NCC TENNIS LEAGUE
A brave, heartfelt performance from Sylvester Emmanuel and Aanu Aiyegbusi in the decisive mixed doubles match of the second semifinals of the NCC Tennis League Cup, gave debutant Team Offikwu a dream upset win Sunday in Abuja against a star studded Civil Defence team – runners-up of the maiden edition last year.
When Abdulmumuni Babalola beat Sylvester Emmanuel 6-3, 7-6 in the first singles and Shehu Lawal followed with a 7-6, 6-2 win over Emmanuel Idoko to pick the first two points for the Civil Defence team on the opening day, many tennis fans assumed the tie was won and lost.
It turned out , however, that Team Offikwu had other ideas and picked the next two points that they were least expected to win.
Aiyegbusi put up a virtuoso performance to beat national champion Christie Agugbom, who has never lost a match in the league, 7-5, 6-0 and the pair of Albert Bicom and Emmanuel recovered from a set down to upset current national doubles champions, Lawal and Babalola 4-6, 6-3, 10 -6 in the men’s doubles to even scores on Saturday.
With scores at 2 -2 going into Sunday, both teams split the reverse singles.
Babalola beat Idoko 7-6, 6-4 while Emmanuel beat Shehu Lawal 6-1, 6-3 to level 3-3 to have the mixed doubles as the decisive match.
That was where Emmanuel, the highest ranked Nigerian on the ATP Tour and petite Aiyegbusi, ranked in the top five in Nigeria, played their hearts out to beat national doubles champion Lawal and Nigerian ladies’ champion Agugbom 6-3, 5-7, 11-9 to secure team Offikwu’s place in the finals scheduled for Lagos this weekend.
“This was the most tension packed, most exciting match I have seen in Nigeria and the second worldwide in my whole life. The other was the Australian Open quarterfinal between Younis Aynaoui of Morocco and Andy Roddick of the USA many years ago which lasted over five hours with the final set ending 16-14 or so. All of us in the press box threw professionalism to the winds and joined the crowd shouting and screaming as break points and match points changed hands several times before Roddick finally won the match. This was a similar experience,” recalled Godwin Kienka, director of the International Tennis Academy which coordinates the tennis league.
“We had pin-dropped silence before every point in the final set tie breaker before supporters of the team that won the point erupted in uncontrollable celebration. It was simply unbelievable!”
Emmanuel who was the main architect of the victory – bravely intercepting and hitting winners all over the place – rolled over and shed tears of joy for over five minutes on the court while Aiyegbusi ran all over the court thanking God for the victory.
“We knew it was going to be a very difficult match but we prepared very well starting the day after we qualified for the semifinals and God rewarded our hardwork.” Said Emmanuel who contributed to all four points won by Team Offikwu.
“Team Offikwu deserved to win” conceded Sunday Jonah, the team captain of Team Civil Defence. “We took our opponents for granted and did not approach the match as seriously as we should have and we paid the price.”