Year 2018 in Review: Tennis in Nigeria

Every tennis season comes with its own special kind of intrigue.

Tennis in Nigeria this year was marked by surreal performances, thrilling experiences, continued lows and dramatic turnarounds. As the year draws to a close, we take a look back at the past months and relive some of those moments.

India’s Yadlapalli humbles Conny Perrin in Lagos

Pranjala Yadlapalli (R) and Conny Perrin strike a pose at the Lagos Lawn Tennis Club, Onikan.

Switzerland’s Conny Perrin was dubbed ‘Queen of Lagos’, not because of any tie to royalties in the coastal city of course, but because of her exploits at the Lagos Open.

Perrin had before this year’s event made it to five consecutive finals in Lagos, winning three. This year, she came in as the highest-ranked player and red-hot favourite. What was to come, though, wasn’t anticipated.

After predictably powering to the final of the first leg, Perrin met India’s Pranjala Yadlapalli. Despite making a solid start and closing out the first set in under 30 minutes, Perrin could not keep up with Yadlapalli for the remainder of the match. The Indian carved out a decisive break in the 12th game of the second set to level the match, and then put up an unbelievable show in the third set to hand the Swiss a bagel and claim a 2-6, 7-5, 6-0 victory.

If Perrin was seething with anger, she did well to veil it. She would make it to the final of the second leg the following week, meeting Yadlapalli again. And a brilliant performance from the Indian would leave Perrin chasing throughout the match. Yadlapalli prevailed 6-1, 7-6(2), and it marked the first time Perrin would come to Lagos and leave without a crown. The famed Queen had been humbled… by a 19-year-old.

16-year-old Jack Draper stuns Tom Jomby in epic final

Britain’s Jack Draper collapses to the ground after a thrilling final in Lagos.

Tom Jomby had, in the first leg of the Lagos Open, dismissed Jack Draper in straight sets in the semifinals en route to the title. When both men met in the final of the second leg, Jomby must have fancied his chances. And it looked like it was going to be another routine win for the Frenchman after some display of outrageous genius from him and an error-laden performance from Draper in a very quick first set.

But the young Brit would turn the table in the second set, putting his stuff together and returning whatever Jomby threw at him with interest to level the match. Draper broke in the fifth game of the final set and never looked back, going on to seal a 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory in 2 hours and 12 minutes of absorbing tennis.

The win in Lagos catapulted the 16-year-old Brit into the ATP Top 500, making him the youngest player in the world to be ranked so.

Nigerians crumble in Onikan 

15-year-old Oyinlomo Quadre was the only Nigerian to make it past the first round in Lagos.

Somehow, someway, it is expected that when an event is hosted in a country, the home players are supposed to rise to the occasion and deliver.

For years now, that hasn’t been quite the case with the Nigerian players at the Lagos Open. This year, they hit another low. In both legs, save 15-year-old Oyinlomo Quadre, who outshone her countrywoman Osariemen Airhunmwunde to reach the second round in the first leg, no other Nigerian made it past the first round in the two-week $100K event in Onikan. All hopes, albeit faint, to see Nigerians progress ended in dismal, if predictable, failure at the Lagos Lawn Tennis Club.

Do not blame the players!

Joseph Imeh banishes his demons

Joseph Imeh wins his first national title at the Rainoil Open in Lagos.

Prior to the Rainoil Open this month, Joseph Imeh had lost four consecutive finals, a poor record that stretched from 2017. However, before the tournament, the youngster said whatever the challenge was, he had dealt with it. True to that, when he reached the final, he put up a clinical display to beat Henry Atseye, who had defeated him in a final last year, to power to his first national title.

A week later, Imeh backed that up with his maiden title at the Dala Hard Court Tennis Championship in Kano, upsetting Sylvester Emmanuel, who had beaten him in the Vemp Open final this year.

The 21-year-old must be relieved. And now, it’s hard not to think about what he could go on to achieve, nationally.

Abuja is Safe

Earlier in the year, the President of the NTF, Engr. Dayo Akindoju revealed that there were plans on ground to take the ITF Pro Circuit events in Abuja to the next level of professional tennis, which is the ATP Challenger Tour. But those plans stalled because according to him, some people saw Abuja and/or Nigeria as an unsafe territory.

As a result, during the ITF Abuja Futures which started in April through to May, players from all over the world, who were participating in the event, launched a protest to send out a clear message that Abuja is indeed safe and capable of hosting higher levels of professional tennis.

That was a brilliant idea and a huge move.

Whether the organizing body will find the message credible and put mechanisms in place for a development remains to be seen. In the meantime, it can be said with reasonable confidence that Nigeria is very capable of hosting an ATP Challenger Tour event.

It has been a memorable year, not just for some players, but for the fans as well.

Roll on, 2019!

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