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Bigwigs await qualifiers in main draws of national table tennis championships

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Top seeds are still in their relaxed mood in anticipation of facing up against qualifiers in the singles events of the 4th Michael & Felicia Alabi Memorial National Table Tennis Championships taking place in Otan Ayegbaju in Osun State.

The Nigeria Table Tennis Federation (NTTF)-sanctioned ranking event is organised by the Osun State Table Tennis Association (OSTTA) with support from the Michael & Felicia Memorial Foundation and Cadana-based Jodal Health Care attracted record entries from 28 states across the country.

The likes of Amadi Umeh of Edo, Akinwale Fagbamila of Ondo and Augustine Emmanuel of Lagos as well as Rivers’ Bisola Asaju and Kwara’s Sukurat Aiyelabegan enjoyed rest day on Day One of the national ranking tournament as some of the unseeded players slug it out in their bid to join the tops seeds in the main draw of the competition.

From the format of the tournament, eight players have been seeded in men and women singles events while others will battle for the eight slots each available in the main draw of the men’s and women’s singles events.

For the first time, deaf players will battle in the men’s and women’s singles event while para-athletes will jostle for honours in four events being part of the inclusiveness initiative by the organisers.

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On Day 2, April 23, U-15 boys and girls will begin their quest for glory from the knockout stage while the doubles events will take centre stage.

According to the competition manager, Segun Peters, this year’s tournament witnessed a huge improvement from the previous editions in terms of organisation and other logistics for participating teams and players.

Specifically, Peters lauded the sponsors for the hospitality as well as the conducive environment put in place for the players to showcase their talents.

According to NTTF, the tournament would be used to rank the players nationally for this year.

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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Table Tennis

2024 WTT Contender Lagos: Brazilian Calderano sends warning signals to Aruna, others

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World No. 6 Hugo Calderano has sent warning signals to local hero Quadri Aruna and other stars listed for the WTT Contender Lagos after the Brazilian claimed the men’s singles title at the WTT Contender Rio de Janeiro 2024.

The Brazilian, who is one of the star players heading to Nigeria for the second edition of the first WTT Series in Sub-Saharan Africa.

In front of the Brazilian fans, Calderano successfully shielded himself by defeating 6th seed An Jaehyun of South Korea in straight games (11-7, 11-5, 11-5, 11-6).

Top seed in Rio and favourite from the opening match, Calderano’s journey to the title was one of redemption. In the 2023 edition of the event, Calderano made an early exit, losing his opening match.

In 2024, atonement was achieved as Calderano took his sixth WTT Series title, his first this season, in emphatic fashion.

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“I feel amazing. It’s an amazing atmosphere here, playing here at home. I’m very happy to have won this title here. It was very important to me to win in front of my whole family and a lot of fans from Brazil. I’m delighted to win the trophy,” said Calderano.

Calderano was in sizzling form, dropping just one game on his way to the title this week. The dazzling play by the Rio locals was driven by the fans in yellow and green in the crowd. From the stands, there were cheers for every point as the bleachers sounded their trumpets and beat their drums. It was a victory that was homegrown in every sense of the word.

“Sport is never easy, but it’s all worth it when you have moments like this. It was a great, great atmosphere here, so thank you very much to everyone that supported me in the venue and also at home. Thank you all very much,” the Brazilian star added.

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Aruna reclaims top spot as Nigerian leaps to 17th in ITTF Ranking

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Less than two months after surrendering the top spot in the continental ranking, Quadri Aruna has reclaimed his place after leaping to 17th place in Week 22 of the 2024 ITTF Ranking released on Tuesday, May 28 by the world table tennis ruling body.

However, Egypt’s Omar Assar slipped to 22 in the world rating after occupying the top spot in Africa in the last two months following his triumph at the last African Games in Ghana.

Aruna, who recently reclaimed the ITTF Africa Cup in Rwanda this month, rose by two steps up the ranking ladder to become the highest rated African in the world.

Assar’s drop in the world ranking was due to the expiration of the quarterfinal points he garnered at the Durban 2023 World Championships in South Africa, and this automatically made him lose some points that prompted his fall in the ranking.

While others are dropping from the pecking order of ranking, Aruna’s points remain static, and the freefall of others prompted his rise in the world ranking.

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Africa’s biggest movers in May, Mohamed El-Beiali, who became the third-best-ranked player in the continent after finishing as runner-up at the 2024 ITTF Africa Cup after a 4-0 loss to Aruna in Kigali, dropped to 49th in the world rating.

Despite dropping by a step, Egypt’s Dina Meshref held on to the top echelon of Africa as the 24th best player in the world.

Meshref’s compatriot, Hana Goda, remained static as the best rated African in the world, ranked 31st in the world.

Following the conclusion of all continental quotas for the Olympic Games, players are now eager to pick up their tickets to Paris through the world ranking, which will be in force on June 11 as ITTF concludes the list of participants at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games in France.

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Aruna and Egypt’s Meshref reclaim ITTF Africa Cup title

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Quadri Aruna and Dina Meshref reclaimed the ITTF Africa Cup title after winning the 2024 edition at BK Arena in Kigali, Rwanda.

Aruna, the top seed still fresh from his exploits at the WTT Saudi Smash, was again unstoppable with a commanding win in the final against Egypt’s Mohamed El-Beiali.

The one-sided final saw Aruna effortlessly take down the Egyptian with a 4-0 (11-5, 11-6, 12-10, 11-3) win to emerge as the new Africa Cup champion after losing the title to Egypt’s Omar Assar in 2018.

“There was never an easy win in any competition, and I am happy that I gave my best and my best resulted in the victory.

“It has always been in me not to give up, even when I am down, and I am happy that all my hardwork paid off with the victory.

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“I must commend Rwanda for providing good facilities and their hospitality for us, the players, and I look forward to returning again to this beautiful country,” World No. 19 said.

Like Aruna, Meshref was at her best after coming back from 2-0 down to defeat her compatriot, Mariam Alhodaby, 4-3 to become the new Africa Cup champion after losing the last two editions in the final.

A relieved Meshref described the victory as crucial, particularly coming back from injury.

“I am happy that I was able to come back, especially coming back from an injury I sustained before the tournament.

“I must thank my family and my mother, who sacrificed to be with me in Rwanda. It was a tough win for me here in this beautiful country of Rwanda, and I will cherish this moment for a very long time to come,” she said.

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The tournament has over 50 players from 14 countries taking part as players brace up for the African Olympic Qualification Tournament, which begins on May 16 and ends on May 18.

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