Coach Benson Ishicheli is one of Nigeria’s top tennis coaches who led the country’s team to Egypt for the World Team Cup, where Team Nigeria failed to progress. In this exclusive interview with Eyeonthesports.com’s Ebenezer Osamo, the coach x-rays Nigeria’s performance in the outgoing year.
How did you see Nigeria’s Tennis in 2014?
Honestly, it has been a great improvement from what we used to have in the last few years. For the first time in a really long while, our players were kept busy for four weeks at a stretch, which brought out the best in most of them. As a tennis coach, I must say that the Nigeria Tennis Federation, NTF has done well for the players this year.
But, there was no ATP points for the players at this year’s Governor’s Cup.
Well, let us be thankful to God that we could even stage the tournament after an initial fear of Ebola, which threatened the tournament before it was held. Having said that, the players can always catch up with the points they missed by attending Circuits within the continent. It is not difficult for them, I believe.
What do you think the Federation can do to improve tennis in Nigeria?
I have a suggestion, which I am sure will help the players. They should get sponsors to pick a few of these players and send them to African Circuits. I am very sure that if they play about four or five Circuits within a short period, the players shall reap the fruits. Also, there should be more tournaments in the coming years. We are happy with the ones on ground now, but it can get better.
You were in charge of the Nigerian contingent to Egypt for the World Team Cup, what went wrong?
Injuries and match rustiness were the two problems we encountered. Clifford was within a touching distance of the Zimbabwean (Takanyi Garanganga), who later came to Lagos for the Governor’s Cup. We all saw how Sylvester Emmanuel defeated him. If not for the injuries, our players were up to the task and would have done the unexpected at the tournament.
Don’t you think some of Nigerian players lack technical ability?
That’s an undeniable fact because most of the coaches here train the players free of charge, which is not too good. The coaches around are ITF-certified and are technically gifted as well, but some of the players prefer to practise on their own. That does not add any technicality to their game. If they can employ coaches as the foreign pros do, I am sure they will improve in that aspect.
The Port-Harcourt Open has been rested since the demise of its major sponsor, what advice do you have for the Federation about the tournament?
What I think the Federation should do is to go to the club where the former speaker was a member and speak with the people there. A few of the club members could see the need to do something in memory of their late colleague, instead of allowing the tournament to fade away like that. It was one of our major tournaments and I hope it is resuscitated soon.
Back to the World Team Cup, do you think Nigeria can qualify from her group next Year?
That is a possibility but Team Nigeria must get enough finance to train and start preparation in good time. We should work hard to qualify from our group next year, because the country has been stagnant for a while. So I would advise that preparations should start as soon as we enter the New Year.
Do you see any Nigerian player breaking into the top 800 in the World next Year?
Definitely! If the Federation can pick them and sponsor any of theplayers to Egypt to keep playing in the Futures, I am very sure that the players can have that desired breakthrough. I believe Nigeria has the players, these are youngsters whom I have worked closely with and I know their abilities. In Egypt, there are about 30 ITF Futures where our players can compete to get up there in the ATP Rankings. If you look at those players who went to Togo for the ITF Futures instead of playing in the Dala tournament, you’ll see their status in the World Rankings. They will be the only Nigerians on the log because others would have had their points wiped off since they couldn’t get points at the Governor’s Cup Tennis tournament in Lagos.
Which Nigerian player impressed you the most in the outgoing Year?
I must confess to you that Sylvester Emmanuel has been very impressive. Within a short period, he has blown everybody away with his exceptional strokes and I believe he is a player meant for the top. Then, Joseph Imeh has been quite explosive too, those players are beginning to take tennis from the senior players and I’m sure, we shall see them dominating Nigerian tennis sooner than later.