Lagos — Although black-Americans, there is really nothing to specifically say that they are from Nigeria, the most populous country on the continent of Africa. Owing to what they have achieved in the game of tennis on the world stage, not a few Nigerians wish they were from this West-African country.
Consequently, when the Williams sisters, Venue and Serena stormed Lagos, last week for a four day visit, the whole city came to a standstill. Expectedly, the tennis idols donned the cover pages of almost all the national dailies and no news bulletin on either television or radio was complete without a mention of the presence of the sisters in town.
The historic visit arranged by Connect Marketing Services was actually targeted at creating awareness on the possibilities that exist for women to overcome all inhibitions on their way to success. The choice of the Williams sisters was apt as they came and fired up the spirits of Nigerian youths, especially the female population.
Although it was like a crash-programme, the tennis stars who have remained on top for over 15 years since they turned professional, did a lot by helping to 'Break the Mould' by delivering a lecture, attending a fund raising-dinner and also staging an exhibition match which the elder Williams won. Interestingly, reigning USA Open champion, Serena played against little Lola Holmes who said the American was her idol.
It is worthy to note that the sisters made maximum use of the opportunity provided by Connect Marketing Services to savour the Nigerian hospitality. In words and deeds, they demonstrated they were at home with the thousands of people who poured out to at least catch a glimpse of them. This was evident in the way they went about the business that brought them to Nigeria.
The Williams love for Nigeria is not new and unexpected. Some years ago, precisely 1998, on her way to another African country, one of the Sisters, Serena, transited in Lagos and it was an awesome feeling for her.
Serena said: "My first time was a brief stopover when I travelled to an African country a few years back but it was disappointing that I could not interact with Nigerians back then, that's why I'm going to cherish every minute I have to spend here now.
"I am excited to know that we have many fans in Nigeria, in fact, I receive thousands of messages everyday on Twitter from Nigerians who were asking if I would come here.
On her part, Venus said: "It's so amazing to be in Nigeria for the first time. I tried several times but I'm glad I made it this time around.
And, for the Nigerian women, they can do a lot to improve themselves and we salute the organizers of this initiative for thinking about women empowerment."
For ardent tennis fans in Nigeria, the visit of the Williams is not only about women empowerment but the impact it would have on the 'half-hearted' efforts being made by authorities to develop the sport. Unlike in sports like football and basketball where Nigeria ex-internationals are known for making personal contributions aimed at engendering interest in the sports which they used as platforms to express their God's given talents, tennis lacks similar opportunities.
It is an open secret that apart from the trio of Nduka Odizor, Tony Momoh and Sadiq Abdullahi, Nigeria does not boast of former tennis stars that played the game at the world stage. Odizor remains the most successful tennis player in Nigeria as he at a point rose to number 52 on ATP ranking.
He dominated the Nigerian court in the 80s and 90s and went on to compete at the Wimbledon 1983, Australian Open 1985, USA Open 1985 and 1986 and French Open 1986. He won seven international career titles, climaxing with his appearance for Nigeria at Seoul 1988 Olympic. The other two former tennis players also represented Nigeria at the Seoul Olympic in 1988.
Although the organizers of the Williams visit made it clear that the Williams were in the country to encourage more women to break moulds that stand between them and their potentials, the momentous visit also served to ginger more interest in the game of tennis among the youth of Nigeria, especially those who had the rare privilege of interacting with the tennis living legends.