With hostilities in the 2019 season getting underway soon, we take a look at the ones to watch this year in Nigeria.
Emmanuel returned to the national scene in 2018 after spending a better part of his 2017 season in Spain. He brought his experience to the fore, claiming back-to-back national titles at the CBN Open and inaugural edition of the Vemp Open, beating Abdulmumin Babalola and Joseph Imeh in both finals, respectively. Both victories underlined the tenacity and sheer will of the 20-year-old as he had to rally from behind to claim victory in both finals.
He would make the semifinals of the Rainoil Open in Lagos and the final of the Dala Hard Court in Kano a week later in November. But those performances were just enough to see him rise to the top of the rankings and finish the year as No.1 in the country. With an undoubted burning desire for more success in the sport, you shouldn’t be amazed at what he could go on to achieve in the 2019 season. Definitely one to follow all year round.
Imeh banished his demons when he snapped his losing streak in four consecutive finals at the Rainoil Open in Lagos late last year. He took on Henry Atseye, who was the defending champion, and powered to victory under the beaming lights of the Ikoyi Club to break his duck.
The following week, he would go on to win his second straight title at the Dala Hard Courts in Kano, beating Sylvester Emmanuel in the final. He must be free of any pressures now, and that could make him even more dangerous. He’s second on the NTF rankings, just 5 points shy of the top spot. You wouldn’t want to miss knowing what the 21-year-old could pull off this season.
Babalola failed to win a national title last year. The 34-year-old was on the brink of making history at the CBN Open when a game away from a record-equalling seventh CBN Open titlte, his nerves betrayed him, leaving Sylvester Emmanuel to step back in, force a deciding set, and eventually clinch victory.
There’s no denying the potency and wealth of experience of the third-ranked left-hander. And you’d expect him to bounce back and go steps better this season.
Otu failed to impress for most part of last season. A poor spell of form saw him fall out of the top 20 at the end of the year to be ranked at 22nd. The 2017 Dala Hard Court champion rode the wave in previous years, but somewhat looked out of sorts in recent tournaments- notably, at Dala, where he fell out in the first round as defending champion. Although, he was instrumental in Team Tech Vibe’s title-winning campaign in the NCC League. The 25-year-old, known for his flair and eccentricity, would be rearing to get back to the top of the men’s game, and you wouldn’t want to rule him out.
Oparaoji has made strings of noticeable performances in the past. The left-hander, who’s currently ranked No.4 in Nigeria, reached the semifinals and quarterfinals of the Rainoil Open and Dala Hard Courts, respectively, late last year (losing to Joseph Imeh in both). Aside those, he also made it to the semis of the CBN Open and the last eight of the Vemp Open last year.
Oparaoji’s superb movement and athleticism makes him difficult to play against. He only needs to take his game up a notch and he might become the player to beat this season.