By Ebenezer Osamo –
The Nigerian team had gone through thorough training sessions under the watchful eyes of ever-present Coach Benson Ishicheli, at Lagos Country Club, Ikeja, ahead of the World Team Cup Africa Zone Group III, which took place in Egypt.
The coach, also had the privilege to watch one of the players in a competitive atmosphere (the Ikoyi Club Tennis Challenge), prior to the competition and was in a confident mood, heading to Pharaoh’s land.
However, the quest of the Nigerian team, consisting of Clifford Enosoregbe, Henry Atseye, Sylvester Emmanuel and Benson Ishicheli, to gain promotion to the World Group II had almost ended before it began.
After losing 0-3 to Zimbabwe in the first round of matches, Nigeria took her pound of flesh against Congo in a 3-0 routing as the team looked to ensure stability ahead of subsequent matches.
This was, instead, the only serious performance the team could come up with as virtually all the players suffered varying degrees of injuries in the build up to the final group game against Madagascar, whom according to the coach, “do not have the pedigree of our players”.
Ishicheli would later blame the overall dismal showing, not on injuries, but a lack of proper preparations.
On arrival at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja, Lagos on Sunday, the well built non-playing captain of the Nigerian side stated that late preparations may have caused the injuries to the players.
He noted that it was quite painful to see his wards go down easily to the players whom they would have “taken to the cleaners” in a normal situation.
“Even when Clifford (Enosoregbe) played against a Zimbabwean, who is ranked 292 in the world, he had the second set within his grasp but for the injury.
“We managed the win against Congo because they weren’t as strong an opposition as the first match. But afterwards, the players couldn’t continue at the same pace and we lost to Madagascar,” says Ishicheli.
The shoulder injury suffered by Atseye at the 2012 Governor’s Cup seems to be haunting the player, as he has missed out on virtually all the country’s major tournaments and as well dropped points in the national ranking.
“I’ll have to quickly go for a medical check up to know what the problem with the shoulder is,” he told eyeonthesports.com.
For youngster, Emmanuel, who was making his debut at such a high-level tournament, the coach believes that he came out as the biggest winner.
According to him, “the major motive for taking Emmanuel with us was for the exposure and I know that he had a lot of that.
“It’s a shame that we couldn’t go with Umaru Balamin because the Federation said they couldn’t get funds for the trip. The exposure would have been valuable to him as well”.
Expressing his disappointment at how the country fared in Cairo, Nigeria’s number one male tennis player, Enosoregbe, wants to quickly put it behind him.
“It was a very bad one for us, but I don’t think I want to talk about it anymore. I suffered an ankle injury in the process as well.
“I wish we were able to do better than what we came up with. We have to move on and I hope the Federation can do better than they did in subsequent editions,” the one-hand backhand specialist affirmed to our correspondent on arrival.
Still lamenting the cancellation of this year’s Lagos Governor’s Cup Tennis Championship, the players will now shift their attention to the proposed Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA national tournament, scheduled for Abuja before end of the year.
This will depend on the Nigeria Tennis Federation, NTF, which has not fulfilled its promise to the players in recent times as far as organising tournaments is concerned.