Nigeria’s Davis Cup Captain, John Atiomo, has opened up on why Team Nigeria to the recent tournament crashed out unceremoniously and got relegated in the process.
In this short exclusive interview with Nigeria Tennis Live, Atiomo revealed how he met his players for the first time at the airport and was a little bit confused about who was who, when they got to Kenya.
Can you briefly tell us what happened to the Nigerian Davis Cup team?
To be quite honest, we didn’t really go there to compete… the players I went with was a last minute makeshift team.
The real team we had, I think three of them were kicked out of the team for disciplinary problems, so it was on the day of our travel that I met the players for the first time.
I was actually expecting it, although I was still optimistic about the tournament but I knew that we didn’t have a chance right from the word go.
The calibre of players that came from other countries, their level of competitiveness was higher than that of our players. The way I see it, it’s like we just went there to participate, to represent Nigeria, and not to compete.
The main issue is that even if the old team was there, it could have still been a tough one. The bottom line is that tennis in Nigeria is needs help. We have to recuperate, regroup and go back to square one. No short cuts. It might take some time, maybe two-three years, but we should be back with the calibre of players that are ready to compete.
Fortunately, we have the kind of administrators that can make this work, so it’s only a matter of time before these things work out.
How soon can we return to Group III before thinking of Group II?
Like I said, we have the calibre of players. If we can get them involved in terms of commitment, discipline… we have what it takes to go back to group III next year.
But you see, it’s not about going back to three, it’s about having a solid team with the crop of players that are disciplined. Discipline is the key. And from my personal perspective, with this crop of players that we have, I don’t think they have the discipline. And if you don’t have discipline in whatever you do, there’s always a shortfall.
To answer your question, we can gather those players together and get us back to group three.
We need to go back to the juniors and get the talents. Put them through a structured programme, monitor them so that we can have people who are truly passionate about the game.
Why did you take up the responsibility of leading the team to the Davis Cup in spite of the short notice?
When I accepted the job, it was with the impression that I would still be with the players that were suspended.
As a matter of fact, when they were in camp preparing for the All Africa Games, I was in Lagos, in Ikeja, for about a couple of days, with them, watching them and monitoring them before they went to Morocco.
It was when they came back from Morocco that we had this issue. But I already committed myself, and I didn’t want to pull out because we had some players who were no longer in the team.
I was already in a tight corner, but I had to do what I had to do. The bottom line again, is that you cannot give what you don’t have.
We even had a few issues with passports for some of the players who were called in. You won’t believe that it was the airport that I met the players for the first time.
When we got to Kenya, I had to start memorizing their names. And they are all Emmanuels, so I was trying to know which was Sunday, Idoko or Paul.