By Johnny Edward.
Nineteen Nigerian players will compete for honours when the Lagos Squash Classics serves off on Tuesday (today) at Teslim Balogun Stadium for the first time since 2018, The PUNCH reports.
The tournament, which was last hosted five years ago, with Egypt’s Karim El Hammamy clinching the title that year, has Nigeria’s top-ranked player Babatunde Ajagbe leading the country’s title bid at the tourney dubbed the ‘Challenger Tour.’
Other Nigerian stars Ayomide Michael, Adegoke Onaopemipo, Femi Shedara, Kehinde Temitope, Gabriel Olufunmilayo and Faruq Sulaimon will compete against European players for the $12,000 prize money in the men’s category.
In the women’s category, Titlayo Akinleye, Taiwo Ebifemi, Isaac Blessing, Modupe Faniyi, Mistura Durosinlorun, Busayo Olatunji, Rofiat Abdulazeez, Udeme James, Awawu Balogun, Favour Utukpe, Delight Temple and Idowu Ogunyemi will also compete for honours.
According to Ajagbe, who is seeded for the event, the Lagos Squash Classics will help Nigerian players improve on the global rankings.
“The last time we had an event was 2018, which is pretty long,” Ajagbe said.
“I’m very excited because it’s been such a long time since I’ve competed in my country. So, I’m looking forward to the home advantage.
“It means a lot to not just me, but other players in the country. It’s an opportunity for them to play with other professionals from other countries.
“Most of the Nigerians will be playing against some of these players they have been watching on SQUASHTV and other streaming platforms. This tournament will also help them to improve their world ranking which is the most important factor for staging the tournament.”
Ajagbe is seeded for the tourney alongside Curtis Malik (England), Ziad Ibrahim (Egypt), Laszlo Godde (France), Perry Mailk (England), Mazen Gamal (Egypt), Laouenan Loaec (France) and Martin Svec (Czech).
“I think I feel very fine with the way I’m playing right now. I’ve not played a lot of tournaments this year, but I still play and train with other professionals.
“My first tournament in 2023 was the Atlanta Open and it feels great to be playing tournaments again. It didn’t go the way I expected but it’s a good start.”
Our correspondent learnt that in the men’s category, duo Gabriel Olufunmilayo and Faruq Sulaimon will compete for a place in round 2.
Ayomide Michael will face Yusuf Elsherif from Egypt in the first round just as Sven Stettler from Switzerland will battle Adegoke Onaopemipo in the opening round of the tourney n Tuesday (today).
Femi Shedara takes on countryman Kehinde Temitope, while Egypt’s Omar ElKattan will face-off against Finnish Henrik Mustonen.
In the women’s category Torrie Malik battles Titlayo Akinleye, while Taiwo Ebifemi competes against Isaac Blessing.
Mariam Ashraf from Egypt will look to deny Modupe Faniyi a place in the next round.