and represents FCT. The right-hander practices at the National Tennis Center, Abuja.

She vividly describes her happiest moment in tennis, saying, “my victory at Azimuth Junior Tennis Championship this year was sweet. I got scared against Imole Afolabi in the semis after losing the first set. I thought I was going to lose, but I eventually won in the tie-breaker. I went on to beat Faith Ogunshakin in the final.”

Abdulmumuni Babalola and Venus Williams are her role models.

Idris Mohammed

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Mohammed was born on the 28th of November, 2007. He plays with the left hand and practices at the National Tennis Centre, Abuja.

He fondly recalls his victory over Seun Ogunshakin in the Under 12 boys final at the inaugural edition of the Azimuth Junior Tennis Championship; “but this year, after beating Precious [Ikeuba] in the semis, I lost the final to Seun in the U12 Boys,” he added.

Like some of his teammates, Abdulmumin Babalola is his “champion!”