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Imeh digs deep to reach Rainoil Open semis; Atseye outlasts Babalola

Top seed, Joseph Imeh had to dig deep to stave off a spirited challenge from Emmanuel Idoko and reach the semifinals of the Rainoil Open in Lagos on Thursday.

The Nigeria’s No.1 battled back from a shaky start in the opening set and had to fight back after a dismal second set showing to win 7-6, 4-6, 6-3.

Imeh fell behind early on in the opening set after Idoko consolidated an early break with a hold to go 2-0 up. Both men came good with their service games until the tenth game, where Idoko failed to serve it out for the set. Imeh broke and drew level. Idoko would, again, fail to serve it out in the 12th game, as both men drove the set into an electric tiebreaker which Imeh claimed 9-7.

Imeh would start brightly in the second set, opening up a 2-0 lead. He, however, failed to keep up the momentum as Idoko crawled back to draw level. He would find the crucial break in the seventh game to go 4-3 up and then go on to close out the set, forcing a decider.

Imeh clicked into the gear in the third, racing to a 3-0 lead and, despite Idoko’s best attempts to find a way back in, remained solid to seal victory and advance to the semis.

The 21-year-old will next take on Uche Oparaoji, who rolled past Albert Bikom 6-3, 6-1 to advance.

In the other quarterfinal encounter, Henry Atseye kept his title-defense hopes alive after edging Abdulmumin Babalola in an epic three-setter.

In a match laden with medical attentions due to cramps, it was Atseye who pulled through, surviving a match point in the second set tiebreaker to come back and clinch the match 6-7, 7-6, 6-3.

Atseye found the all-important break in the ninth game of the opening set and needed to serve to close out the set, but Babalola broke back, and went on to clinch a tiebreaker.

After an early exchange of breaks in the second set, Atseye denied Babalola victory by breaking in the tenth game to draw level and again send the match into another tiebreaker. Babalola had another opportunity to seal victory with match point, but slipped up and Atseye took advantage to draw level and then close it out, sending the match into a deciding set.

The defending champion would open up a 2-0 lead in the third set and then break in the ninth game to triumph.

The 29-year-old will face second seed, Sylvester Emmanuel in Friday’s semifinals after the 20-year-old outclassed Ikechukwu Iloputa in straight sets.

Sylvester found the crucial break in the fourth game of the opening set and rolled through the remainder of the set in commanding fashion. In the second set, the break came in the fifth set and then an easy one in seventh before going on to register a 6-1, 6-2 victory.

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