LAGOS – 2019 ITTF Africa Cup men’s singles champion Omar Assar has expressed surprise at his triumph saying it was not his “expectation at all to win the title” ahead of tournament favourite and homeboy Aruna Quadri who he beat in the semifinal.
Third-seeded Assar defeated compatriot and number two seed Ahmed Ali Saleh 3-2 [10-12, 11-3, 11-6, 12-14, 11-3, 9-11, 11-3] in a tight and gripping final at the Molade Okoya-Thomas Indoor Sports Hall of the Teslim Balogun Stadium, Lagos to win a third Africa Cup title.
The 28-year-old seemingly has a love affair with Nigeria’s economic capital where he appears to have a hold on Quadri having defeated him en route to winning the 2014 men’s singles title at the World Tour, Nigeria Open, Lagos before repeating the feat in 2015. He also won the 2017 Challenge, Nigeria Open, Lagos although he didn’t face his long-time rival on his way to the trophy.
Nicknamed the Lagosian Pharaoh, Assar’s latest triumph marks the fourth time he’d be winning a trophy in Lagos and the Egyptian said even though he wasn’t expecting to win especially as he had been troubled by a knee injury in the early stages, he is “very happy to perform always in Lagos.”
“Well, I’m very happy to perform here always in Lagos and it was not my expectation at all to win the title, actually,” Assar said.
“Quadri Aruna was much favourite than me when I came here, he was in such good form and he played amazing all the way, he beat a very strong player in the quarterfinal [Senegal’s Ibrahima Diaw] and I also had a tough draw so, I was not expecting any win at all.
“I also started with a knee injury in the first matches so I am very happy that I could come over. Yeah, I’m very happy to perform always in Lagos.”
On the playing against Saleh in the final, Assar who recovered from losing the opening set to go 2-1 up before winning the final set after Saleh had leveled the match in the fourth set, said playing a teammate was always a difficult proposition especially one as experienced as Saleh who turns 40 later this year and was a winner of this title twenty-two years ago.
“It’s always tough to play your teammates, we grew up together, he knows me very well he’s much older, like eleven years older than me, he’s much more experienced, so, of course this match has a very special feeling but all in all, I tried with my tactics, he played amazing, I’m very happy to see him playing that well and it’s very good that Egyptian tennis had such a high level.”
Assar’s victory also secured his place at the 2019 Table Tennis World Cup which serves off in October in Chengdu, China although he has never gone beyond the round of 16 in two previous appearances in 2015 and 2017.
With his place at the World Cup secure, Assar who declared the World Cup “very hard to play” says he would be “hoping and praying” for rival and good friend Aruna Quadri to join him as Africa’s representatives in the men’s event at the elite tournament by qualifying via the rankings as the top eight ranked players in the world all qualify with an additional two players also making it via wildcards.
“The World Cup is very hard to play. It’s the best from every continent plus the World Champion, so I will prepare.
“I just wish that Quadri Aruna can make it from the world rankings, it’s still possible, I’m hoping and I’m praying for him that he can make it and I’m sure that he can make it that me and Quadri can represent Africa at the World Cup.”