Reigning International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) Male Star Player, Aruna Quadri, is the top seed in the men’s Singles event of the 2015 Lagos Open Challenge Series.
The five-day ITTF World Tour championship sponsored by Chinese automobile company GAC Group begins on Tuesday, 10 March inside Sir Molade Okoya-Thomas Indoor Sports Hall in the premises of the Teslim Balogun Stadium, Surulere.
The total prize money on offer is US$ 46,000 (over N9m), with the winner of the Men’s Singles title expected to go home with the sum of US$ 6,000 (about N1.2m), while the Men’s Doubles and the Under-21 Men’s Singles titlists get US$ 2,000 (about N398,000) and US$ 1,000 (about 199,000) respectively.
Favourites: Quadri vs. Assar singles
Quadri, 26, winner of the Men’s Singles event at the ITTF-Africa Top 16 last June and quarter-finalist at Liebherr Men’s World Cup in October will seek to reproduce his landmark achievement from 2014 on the World Tour stage, but faces stern competition from hotshot Omar Assar of Egypt- seeded second in Lagos this year.
Assar, 23, – if you like- is the player with the most appealing profile of all the challengers entered for this year’s tournament. The No. 43 ranked player, who eliminated Quadri in the last 4 en route to claiming gold, last year, also reached the semi-finals on home soil in Cairo in 2013.
Another player to watch in the Men’s Singles category is Assar’s compatriot and third seed Mohamed El-Beiali, who has a peculiar cliff to scale.
Quadri may be the highest-ranked player in Africa at No. 32, but his surprise quarter-final defeat by El-Beiali– now ranked 179th in the world- in Cairo in January, prolonged the Nigerian’s wait for a maiden ITTF-Africa Men’s Singles title.
However, El-Beiali will arrive in Lagos with a weak track record as he has yet to reach the penultimate round of an ITTF World Tour event, despite reaching the quarter-finals stage on two different occasions (Morocco in 2009 and Egypt in 2012).
Portugal’s Andre Silva and Khalid Assar are two other seeded players in this year’s Lagos Open also aiming to break a World Tour quarter-finals hoodoo. Both players- seeded 4th and 6th respectively- boast of a last-8 berth at the 2013 Spanish Open in Almeria.
Three other Nigerians, Boboye Oyeniyan, Ojo Onaolapo and Makanjuola Kazeem complete the eight-field list of seeded players. All three put up their best tour performance last year on home soil, when No. 7 seed Onaolapo lost to Egypt El-Sayed Lashin in the last 8, while Oyeniyan and Kazeem, seeded 5th and 8th respectively, each suffered round two defeats.
Onaolapo, 20, is nonetheless top seed in the Under-21 Men’s Singles event ahead of Egypt’s Shady Magdy and Mahmoud Fathy, while another Nigerian, Olajide Omotayo, is the fourth seed.
Host nation hopeful in men’s doubles
The partnership between Quadri and Makanjuola has already proved itself this season and would now have to justify their ITTF-Africa Senior Championship gold following their success in Cairo earlier this year.
The reigning ITTF-Africa Men’s Doubles champions sailed to a 4-2 win in the best of seven games in an all-Nigerian final against the duo of Onaolapo and Ogidiolu Jide in January.
Onaolapo will be teaming up with Boboye this time around and will definitely want to take something out of any prospective clash with their compatriots with a pinch of resentment.
The Nigerian hopefuls must outwit the Assar brothers (Omar and Khalid), as well as Team El-Beiali-et-Shady Mady to stand a chance of a possible repeat of an all-native final.
Other notable contenders are the Portuguese partnership of Andre and Diogo Silva.