It will be a repeat of last year’s final after defending champion, Henry Atseye edged second seed, Sylvester Emmanuel in a thrilling semifinal contest, and Joseph Imeh staged a remarkable fightback to beat Uche Oparaoji 7-6, 6-1 and reach the final of the Rainoil Open in Lagos on Friday.
Top seed, Joseph Imeh had failed to hold serve in the sixth game of the opening set, leaving Oparaoji to surge clear after consolidating the break of serve with a hold to go 5-2 up. Oparaoji then had to chance to serve the set out, but couldn’t. Imeh crawled back to draw level and guided the set into a tiebreaker, which he sealed with sheer shot-making brilliance.
It was downhill for Oparaoji from there as Imeh put his foot down in the second set. As the 21-year-old landed returns, Oparaoji’s forehand crumbled. The top seed raced to a 3-0 lead and though, Oparaoji pulled one back in the fourth game, he would stay composed to roll through the set and into his second straight national final.
“I noticed the weakness in Uche’s forehand, so I kept sending a lot of balls to force him to make mistakes,” said Imeh, about how he changed play when he was trailing 2-5 in the first set.
“I’m not going into the court tomorrow [Saturday’s final] with the mind that I have ever been defeated,” added Imeh, who’s lost four of his previous five finals. ‘’It is going to be a fresh start for me and I believe I can win.”
Henry Atseye, whom Imeh intends toppling in Saturday’s final, came from a set down to stun Sylvester Emmanuel 4-6, 6-1, 7-5.
A break of serve in the first game by Emmanuel did just enough to hand him the opening set. Atseye, however, brushed the disappointment aside and responded with his best tennis all week, serving well, returning well and suffocating Emmanuel to close out the set with a 6-1 win, forcing a final set.
The final set continued on serve until, tied at 5-5, Atseye stepped up and played one of his best return games of the match, recovering from 0-40 to earn the all-important break. Sylvester’s resistance would crumble as Atseye held his nerves to serve it out in the twelfth game and come within a match of a successful title-defense.