It was a show worth every time and money. The maiden NCC Tennis League, the first ever league format tennis championship in Nigeria kept the nation’s tennis fraternity on edge for months. Mouths gaped, jaws dropped. What with the high velocity serves, the come-backs and the upsets. At the end, Team Tombim, walked away with the prize money.
But it was only just a matter of time before they were crowned champions. From their first game at the inaugural Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) Tennis League, Team Tombim showed that they had the flair, skill and guts to become champions of Nigerian tennis and they achieved it on Saturday, December 4, 2016 at the centre court of the Lagos Lawn Tennis Club, Onikan. But it was not a stroll in the park.
Playing against a Team Civil Defence that has some of the most experienced players in the Nigerian circuit, the Abuja-based Team Tombim made their youthfulness count in their 4-2 victory that won them the N5 million prize money.
Team Tombim, made up of the new generation of players, has Christian Paul, 22, ranked a lowly 27 in the current national rankings, to thank for their victory. Paul beat former number one, Abdulmumuni Babalola, in the first singles and before upstaging immediate past national champion, Christian Enosoregbe in the match that clinched the tie for his team.
Team Tombim had carried a 2-1 lead into the final day, but national ladies’ champion, Christie Agugbom, leveled the tie after shaking off a very nervous start to beat Sarah Adegoke 1-6, 6-4, 6-2.
The champions reestablished their lead when Moses Michael defeated Babalola 1-6, 6-1, 6-4 in the fifth rubber and Paul dashed hopes of a dramatic finish by winning the second reverse singles.
Team Civil Defence got the runner-up prize of N3 million. The grand finale attracted top-level dignitaries with the first vice president of Nigeria, Sir (Dr.) Alex Ekwueme and former External Affairs minister, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, attending as special guests of honour.
The Executive Vice Chairman of the NCC, Professor Umar Danbatta, represented by Mr. Tony Ojobo, Director of Public Affairs of the NCC said he was delighted at the high quality performance put up by the participants. He thanked the Championship organisers, the International Tennis Academy (ITA) for the grand show which was at the round robin stage played across the nation at centres in Asaba, Abeokuta, Port Harcourt, Abuja, Kaduna, Onitsha and Owerri. The tournament has helped to foster national unity.
According to Professor Danbatta: “The main objective of the tournament is to raise the level of lawn tennis which is one of the most popular and lucrative sporting activities. Since Nigeria’s Nduka Odizor reached the Round of 16 in Wimbledon in 1983, Nigerian players have not made the desired impact in the world tennis circuit. We are witnesses to how tennis stars have brought fame and fortune to themselves and their nations, and we want to be identified to taking these talented players in Nigeria to the circuit.
“Part of our objective is to help in nurturing and exposing our talents through robust competition so as to help them perfect their skills. It is also promoting peace and friendship among the players as this has taken the game to various locations of the country where such competitions have not been held. So far, several matches have been played in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Asaba, Onitsha, Abeokuta, Kaduna, Abuja, and Enugu, with the finals scheduled for Lagos. Another objective of this tournament is so fruitfully engage the players, officials and the youth in some value-driven activities associated with this competition.
“The Commission is glad that most of the objectives of this project have been realized. We understand that most of the best Nigerian players are featuring in this year’s edition, which has made the quality of the competition to be very high. The cross section of the people that matter in Nigerian Lawn Tennis sport have honoured us with their presence in some of the tournaments, including Nduka Odizor that I spoke about. We are happy the way the tournament have been organized as shown by the huge turnout at this second semifinal.
“It is for this reason that I have come to join you today. From the reports that I have received, and from what I have seen, I am encouraged to promise that the Commission will continue to sponsor this tournament. We may also review the prize money to ensure that as many teams from different parts of the country, are attracted to participate in this tournament.
“Let me also invite other corporate bodies or agencies to support the NCC to make lawn tennis to count in our efforts to project the image of our nation and provide useful employment and engagements for our youths”, he said.
The EVC promised to increase the price money in subsequent edition.