There is great symbolism in the venue of the exhibition match played in South Africa by Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Besides the exhibition played by Venus and Serena Williams at Lagos Lawn Tennis Club in 2014, the Cape Town match marked the first time since 1976 that several Grand Slam champions have faced each other on African soil.
In 1976, there were 32 professional male tennis players in the world under the banner of World Championship Tennis (WCT), funded by Texas oil mogul Lamar Hunt. Nigerian Olatunji Ajisomo Alabi (Lord Rumens) has championed the effort to bring top-level tennis to Nigeria after the Lagos Lawn Tennis Club’s center court goes live.
At a meeting in Houston, Texas, Alabi told Hunt, “If Africa is not included, then take the ‘world’ out of the WCT. Lamar replied, “You are right. International tennis was on its way to Nigeria.
The preparation for the first world-class tournament in Nigeria received the approval of the administration of Gowon, composed of Allison Ayida, Philip Asiodu and Ime Ebong. The tournament was underway when there was a change of government and days of mourning were imposed. Although Obasanjo’s military administration approved the tournament’s conclusion, an overzealous soldier unilaterally burst onto center court during the semi-final match between Arthur Ashe and Dutchman Tom Okker. Players and spectators rushed out of the scene.
Alabi has always described the incident as “the saddest day for tennis in Nigeria and Africa”.
Subsequently, the efforts of tennis enthusiasts, including Alhaji Raheem Adejumo, Dr Olusola Saraki, Dr Ismail Babatunde Jose, Alhaji AOG Otiti, Chief Frank Ozona, Mr. Peter Thomas, Prince Semi Lufadeju and Chief Molade Okoya-Thomas, -The tennis class back in Nigeria hesitated over the reference to this tragic incident.
In 1978, international tennis competition returned to Nigeria when Nigerian promoters convinced the Men’s International Professional Tennis Council (MIPTC) to sanction the Lagos Tennis Classic, then a Challenger event. It was sponsored by Dunlop Nigerian Industries and Nigeria Tobacco Company. Lord Rumens subsequently provided the price of US $ 75,000.00 annually from 1983 to 1988.
The Tennis Players Association (ATP) has taken over men’s tennis. The Women’s Tennis Association was created for women. The International Tennis Federation has become the regulatory body for the sport. Tennis events became classified as Grand Slam (2000 ranking points); Masters (1000); Masters (500) and other tournaments with lower ranking points. The ITF organizes Futures tournaments like the Governor’s Cup in Lagos, for both male and female players.
With tournament ranking by prize money and ranking points, the King Hassan Cup at 250 points in Marrakech, Morocco is the only ATP tournament in Africa.
Although his mother was born in South Africa, Federer had not played a match in Africa. Nadal, however, played in junior events at Sun City where he won the Under-12s in one year and the Under-14s a year later.
The Match for Africa in the stadium which hosted the 2010 World Cup was organized by Roger Federer’s charity which supports education in Africa. Previous events had taken place outside African soil. This time around, the celebrity doubles match pitted Bill Gates, partnered with Roger Federer, Trevor Noah and Rafael Nadal.
Federer’s team won 6/3. When asked why they won, Bill Gates replied that it was because they had “no double faults”. It was Bill Gates’ fourth successful pairing with Federer and both wore green and white clothing while their opponents were outfitted in the pink and white of Nadal’s clothiers.
A visibly happy Federer said he started the Foundation when he was 23. “I’ve done exhibitions all over the world in tiny stadiums. Here we are in this stadium which hosted the World Cup.
For his part, Nadal said: “It’s an amazing experience here with great people and kids. I was in Sun City twice as a kid and later as a spectator here when Spain won the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Asked about his foundation for deaf children, Nadal replied, “It’s about giving back. Around the world, a lot of people are suffering.
The Cape Town stadium had 51,954 spectators for the Africa Match, an attendance record for a tennis event. The tennis court was a small rectangle in the middle of the court. There were seats only at the sides but none behind the baselines.
The Nigerian committee that applied to host the 2010 World Cup was headed by Chief Segun Odegbami whose delegation visited many countries to promote the nation. South Africa was ultimately chosen. The stadium that hosted this global sporting fiesta was the site of a record-breaking tennis event. Could the waves of the Nadal / Federer exhibition match lead to the return of a world-class competition in Africa?