When Aruna Quadri was named the 2014 ITTF Star Player, many were skeptical about the skills of the Oyo State-born athlete. As a self-made athlete, Quadri didn’t give up. He continued to sponsor himself to major competitions across the globe and his performance caught the eye of the President of Nigeria Table Tennis Federation (NTTF), Wahid Oshodi, who began to support the ambitious player. His performance also attracted top clubs in Europe and he settled for a French club, Jura Morez, where he single-handedly saved the team from relegation last season.
His belief in Nigeria, despite lack of support, made him turn down a juicy offer from oil-rich Qatar. This showed his patriotic zeal and he promptly earned applause for his decision. His perseverance paid off at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, beating players rated above him. He became an instant hit, while those who didn’t reckon with him, have now finally embraced him. Apart from being the first African to feature in the quarterfinal of the men’s singles of table tennis event of the Olympic Games, Aruna Quadri remains the only player from the Commonwealth to make it to the last eight at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games
Many are also speaking glowingly about Quadri’s exploits in Brazil as the first African to make it to the quarter-final round of the table tennis event at the Olympic Games. He also said he was not surprised by his performance, but he was stunned he made it to the last eight of the men’s singles, dedicating the feat to the African continent.
An excited Quadri said after the Rio feat that, “I feel so happy playing at the quarter-final of the Olympic Games. It is like a dream come true and I am very happy and satisfied with my performance in Rio and I must say that the achievement belongs to all African federations and players and it is not just a personal feat.”
Narrating his mission in Rio, he said: “Initially, I came here just to enjoy myself because I knew the qualities of players that qualified for the games. Apart from the Chinese, all other participants had 50–50 chances against one another and for that reason I was a bit relaxed and started playing without pressure. Also I had it in my mind that I am not in Rio just to add to the number of participants but to make an impact. I must also say that my qualification to the quarter-final stage is as a result of my hard work and the success just came at the right time of my birthday. I strongly believe I have the potential but I was not expecting to have qualified for quarter-final and I was optimistic but it was not going to be easy.”
“I had difficulties in playing against defenders and winning against the Slovak Chinese-born Yang Wang, who is a defender increased my confidence and that motivated me to do better in subsequent matches. The coaches, teammates, friends and family as well as the president of Nigeria Table Tennis Federation (NTTF) contributed immensely to my good outing in Rio and I will like to thank everyone that contributed to this great journey of my career,” he added.
Recalling his feeling during the matches, he said: “After the victory against the world number seven, Chinese Taipei’s Chuang Chih-Yuan, my mind was totally free that Germany’s Timo Boll will also fall if I confronted him in the fourth round. I had to play the German the same way I played against Chuang Chih-Yuan and this boosted my confidence throughout the competition. So I felt great after the matches because playing against these world class players was like a dream come true. I was actually looking up to some of these players particularly whenever I am watching their videos.”
He, however, lamented the idea of training in Nigeria before the games but said: “Training in Nigeria did not help my situation in Rio but my 10-month experience in Portugal and France with different coaches helped me a lot. Also Segun Toriola helped me as well by telling me the weaknesses of every opponent because he is familiar with most of them. In training, Toriola’s advice really helped me to change my tactics positively and he was always there for me
Toriola helped me in training and his advice really changed my tactics positively. I can confirm that I have gained a lot from his wealth of experience and seeing him, while playing added to my confidence. I can say that Toriola is a great legend of the sport.
On his quarter-final loss to world number one, China’s Ma Long, the 2014 ITTF Star Player said: “I was not disappointed with my performance against Ma Long because I had nothing to lose against him and I was not really scared of him. In the first instance, he is a much better player but I did not put that in my mind before the match started. I took on Ma Long the way I confronted my previous opponents. But Ma Long was too strong for me as I could not respond very well but I strongly believed that when next I play against him I will win one set at least.”
For his heroic feat, Quadri became the toast of the Brazilian fans and this he described as encouraging, “I must say that the Brazilians showed me love and they always motivated and encouraged me that I could do it. The kind of support I got from them is like the support I am always getting in my home country. They kept me going whenever I was losing hope by echoing my name. They made me feel at home and I remain grateful to them for this.”
Quadri is eagerly looking forward to the new ranking, which he said: “This is a new positive improvement and I am waiting for the next world ranking. When I rose to top 30 two years ago, I was under serious pressure to maintain my ranking because it had never happened to me. After some time the pressure went away and I am now getting used to playing under pressure. But this time around I am not going to be playing under pressure in order to maintain my new status. I also need more support to play more tournaments so that I can keep my place in the world ranking without dropping down the ladder. I am fully ready to work harder than before and may God continue to crown all my efforts with successes,” Quadri added.
Quadri who will be representing Africa at the ITTF World Cup in Germany come |October believes attending Rio Olympic Games is part of his build up to the global tournament.
“Every tournament is like preparing for another tournament and my performance in Rio has really boosted my confidence that I can do better at the World Cup. My World Cup preparation has started at the Rio Olympic Games and I have been able to test my ability against the world’s best. It is just two months to the championship, I will prepare better when I get to my club in Europe. I strongly believe that my best is yet to come and I am praying for luck and getting favourable draw in Germany. I strongly believe that I can still do better than before,” he explained.
He, however, said that he hopes that his Rio outing would inspire more African players to aim for medal at global level. My performance in Rio will surely boost the confidence level of many African players to do so much better in future. I strongly believe that there will be rapid improvement in Africa soon and more talents will come through in the continent. We have great talents in almost everywhere in Africa and very soon we will all see them.”
For Quadri, his cherish moment in Rio was claiming victory against former world number one, Germany’s Timo Boll.
By Olalekan Okusan