‘2024 WTT Contender Lagos: Unforgettable Experience For All’

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The 2024 WTT Contender Lagos has come and gone but the memory lingers in the minds of the players and others who took part in the five-day event from across the world.

The seamless organisation wowed all present, even as it further cemented Lagos’ reputation as a top destination for sports events hosted in Africa.

Aside from that, the players were full of praises for the vibrant engagement they enjoyed from the Lagos fans who raised many flailing spirits to victory with their vociferous voice of support. 15 countries from four continents were in the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria for the $80,000 prize money WTT Series and ranking points at stake.

It was such a memorable outing that players after players expressed their desire to be back in Lagos and the Molade Okoya-Thomas Hall of Teslim Balogun Stadium venue of the WTT Contender next year to do table tennis battle afresh.

One of them is former World No. 1 Dimitrij Ovtcharov, who won his second WTT Contender Singles title in the just-concluded tournament on his second visit to Lagos. Ovtcharov, an Olympic Games medalist and one of the most respected table tennis players in the world, said Lagos has become part of him as the city brings out the best in him.

The German bagged the WTT Contender Lagos Men’s Singles title on Sunday, June 23 at the expense of his compatriot, Ricardo Walther.

Reviewing his successful outing in Lagos, a delighted Ovtcharov said: I’m excited and I had a good feeling coming back to Lagos because of how well I was supported last year. I played good table tennis, dropping just two games on the way to the title.

“It is really special to win in Lagos and I think of a few countries aside here like Germany my home and Russia where I used to play a lot and always feel welcomed. So it is a big moment to win in Lagos.”

Also, Ovtcharov’s compatriot, Steffen Mengel, a quarterfinalist in the Men’s Singles, described the Lagos ambiance as unique. 

Mengel said: “I was here in 2019, and then I felt a warm welcome. People were very nice, friendly and enthusiastic.  It’s something we don’t have in Europe. During the match, everyone is cheering in support.

“I feel they appreciate and support me. I am so happy about the support as the whole hall was on my side. There is somehow a connection, and it was very nice to see this.”

Women’s Singles champion and the first female Indian to win a WTT Contender title Sreeja Akula is not new to Lagos as she has visited twice in the past.

In an overview of her country’s performance at the WTT Contender, Akula was quick to admit that Lagos has become a fortress for Indian players, stressing that she would continue to come back to the city.

“It was an amazing tournament, especially because of the crowd, who were enthusiastic. They motivated me a lot and I look forward to many WTT Tournaments in Lagos,” Akula said.

Like Akula, Manav Thakkar whose career rise took off in Lagos in 2023 looks forward to coming back to Lagos for future events. 

Thakkar, who claimed the doubles title with his compatriot Harmeet Desai this year, said: “It feels great because it’s my first WTT Contender title, and it is in the doubles. I’m happy to play with Desai for the first time and win our first tournament together. 

“Last year, I played well in Nigeria, and this year, winning here in front of so many people feels great; it feels like home. So hopefully I will come back here and play well in the future.” 

In the same vein, Women’s Doubles Champion, Archana Kamath, who returned to Lagos this year after her maiden visit in 2023 said: “It is fun to play out here. We were here last year. The crowd keeps getting better, and we are very happy to have won the tournament. We look forward to playing in Lagos and we would like to come back next year as partners.”

Likewise, Frenchman and semifinalist in the Men’s Singles, Thibault Poret, looks forward to his return in 2025.

“I’m happy with my tournament here and I hope I will come back next year. I’m happy to play here. It has been a good organization in Lagos, and I like it,” Poret said.

Also, India’s standard bearer to the upcoming Paris 2024 Olympic Games, Sharath Achanta, expressed satisfaction with his Lagos experience.

“This is my first time in Lagos. I have heard a lot about the city and I am not surprised by what I am seeing now. It is a good place to play table tennis, especially with the massive support from the fans,” Achanta said.

“This is my first time in Lagos, and this is in preparation for the Paris Olympic Games. We had a training camp before this, and we knew we needed some matches running into the Olympic Games. So we had to get in here in Lagos. It’s been good for us, good competition, warm hospitality, and warm weather. We feel at home. It’s always good to get into the WTT Contender to get some points,” the Indian legend added.

Like Achanta, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran said: “This is my first time in Lagos, and I like the vibe. The crowd is very entertaining.” 

Apart from the supportive Lagos fans, the Indian contingent relished Nigerian delicacies, particularly Jollof Rice.

Women’s Singles semifinalist, Yashaswini Ghorpade, disclosed: “What I love about Nigeria is its cuisine. I like Jollof Rice. I like it so much and even my teammates like it too much. We mostly eat that because it is pretty similar to the Indian taste.”

Mixed doubles champions, Shin Yubin and Lim Jonghoon of Korea Republic

Another Indian star, Ayhika Mukherejee, said: “This is my first time in Lagos, Nigeria for the WTT Contender and it is a good place. I like it here. This is a WTT Contender Tournament, so we get a lot of points if we play here. So we chose to come to Lagos. There are many Indians here. We choose to play good tournaments and Lagos always hosts good ones.”

Similarly, South Korean star and 2023 Women’s Singles champion, Shin Yubin, who was on her second visit to Lagos, observed: “The Lagos fans are electrifying. We are having fun playing before them.”

Meanwhile, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu who was the Special Guest at the finale of this year’s WTT Contender Lagos, has pledged to continue to raise the profile of the tournament.

Governor Sanwo-Olu said: “Sports in Lagos has come to stay and we are happy that World Table Tennis (WTT) has identified Lagos, Nigeria as one of the cities promoting table tennis in Africa and the world. 

“We are happy that WTT Contender Lagos has attracted some of the best players in the world to the state. We have seen table tennis being played at the highest level imaginable and we are happy that young Nigerians have also turned up for the tournament. 

“The fans’ turnout shows that the organisation has been spectacular, just like you would find anywhere in the world. We are hoping that this would encourage more sponsors to support future WTT Contender Lagos and sustain Lagos’s fine reputation as a popular destination for global sporting events, business, and tourism.”

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