*Iwuanyanwu trails tennis history, commends Mrs Akeredolu
By Olajide Fashikun
Rolake Olagbegi, Nigeria’s former elegant tennis queen from the famous Olagbegi tennis family is now in Nigeria for the Akure tennis clinic being organised courtesy of the First Lady of Ondo state, Arabinrin Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu.
Mrs Rolake Olagbegi-Kassim arrived Abuja about 4:00pm at the Nnamdi Azikiwe airport. Rolake who runs a tennis clinic in her base in Atlanta, USA. The last time she was in Nigeria, Delta State government engaged her to train their tennis team to the sports festival. As expected, it was a great investment as the athletes from the state dominated in the sport.
Rolake drilled the players and they felt the difference. Out of five gold medals in tennis, the Team Delta won three gold, a silver and two bronze medals.
It was even the first time Delta was winning a gold in tennis. And they did it in such a style that Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan commended her during the reception the state held for their contingent which also won the festival in style.
Chairman, Board of Trustees of the Nigeria Sports Development Fund Inc (NSDFI), Chief (Dr) Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu was so thrilled when the information came about the arrival of the former tennis queen. He exclaimed, “the same Rolake Olagbegi that I know?
When told the root of the arrival of the queen of the racket sport, he added, “God bless Mrs Akeredolu. Please tell her I am so happy with what she is doing for the next generation of Nigerians.
Iwuanyanwu who will be 75 years on the 4th of September recalled with vivid depth when he added, “we once had The Lord Rumens Classics, Ogun Green Courts, Ogbe Hard Courts, Kaduna Clay Courts, Kano Dallas Hard Court, John Player Clay Court and later Okada Tennis Championships among the Challenger series in Nigeria.”
These were ATP Challenger events and Nigeria was one of the destination points for many players especially those hungry for points and rankings which could earn them entry into Grand Prix events and possibly the Grand Slams aside the prize monies.
He recalled and asked “where are these players now? Players like Sadiq Abdullahi, David Imonitie, Tony Mmoh and Odizor.
Odizor once got to the round of 16 after which he ranked I think 54 or 64 in the World. Then, we had players like Remi Osho, David Imonitie, Godwin Emeh, Innocent Modika, Yakubu Suleiman, Friday Itabor, Solomon Ona, Robinson Odoko, Godwin Kienka. Then, we had the likes of Nnamdi Ehirim, Kyrian Nwokedi, Segun and Rotimi Akinloye, Paul Areh, Abdularaman Idi, Adjongo, Gabriel Otu etc. They made tennis vibrant. I had to follow tennis because it effectively competed with football. Newspapers led with tennis stories.
He pointed to every of the persons in the room with him, how many of you know of Yemisi Alan, Thompson Onibokun, Lawrence Awegbegba, Ojugbeli. Some of the girls were also top on the game like Esther Isabor, Ngozi Morah, Cecilia Nnadozie, Rolake Olagbegi, Ann Abimiku, Vero Oyibokia, Nosa Imafidon, Mary Amina, Aisha Adamu, Osas Amadin, Titi Onatshile etc. We had a national coach in Mrs Elizabeth Ekong.
Tennis thrived under my friend Alhaji Raheem Adejumo. He was my senior but took me as a personal friend of his. The plunge started after he left. Where is my friend now, I mean Chuka Momah? I begged him to join Champion newspapers then but he refused.
I wish Mrs Akeredolu well. I wish those days will come back with projects like this. I love tennis. Tell Rolake, she was my favourite player. I am happy she is identifying with her state governor’s wife.
Nduka Odizor is expected to be in the company of Chief Mary Onyali. They are to join Rolake Olagbegi in the Akure clinic.