President of the Nigeria Table Tennis Federation (NTTF) Ishaku Tikon says fans of table tennis are set to behold “table tennis they’ve never witnessed in Nigeria” when the 2019 ITTF Challenge Plus Nigeria Open serves off today at the Molade Okoya-Thomas Indoor Sports Hall of the Teslim Balogun Stadium.
Lagos has been a beehive of table tennis activities in the past week with fans having been treated to exciting spectacles at the African Club Championships and the ITTF Africa Cup which all held in the last seven days but the level of tennis which will be on show at Africa’s sole Challenge Plus event will according to Tikon dwarf all that has come so far.
Tikon said the international flavour of the tournament which has a total prize money of $60,000 and will see over 170 elite players from 32 countries compete in seven categories, set the competition apart from the events of the past week and he also said this year’s edition which has seen a spike in both prize money and number of athletes is poised to be more “explosive” than the previous edition in 2018.
“The ITTF Challenge Plus, is a global international tournament that attracts star players from all over the world, so of course, expect it to be explosive than the African Cup,” Tikon said at a press conference held on the eve of the tournament at the Molade Okoya-Thomas Indoor Sports Hall of the Teslim Balogun Stadium.
“Last year we had 27 countries participating, but this year we have over 32 countries participating so you’d expect it to be more explosive. The way the organisation of the tournament has been going on, the input of the Local Organising Committee (L.O.C) and of course the quality we have put in place continue to attract the star players from across the globe and I’m telling Nigerians they are going to witness table tennis they’ve never witnessed in Nigeria,” Tikon declared.
Nigeria’s Aruna Quadri won the 2018 edition after he defeated Frenchman Antoine Hachard in the final but there are concerns that Africa’s top-ranked player who suffered a defeat in the semifinal of the just concluded ITTF Africa Cup to long-time rival Omar Assar might not be up to the task of defending his title this year.
Tikon, however, said the player who will celebrate his 31st birthday in the course of the tournament still retains the Federation’s support and tips Quadri to go all the way again.
“Don’t forget, last year he came first, so the fact that he lost in the Africa Cup does not mean that his name has changed. He still remains the Aruna Quadri that we know and we are confident as a Federation that he will still repeat the record,” Tikon said.
The NTTF president also said the Nigeria Open in addition to the series of tennis competitions over the past seven days will put the country’s tennis players in good stead to conquer all seven categories at the forthcoming 2019 African Games which is scheduled for Rabat, Morocco between 19-31 August 2019.
“We’ve had tournaments that have lined themselves up back to back up to the one we are ushering in today, all these are preparations towards the African Games. There are seven events and we are going out there to cancel out all seven.”
Also in attendance at the press conference was ITTF Executive Vice-President Alaa Meshref who lauded the exponential growth of the tournament since it’s inaugural edition in 2013 and expressed hope that it could become Africa’s first-ever platinum event.
Other notable personalities at the event included the Executive Chairman of the Lagos State Sports Commission Kweku Tandoh, the Commission’s Director-General Toyin Gafaar Bolowotan, Deputy President of the ATTF Olabanji Oladapo, Chairman of the L.O.C Enitan Oshodi, Aruna Quadri and Senegalese player Ibrahima Diaw.
The 2019 ITTF Challenge Plus Nigeria Open will hold from 7-11 August 2019 and will see over 170 players from 32 countries compete in seven categories: Men’s Singles, Women’s singles, Men’s Doubles, Women’s Doubles, Mixed Doubles, U-21 Men’s Singles and U-21 Women’s Singles.
A total prize money of $60,000 will be on offer up from the $46,000 in the 2018 edition. Winners of the Men’s and Women’s singles will pocket $7,000 each.