...Upsets defending champion KomlavI Loglo of Togo
SEVENTEEN year old Henry Adjei Darko of Ghana, is the new singles champion of the annual ITF West African U-18 Junior Circuit championship (Nigeria leg) played on Sunday at the National Stadium tennis courts, Lagos, featuring top junior players from the West African Coast and visiting Austria.
After two hours of breathtaking tennis matched only by the quality of play exhibited at the 1st Governor Bola Tinubu Cup in Lagos last August, Darko, an Arthur Ashe-look alike, narrowly but deservedly upset the tournament's defending champion, Komlavi Loglo in two straight sets of 7-5, 7-6 (10-8).
The final was indeed a "slugfest," featuring thunderous serves, volleys and superb court coverage from two of the world's most outstanding juniors in a match which needed, as it seemed, a temporary "truce" or "seize fie" ordered from the heavens, when rain showers forced an interruption of the proceedings with the Togolese leading 2-1 in the second set, after having lost the first set at 7ñ5.
When the match resumed, the 'fie' in both players burned even more brightly, as each managed to hit the ball even with more power and incredible accuracy, which forced the Special Guest of Honour, Mr. Godwin Ahabue Thompson Oboh, the Group Managing Director and Chief Executive of Union Bank of Nigeria Plc (himself an accomplished tennis player) to note in his closing remarks: "This is the kind of match which should have been watched by an overflowing capacity crowd instead of the sparse crowd available here."
Oboh then advised the organisers, the Nigeria Tennis Federation, to stage such a final in the afternoon instead of a Sunday morning. But then, the organisers' hands are tied by the International Tennis Federation, the sport's world governing body, who, just like in Davis Cup play, dictates the time of matches to allow participants from different parts of the world enough rest before jetting out to the next stop, which, in this case, is Lome, Togo.
For those who were privileged to watch Sunday's final however, they were seeing a shape of great things to come to African tennis, and in the words of Godwin Oboh, "the future is bright for these youngsters in their match towards potentially brilliant professional careers if they continue their absolutely sublime play."
In the first set, only one service break in the 11th game by the Ghanaian, whose fluid service motion and sweet backhand reminds many of the equally skinny but nimble late African-American Arthur Ashe (US Open champion in 1968 and Wimbledon champion in 1975), separated the two players.
In the second, any hints of a service break, were quickly dismissed by Sampras-like timely aces hit at blinding speed by each player.
Inevitably, a tie-break was needed to decide the set, and predictably, the fortunes swung back and forth, with both players surviving many sets and match points respectively, until Darko, serving for the match at 9-8 in the tie-break, delivered a crushing high kicking ace, which made him the champion of the first in this year's three-leg circuit, which second leg resumes in Togo today, and ends with the third leg in Accra, Ghana, next week.
Loglo, 17, who won the Nigeria leg last year and added his country's leg in Togo for good measure, lost in the final of the Ghana leg. After Sunday's match, the career confrontations between the two players have Loglo still leading Darko by four victories against three defeats.
In the girls singles final, it was a run away victory for the 16 year-old defending champion, Khadi Berthe of Senegal, who sparked fierce hitting Tsitsi Masviba of Zimbabwe 6-3, 6-1 to extend her dynasty.