Nigeria had a dismal campaign at this year’s Davis Cup, as they came up short in all their round-robin ties to finish bottom in Pool A of the Africa Zone Group III. The team, led by the trio of Emmanuel Idoko, Emmanuel Audu and Paul Etim, still had a chance to win the playoff tie and avoid relegation, but defeat to Algeria in the playoffs confirmed the nation’s relegation to Africa Group IV for 2020.
The Captain of the team, John Atiomo, who, as a player, represented Nigeria at the Davis Cup in 1987, says it’s simply because “we do not have what it takes to compete at that level.”
“The level of tennis of the other countries compared to the players we took to Kenya is so different,” Atiomo added.
“I’m not going to blame the guys, it’s the best they could put out there. Unfortunately, the best doesn’t match their competitors. As far as I’m concerned we didn’t go there to compete, we went there to represent because the level of their tennis is much higher.
“I’m also not going to make excuse that it was a last minute thing because as far as personal ability, they don’t match their opponents.”
Nigeria will now have to fight for promotion to get back into Africa Group III next year. While the Captain noted that it will be tough, he’s outlined certain recommendations.
“It’s a tough one, but there is no shortcut anymore because next year if we have this calibre of players it will still be a tough call,” he said.
“What we can do with the current crop is to engage them with a lot of competitions because an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. If you leave these guys idle, they try to look for how to survive and play tennis. It’s not going to work.
“We have crop of players that can take us from Division IV to Division III, but right now I have not seen them. My job right now is to start looking for and start identifying them from tournaments so that we can bring them together and see what we can do.
“We just have to rebuild, it might take 3-4 years,” the Captain said.
On rebuilding, the President of the Nigeria Tennis Federation, Engr. Dayo Akindoju shares the same sentiment. The federation’s chief says there’s a need to “start all over.”
“If I have my way, I’d suspend participation in the Davis Cup for now until we build a new team able to take us to where we should be,” the NTF President said. “We just need to start all over.”
Engr. Akindoju says the plan is to identify and train players, starting from the country’s Juniors.
“From the Juniors, we identify and train by looking for sponsors to support some of them in proper training, including training tours outside the country. Separate them from the crowd to be able to make them focus on their game properly.”
Nigeria first featured in the Davis Cup in 1974, with the country’s best performance being semifinal finishes in Africa/Europe Group I, in 1988 and 1989.