Augustine Nwokedi played tennis for Nigeria and rose to become Nigeria’s number two tennis player. He left for Turkey in 2010 in search of greener pastures. He told us the real reasons he left the country and the challenges facing tennis in the country.
You came back from Turkey after two years of absence, why are in the country?
Actually, I was in the country when I heard that the CBN Open was on so I just thought to give it a shot. I did not expect what I saw at the tournament, because it was as if the sport has remained stagnant from the last time I was in the country. No infrastructural development, no talent discovery, virtually everything is still as it was when I left for Turkey.
But you lost in the first round to a relatively unknown player?
Well, it’s also part of the challenges. I never expected to play in the morning because I was told that the match was scheduled for evening only for me to hear my name quite early that day. I just got on the court and felt since my opponent wasn’t looking much like a threat, I could just finish up the tie earlier. I won the first set 6-0 but couldn’t move my body in the second set and that was how I lost. He’s a player for the future.
Having risen through the ranks to become the number two player in the country, why did you leave for Turkey?
I left the country in 2010 because I felt that I wasn’t getting what I wanted in the game. Can you imagine that Nigeria’s number two player was invited to the Davis Cup team camp and he did not play the tournament? I never expected that and it really got me furious and thinking if truly the administrators really wanted to develop the sport in the country.
So, have you fared better in tennis since you left for Turkey?
I’ve not been playing tennis since I left for Turkey. I’ve been loading trailers there to make ends meet. That’s down to the state that the sport was before I left. It wasn’t rewarding and even when one expected to start making something out of it, one was sidelined.
What prompted you to start playing tennis?
I was fascinated by my elder brother, Kyrian Nwokedi’s trophy haul. He was Nigeria’s number one player for about five years and is now based in the United States of America. I did not bother myself about the money; I just wanted to win medals and trophies when I started.
Did you win trophies?
Even if I did not rise to become the country’s number one player, I still managed to maintain a high profile. I won the PH Open, had four gold medals from the National Sports Festival in 2002, 2004, I can’t readily recollect everything that I won before leaving Nigeria for Turkey.
You did not have a stronghold on the Governor’s Cup. Were you disappointed?
Looking back at the Governor’s Cup, I’ll say that I’m proud of my achievement because I was the only Nigerian to play in the quarter-final of the ITF tournament in 2008. Apart from that, I was also the only Nigerian to play in the quarter-final stage of the Ogbe Hard Court Tournament. So, I may not have won the tournament but my performance was a thing of pride to me.
Would you rate that as your proudest moment in the game?
No, I can’t recollect the year now, but I can remember vividly, how I played against Mumuni Babalola in Bauchi. It was the final game of the tournament and I lost to him but I’d say that I played the best tennis of my life that day. I’ve not played like that ever since.
What do you think is wrong with Nigerian tennis?
Honestly speaking we have an array of talents in this country but the major problem has been that of getting these people to play tournaments. We need sponsors that will help facilitate tournaments for us because the more the tournaments, the better the players and the more the improvement. If the present board of the NTF can look into this aspect, things will definitely change for the better.
Where do you see yourself in the near future?
I see myself playing tennis for the next six years. After that, I’ll stop playing and allow the young ones to come on board. I’m 29 years old now and would have stopped playing if not for the situation in the country.
Do you have any role model in the game?
Roger Federer stands as my role model anytime any day because of his style of play.
Do you think there’s a future for Nigerian tennis?
I’ve told you the remedy to our problems and to see that our tennis has not changed since I left the country goes to show you what to expect from the sport in Nigeria. There is no future whatsoever because if we compare what we have here with what is obtainable in Europe, you’ll see for yourself that what we’re doing here is child’s play.