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For Russia-based Ifidzen, CBN Senior Open Tennis is step to Wimbledon

By Gowon Akpodonor
02 July 2016   |   4:03 am
For Russia-based Nigerian-born female tennis star, Melissa Ifidzen, being involved in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Senior Open Tennis Championship for two years now is very rewarding.
Melissa Ifidzen (left) and Christy Agugbom display their trophies.

Melissa Ifidzen (left) and Christy Agugbom display their trophies.

All over the world, the importance of grassroots tennis, particularly its role as an educational and social vehicle for the youths cannot be underestimated.

Every top tennis player featuring in big tournaments such as the on-going Wimbledon tennis, and others like the Australia open, US open and Roland Garros, was once a grassroots player, having progressed through the development stages of free-play and organised sessions.

For Russia-based Nigerian-born female tennis star, Melissa Ifidzen, being involved in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Senior Open Tennis Championship for two years now is very rewarding.

The 38th edition of the championship ended last weekend in Lagos and Ifidzen, who was the tournament No. 2 seed, came all the way from Russia to defend the crown she won last year, beating the tournament top seed, Christy Agugbom, 6-3, 6-2 in the final to pocket the N700,000 prize money.

Melissa Ifidzhen, who is born to a Russian mother and Nigerian father, is ranked 1019 by the WTA. She came to Lagos with her manager and father (Mr. Ifidzen), and she paired Sarah Adegoke to win the Women’s Doubles, beating the pair of Christy Agugbom and Blessing Samuel, 6-0, 6-2 in the final.

The 18-year-old Ifidzen told The Guardian shortly after the championship that her ambition is to be among top three tennis players in the world. She is also dreaming of winning the prestigious Wimbledon title one day.

“I want to get to the top three in the world tennis and I also want to be playing like Serena Williams,” Ifidzen said. “And I will be so glad to win the Wimbledon title one day.” Unlike some other Nigerians, who derive joy flying the flag of other countries in sporting events, Ifidzen dumped Russia to represent Nigeria in tennis. She was in Team Nigeria’s contingent to the last African Games in Congo Brazzaville. “Nigeria is my country and I love Nigeria,” she said.

Michael Moses defeated Sylvester Emmanuel 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 to win the Men’s Singles title and cash prize of N700,000. The men’s Doubles title went to 2013 champions, Abdulmumuni Babalola and Shehu Lawal, who rediscovered their winning formula by defeating the pair of Michael Moses and Christian Paul in the final.

For 38 years, the CBN Senior Open Tennis Championship had been rewarding for Nigerian tennis players, providing the platform for majority of them to realize their potentials.

Since its inception in 1979, the glamour associated with the championship had remained the same. From the days of Kehinde Ajayi to David Imonite, Sadig Abdullahi, Toyin Dairo, Rotimi Jegede, Godwin Omuta, Jonathan Igbinovia, Sunday Maku and Shehu Lawal in the male category, and the likes of Anne Abimiku, Ngozi Momah, Esther Onyekwelu, Rolake Olagbegi, Veronica Oyibokia, Nosa Imafidon, Veronica Okonkwo and Osaro Amadi in the female category, it had been one sumptuousness moment of tennis to another.

The President of Nigeria Tennis Federation (NTF), former sports minister, Engr. Sani Ndanusa, was full of praises for the sponsors (CBN), saying the entire tennis family was proud of their effort, especially for the consistency in bankrolling the championship.

“This championship is the largest that brings all tennis loving youths in our nation together. We are celebrating the 38th edition of the championship and we appreciate the efforts and commitment of CBN to give our players the opportunity to showcase their Bowes and the economic empowerment is of great value to the players. This tournament helps in the development of the younger ones, who would later take over from the aged players,” Ndanusa said.

The sponsor says apart from its mission of being proactive in providing a stable framework for the economic development of Nigeria through effective, efficient and transparent implementation of monetary and exchange rate policy and management of the finance sector, it would continue to sponsor the championship as a way of helping the nation’s sports.

The Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, who was represented by the Director of Capacity Development Department of the CBN, Ms. Chizoba Mojekwu, gave kudos to the players for displaying exceptional skills, especially the finalists who are just graduating to the senior ranks.

“The dexterity I witnessed on the court today underscores the fact that the past nine days have been characterized by skillful display put up by the players. This, no doubt, is an indication of the rising profile of the championship. The CBN recognizes the role of tennis and indeed, sports in general, to the development of the youth,” Emefiele said.

In 2006, CBN introduced the Junior Tennis Tournament to ensure that new stars are discovered and developed early. “Our goal in designing the tournament, which is open to boys and girls within the age groups of 10 and 18 respectively, was for it to serve as a feeder to the senior championship. It is pertinent to mention that the winners in both the boys and girls ‘Categories 18’ participated in this year’s Senior Tennis Championship,” he added.

To the CBN, improving young players technically is one challenge, but contributing to their personal development is also a fundamental goal. To make participation in this year’s event more competitive and attractive, the CBN pegged the total prize-money at the just concluded championship at N14.3 million for the various categories. It covered the cash prizes for winners in the male and female wheelchair categories.

Outside the cash incentives, CBN is of the view that the youths need to be occupied in order to become useful in the society. “I can see future stars among the players that featured in this championship. If they are properly engaged, they will be useful to the society. We will continue to sponsor the competition as a way of aiding tennis development both at the grassroots and senior level,” Emefiele added.

Over 300 players took part in the 38th CBN Senior Tennis Championship.