Women's Group Round 3 at the Perfect 2016 World Team Table Tennis Championships,28 Feb 2016 - 06 Mar 2016, Kuala Lumpur, MAS

Aruna Quadri’s has continued to set new records since breaking into global limelight in 2014 when he was named the first player from Africa to win the prestigious world table tennis player of the year. Outside the table, the Oyo State-born athlete emboldies humility but when in action, he roars and this, most times, sends fear into his opponents. His diligence at close-door has made him defeat some of the finest players in the world and this has continued to endear him to the hearts of many followers of table tennis globally. Despite being dwarfed to the ranking by Egypt’s Omar Assar, Qaudri never gave up and his hard work paid off recently when he overtook the Egyptian as the highest ranked African in the world, rated 18th. Kunle Adewale examines the rising profile of the Portugal-based star

Aruna Quadri became the first Nigerian and the second African to make the top18 rating in the monthly ranking of the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), after rising from 20 to 18 in the August rating released last weekend by the world table tennis ruling body.

The fortune of Quadri in the monthly ranking improved following his performance at the Australian Open where he made it to the last 16 of the men’s singles. And with this rating, the Oyo State-born athlete continues to halter his own record as the only Nigerian to achieve top 18 rating in the world.

An elated Quadri believes the rating would afford him another opportunity to continue to work harder.

“I am so happy with the ranking particularly with my qualification for the ITTF World Cup in France. Again, this ranking has shown that I should not relax but continue to work harder because remaining on top is one difficult task for any athlete. 

“I must redouble my efforts in training and continue to compete in major competitions across the globe. I will not be carried away by this rating but be humbled by this feat and remain focused in order to maintain my status in the global rating,” he promised.

Hear him on what it has been like taking part in an ITTF championship without a coach and how many times he has participated in championships without a coach.

“I must admit that it has not been easy but I am getting used to it. It is painful because, with a coach behind you, he can see what you are not seeing while playing and I know this most times gives my opponent an edge over me. I won the 2017 Polish Open without a coach but for me, if I have the means (funding) I can get a coach because it is quite expensive in Europe to get a coach. You have to pay the coach, pay for his boarding and all these are too much for me to bear. But getting the opportunity to play at ITTF tournament with the support I have been getting from my sponsor – Baba Ijebu Bet and other means have helped me to improve tremendously. It is quite true that I need a coach but I cannot afford it for now,” Quadri said.

Quadri in his own little way has been supporting a lot of junior players in Nigeria with equipment which he said is key to them. “I may not be making noise about it but I know a lot of people are aware of my support to Nigerian players at home. I have also assisted some of them to secure contracts with clubs in Europe and this for me is my own contribution to the sport,” he noted.

Quadri was not initially a table tennis player; he actually began his sporting adventure in athletics. “I was into athletics particularly sprint event at Adeyemi Secondary School in Oyo town, South-west of Nigeria. It was while running that I was invited to play table tennis by Mr. Abolarin in the late 1990s and that was how my romance with table tennis started. Ping pong enticing and exciting because players are less prone to injury and being the fastest sports in the world, it has continued to gain global attention. I love the sport with every passion in me and this makes me to always give my best in training. It is an individual sport that encourages hard work because it is what you put that you get,” the Oyo State-born ping ponger said.

His biggest win so far was winning the Polish Open in 2017 as he is the first African to win an ITTF tournament outside the continent. Other big wins were when he made it to the quarterfinal of the ITTF World Cup in 2014 and Rio Olympic Games in 2016.

Asked how he finances himself to competitions, Quadri said: “I got support from my major sponsor –Joola, as well as the salary I earn from my club – Sporting. Recently, I got an endorsement from a Nigerian betting firm – Premier Lotto which signed me for three years. Sponsors are very vital to me because they help me to attend more competitions and get the needed equipment to compete at the top level. The little fund I get from sponsorship help to focus on the game rather than thinking of financing myself to competitions.”

The Nigeria No 1 table tennis player is conscious of his status as a role model to upcoming sportsmen and women and would therefore not want to live a life that would portend a negative influence on them.

“I am conscious of the kind of impact I can have on the lives of a lot of people across the world. So for me, I ensure I remain positive and a good ambassador of my country wherever I found myself. Even off the table, I relate with some of them and share my life experience with them because I did not get to where I am today by just dreaming about it but by the Grace of God. I worked hard to get here. You must also believe in yourself and these are some of the qualities I am hoping that people can pick from me,” he noted.

Quadri, however, craved that the Sports Ministry should give all sports the needed attention, saying that, “attention given to football is detrimental to other sports in Nigeria. If some of us in other sports get 10 per cent support of what football is getting, I believe Nigeria will be among the best sporting nations in the world. Also, attention will also be given to youth development because without support to the juniors we cannot produce champions in future. Sports can create an immediate job for people particularly when there are regular competitions while the athletes will also benefit. Without sports, I don’t think I will be where I am today because sports has taken me far and wide and I have made name for myself and my country. There are many Aruna Quadri out there, but what they need is the right support.”

 Meanwhile, Omar Assar of Egypt still maintained the record as the first African player to be ranked in top 16 in the world but the inactivity of the Egyptian in the last two months may have caused his fortune in the world rating to plummet.

Assar who will not be part of the 2018 ITTF Challenge Nigeria Open dropped from 21 to 23 in the latest ranking.

Also, the new leader on the ITTF World Tour Standings; China’s Xu Xin is the player to make the most significant progress on the Men’s World Rankings issued for August 2018.

He climbs three positions to No.5 to replace Germany’s Timo Boll who drops one position to No.3, being behind compatriot – Fan Zhendong who continues to lead the list.

One place lower for Timo Boll, it is the same for China’s Lin Gaoyuan who drops to No.4 and Germany’s OVTCHAROV Dimitrij who now appears at No.5.

Conversely, Japan’s Tomokazu Harimoto progresses from No.8 to No.6 and is now ahead of China’s Ma Long and Korea Republic’s Lee Sangsu; each is one rung down the ladder lower than in July.

In the women’s rating, finalists at the recent 2018 ITTF World Tour Platinum Australian Open in Geelong, with Liu Shiwen beating Ding Ning in all Chinese final, both make notable progress on the Women’s World Rankings for August.

Former occupants of the top spot, Liu Shiwen climbs four places to No.2, being one behind colleague, Zhu Yuling who continues to head the list; Ding Ning makes an even greater move. Previously at No.17, she is now in the No.7 spot.

Likewise, women’s singles number one seed for 2018 ITTF Challenge Seamaster Nigeria Open, Thailand’s Suthasini Sawettabut advances from No.59 to No.39, DPR Korea’s Kim Song I from No.55 to No.45, Japan’s Minami Ando from No.74 to No.46 and Singapore’s Zeng Jian from No.60 to No.50.