Tombim Tennis Club of Abuja pulled a last trick from the hat to snatch maximum points away from hosts, Leadway Tennis Club of Lagos, at the National Stadium Tennis Centre Court, last weekend, putting themselves up for a run a back to back title but ace tennis promoter, Godwin Kienka,
foresees a tough clash as the teams head towards home stretch for the big bucks.
The Abuja team who nicked the N5m prize money last year were held 3-3 by Leadway with just one game left in the Lagos meet but the pair of Moses Michael and Sarah Adegoke held up their arms strongly against Monday Igbinovia and Ronke Akingbade of Leadway, defeating in two straight sets at 6-4; 6-0 in the mixed doubles to produce a 4-3 team win. Yet, it is believed that it cannot yet be Uhuru for Tombim.
“We know that Tombim are defending champions with national champions in their ranks but we have seen that they are going to get a really tough battle with Leadway because, they may not be the highest ranked players but they have very big fighters like Monday who can beat anybody on his day and he proved that by winning the first singles and pushing Moses Michael in the second singles,” Kienka observed.
“There is another tough team in the group which has Sylvester Emmanuel, Agbo Bekom, “Anu” and Emmanuel Idoko. These are very tough players that would have made it precarious for the defending champions, Tombim. We would have had a situation where they wouldn’t have qualified for the semi finals but they managed to show that they are champions and scaled through.
“This speaks to the intensity, quality and progress of the league. Teams are no longer pushovers. All teams are almost on the same strength now nd every time they meet, it is becoming like the finals of a major event.”
Sarah Adegoke, Nigeria’s women number two, acknowledges the toughness of the NCC Tennis League, explaining that they had anticipated a tough challenge following the upset in the defeat of the national men’s champion and the 3-3 tie with Leadway but that team work and focus made the difference for them.
“They are really good players. Ronke had been Nigeria’s number one before and she is a very good doubles player. We just had to stay focused to win the match. Team effort and the togetherness that we had before the match is really what helped us,” Sarah Adegoke said.
The NCC Tennis League enters very crucial stages in December with semi finals fixed for Enugu on the 2nd and in Port Harcourt on the 9th ahead of the finals scheduled on the 15th at the Lagos Lawn Tennis Club and both Adegoke and Michael say they are aware it is not going to be a walk across the court for them as defending champions.
Moses Michael says they need “to work hard and improve” while Adegoke is banking on team work.
“We have had a lot challenges in the team, injuries and all that, but it was team effort that made us win last year and I am hoping that same team effort will make us win again this year,” she prayed.
Talking about team work, Kienka who is also the Dircetor of Organisation of event says the team structure of the competition has done much to improve tennis in the country.
“The team event puts a different expectation in the players. First, they are not playing for themselves, that are playing for the team. It also puts some pressure on the coaches to come up with the right tactics for not just a match but for the entire tournament. If you don’t get the mix right, knowing who to drop and who to prepare for which match, you may lose in the end. So it comes to tactics no it comes to players drawing energy from the team.
“The league has put teams together and attracted coaches to the teams who now train the players as a group. And when you practice as a group, you improve more because you play practice matches, you draw for one another’s strength, seeing what is working for your team mate and incorporating it into your game. It helps to accelerate the development of the players and the game in any country and we already seeing that.”
Before the semi final stage, the NCC Tennis League train will move of Abuja and be back in Lagos on the weekend of November 12 when Team Anambra will visit Leadway to continue their challenge.
“We are back in Lagos in two weeks time with Leadway hosting Team Anambra which is another tough tie. We expect that people will not just come to support the league but to enjoy good tennis. Those who didn’t come to see the Tombim and Leadway challenge, the emotion, the passion and the level of tennis, have missed a lot.”