Everybody expected Henry Atseye to retain his Rainoil Tennis Championship title at the Ikoyi Club because of the manner he had dispatched his opponents on the way to the final game. But Joseph Imeh had another idea.
Imeh had not won any national championship in his young career and so he went into Saturday’s Rainoil Championship final hoping to end the long wait. That is exactly what he did in two straight sets. The country’s top ranked player defeated Atseye 6-3, 6-2 to end his losing streak in the final of four major championships.
The new champion began the day winning to love all his first three serves, but Atseye, who had made a giant comeback to defeat Abdulmumin Babalola and Sylvester Emmanuel in the quarterfinals and semifinals respectively, responded by winning his first three games as the game went with serves.
Imeh had lost four finals in a row, including his defeat by Atseye in the inaugural edition of the Rainoil Championship at the Lagos Country Club. But at the Ikoyi Club, he went 4-3 up before getting a crucial break at 5-3 with Atseye sending his Roger Federer-like one-handed backhand way out.
Imeh rounded off the set with a drop shot, which drew resounding applause from tennis fans at the venue, including Ikoyi Club Chairman, Tunde Akinleye.
With Atseye struggling with a sprained ankle, Imeh got a break from the start of the second set and there was no holding back for the former South Africa-based junior international as he rounded off the match 6-2. He got N500, 000, while Atseye pocketed N250, 000.
In the women’s singles, Abuja-based Blessing Samuel came back from the dead as she outlasted Christie Agugbom, 2-6, 7-5, 6-0 to pocket the N400, 000 champion’s prize, while Agugbom got N200, 000.Agugbom was leading 5-2 and was on a match-point but she couldn’t finish off before Samuel stormed to an 11-0 game winning run to amend for the final loss to Sarah Adegoke last year.
“I was on match point and instead of me to keep firing, I was playing safe, praying to win. She was a fighter because most players would have given up,” she said.
Agugbom and Samuel paired to win the women’s doubles 6-3, 6-3 at the expense of Stella Udokwelu and Ebere Fortune, while Albert Bikom and Babalola clinched the men’s doubles by defeating Sylvester Emmanuel and Christian Paul 7-6 (4), 3-6, 10-4.
At the end of the competition, Group Managing Director, Rainoil, Dr. Gabriel Ogbechie promised to make the tournament bigger in subsequent editions. He noted that tennis was one of the most lucrative sports with global appeal and urged individuals and corporate bodies to invest in the sport, which among other benefits could take families out of poverty.“This is just Rainoil’s little way of giving back to the society and helping Nigerian tennis develop to an enviable standard,” he stated.