Teenage tennis sensation Oyinlomo Quadre is Nigeria’s undisputed No.1 women’s tennis star at just 17. Ranked 92 in the world junior rankings, the youngster is on a mission to put Nigerian tennis on the global map. She told journalists recently in Lagos about her desire to become the world’s number one women’s singles tennis player. ’TANA AIYEJINA was there
When did you start playing tennis?
I started playing when I was four and my love for tennis was inspired by my siblings, especially my sister Aminat. Growing up, I was really attached to my sister and I followed her to train at a place called Akagbe, right in front of City Mall, and not so far from the Lagos Lawn Tennis Club, where my dad had a sports shop. Back at Akagbe, my sister’s coach watched me and I guess he saw how much I loved being on the court and how much I enjoyed picking balls for my sister and learning from her. He encouraged me to play and told me that I could start by playing for 30 minutes and that was how I started to develop my skills. Later on, the coach and my dad became members of the Lagos Lawn Tennis Club, so things became much easier for me because I could just practice and train with him.
Considering that you started playing at a very young age, how was training like for you in the beginning and what kept you focused?
When I started at Akagbe, what kept me focused was the passion I already had despite the fact that the training conditions were poor. The courts were bad, so I just had to focus on my love for the game, not minding the surroundings. I enjoyed practicing then because I already started beating other children there and a lot of them were older than me. After my dad became a member of the Lagos Lawn Tennis club, things became much easier for me because it was better than Akagbe. They had standard courts, which meant I could play on better courts and for as long as I wanted to. It was easier for me to combine school with tennis because at that point my routine was from school to the club and back home.
Did you have to convince your parents or they were always in support of your decision to play tennis?
Honestly, I think this is what makes me different from a lot of people. My parents have always been supportive and I’m grateful for that. When I was younger, my parents would tell me that I could beat Serena Williams and when I played alone, I would usually imagine I was playing in the Grand Slam against Serena. My dad sees how hard I work to train and be better and my mum is always supportive of me. There have been times I would be sad and cry after a match and I would call them; this is something I’m always grateful for. I think a lot of parents should be more supportive of their children’s dreams because it’s very important.
When did you start competing and representing Nigeria at tournaments?
When I started playing, I only played at tournaments in Lagos, but this was a problem for me because I was only known in Lagos. My dad didn’t know much about how to get me to other competitions outside Lagos. The breakthrough for me was when I played at the Under-16 tournament at the age of nine and I made it to the final; that was when I started getting noticed. Shortly after this, I was invited to represent Nigeria in a tournament in Abuja where I beat Marylove (Edwards) and that was the first time I played outside Lagos. After, I went ahead to the African Junior Championship qualifiers for West Africa in Abuja and I won the qualifiers and then proceeded to the main AJCs for Africa which was in Tunisia and I made it to quarter finals where I lost. The following year, I played AJC qualifiers and won again and I made sure to play at other tournaments before playing at the main AJC. I played in Benin Republic and in Togo in the Under-18 circuits when I was 13 and I gained more CAT points before I played in the semi-finals. At a point, I was in the top eight in Africa and I was only 12 years old. So, I went to play top eight Africa’s masters for Nigeria. And I am so happy that this hard work has resulted in me being Nigeria’s number 1 tennis player
How did you start developing yourself and your skills once you started playing at tournaments?
The first step for me was going for tournaments. As time went on, my mentor at the time, Mr. (Chris) Enahoro, wanted me to go to an academy. I was at a tournament when I was asked if I would want to attend the High Performance Centre in Morocco. It was the best option for me because it is an ITF-certified centre. The Nigeria tennis federation also trusts them to deliver results as we have had some Nigerians who also went to the centre. So, when the opportunity came, we took it immediately.
How do you feel as one of the best tennis players in Nigeria at just 17?
I think it is both motivating and overwhelming at the same time but I’m just glad that I have been able to achieve a lot at a young age. There are times I get criticized, but tennis has helped me develop a more mature mind and not pay attention to negativity. I like to remind myself of what I have been able to achieve and see it as way of making more improvements. So, I just try to keep my mind focused on being better till I’m the best there is. I am Nigeria’s number 1 female tennis player now, but I would like to be number 1 in Africa and the world.
What drives you to keep training and developing yourself?
For as long as I can remember, I have worked hard at achieving goals I set for myself. I won ITF juniors Under-18 when I was 13, and at that point I was the youngest in the world with that ranking. So, I think my biggest motivation is to better my biggest accomplishments and beat my best records. And I’m blessed because I’m surrounded by people who encourage me to be better and support me.
Which sports icon has influenced you the most?
Roger Federer. Since I was little, I’ve always seen him as an inspiration. He has managed to make tennis look easy and his calmness is almost contagious. I’m still aspiring to reach that level of calmness at some point. Also, I have always admired Serena Williams.
What do you think are the biggest challenges of tennis players in Nigeria?
As a tennis player in Nigeria, I think tennis is underrated and it is hard to get sponsorships. So, I think the federation should work towards getting sponsorships, so that there can be more tournaments for players to develop themselves. A lot of players in Nigeria only wait for the Central Bank of Nigeria tournament, and after that, they just hang their rackets till the following year. Another thing is I do not think tennis players are celebrated in Nigeria; there is no recognition unlike some other sports. If the federation can work on these, I think it would be a good starting point.
What goals do you hope to accomplish and what does the future hold for you?
One goal I have always wanted to accomplish is to beat Serena Williams’ Grand Slam record and I hope I can still do that soon. I have a foundation called Fusion Foundation and it is something my siblings and I set up as a way of giving back to the society. Since when I was younger, I’ve always been close to tennis ball boys and I see some of them struggle with things like food and even clothes. Whenever I see them, I ask what tournaments they have played in and most times they’ve not had the opportunity to play and it just breaks my heart. This was my inspiration to set up the foundation, to help the ball boys develop themselves and give them the opportunity to be recognised through their talents. It is something my siblings and I do together and we are hoping to get sponsorships from individuals and organisations. So far, I have sponsored two tournaments. Although my life is just about tennis, I will like to further my education and get a master’s degree in Psychology. And for my fans, I’m quite active on social media on Instagram, Twitter and Tiktok.
Who is Oyinlomo Quadre?
Oyinlomo is 17 and Nigeria’s number one tennis player. I’m Yoruba and from Kwara State, although I grew up in Macaulay Street, Lagos Island. I have two older siblings, a brother Fuad Quadre and a sister Aminat Quadre and they are professional tennis players as well. So, I’m the last of three children. I grew up in á family of tennis lovers.
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