It has been a while since Nigeria produced a tennis superstar of global acclaim, and based on the cold hard evidence on ground, that will remain the case for the foreseeable future.
Nigeria’s most prominent tennis player was Nduka Odizor, who reached the fourth round at Wimbledon in 1983, and got as high as No. 52 in the world rankings.
Odizor also claimed one career singles title, and represented Nigeria at the 1988 summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.
Like Odizor, another star of the 80’s, Tony Mmoh also featured for Nigeria at the Seoul Games, reaching the second round. The former world No. 105 also made the second round at the US Open (1985) and Australian Open (1988).
More than three decades down the line, no Nigerian player is anywhere close to competing at a tour-level event, let alone a Grand Slam.
The highest-ranked Nigerian male player is Joseph Imeh Ubon, ranked well outside the top 1000 players in the world, while Oyinlomo Barakat Quadre, who is just inside the WTA’s top 1000, is the highest ranked Nigerian woman.
Quadre was part of the Nigerian team that impressed during the Billie Jean King Cup (formerly Fed Cup) in June, a competition that once again highlighted the potential in Nigerian tennis.
The biggest problem facing Nigerian tennis players is the lack of money. Tennis is a very capital-intensive sport, with players needing to travel week-in, week-out and play tournaments in different parts of the world.
Unfortunately, the average Nigerian player can barely afford to pay for top quality equipment, let alone travel and hotel fares.
Without these tournaments, the players cannot gain exposure and earn ranking points.
Also, there are not enough local competitions to keep the players fit and engaged throughout the year.
They are therefore left behind by their peers from other parts of the world.
Nigeria’s biggest hope of making any global impact remains Quadre. The 18-year-old is one of the very few Nigerians to have had international exposure during her developmental years, having spent some time at the ITF High Performance Centre in Morocco.
In a nation so engrossed in football, Quadre brought tennis to the forefront with her Lagos Open run in 2019, when she became the first Nigerian to reach the quarter finals of the ITF tournament.
Such was the hope and belief Nigerians had in the teenager that many went as far as backing the youngster on betting sites in the country.
Unfortunately, she couldn’t quite go all the way, losing to Ukraine’s Valeriya Strakhova in the last eight.
As good as Quadre is, she needs to play more tournaments to improve her skills, gain more confidence, and move up the rankings.
That has not quite been the case this year. She has only played four ITF events in 2021, all of which have been staged in Monastir, Tunisia. That is not going to get her to the level she aspires and deserves to be.
Until some serious money is pumped into Nigerian tennis, and players get the financial support required to prosecute a proper tennis career, the country will remain at this sub-mediocre level.