Nigeria’s top badminton player, Anuoluwa Opeyori, has won his third African title in a space of five years to assert himself as the continent’s undisputable champion.
His latest victory came in South Africa at the weekend, as he beat Mauritius’ Julien Paul 18-21, 21-13, 21-18 to win the gold medal of the men’s singles of the All Africa Senior Championships. It was not an easy feat as the Nigerian delegation was psychologically drained even before the championship owing to non-issuance of travel visas to four of the 10-man team.
With his latest win, Opeyori has added to earlier titles won in Port Harcourt, Nigeria in 2019 and Kampala, Uganda in 2022. He had also won the men’s singles title at the African Games in Morocco in 2019 to make it four titles in five years.
His spirit was initially dampened following the inability of four of his teammates, Aliyu Alhaji Shehu, Dorcas Ajoke Adesokan, Sofiyat Arinola Obanishola and Ramatu Yakubu; to obtain entry visas into South Africa for the competition. This reduced the Nigerian field and narrowed the possibility of the country making a good impact.
This is the second time in recent times that a Nigerian contingent to the All Africa Senior Championships will be refused visas. The first was when the team was traveling to Egypt for the All Africa Senior championships in 2020. Opeyori arrived Uganda as the sole participant from Nigeria in last year’s edition and went all the way up to clinch the men’s singles gold medal, becoming king of African badminton for the second time after his feat in Port Harcourt.
His drive, youth, strength, determination and skill saw him stepping unto the courts with a strong message when he easily routed Paul in two straight sets during the mixed team event part of the 2023 edition of the championships before confirming his intention to leave no prisoners. He muscled his way into the individual championship segment of the edition.
He began the individual event easily outstroking Trinity Chimpumho of Zimbabwe 21-8, 21-9. Next to succumb was homeboy, Ruan Snyman who also fell in two straight sets of 21-11 and 21-16 at the Round of 16. Only Zambia’s Kalombo Mulenga showed a little resistance but Opeyori blew him away after the Zambian narrowly took the first set 19-21. Opeyori smashed out the Zambian 21-10 in the next set and 21-19 in the third set of the quarterfinal duel to win the match.
With the games getting tougher as the championship tie beckoned, he won the semi-finals against another homeboy, Robert Summers, 21-19 and 21-15 before his title match with the Mauritian.
Describing it as a new beginning, the Badminton Federation of Nigeria president, Francis Orbih, admitted that the sport in Nigeria suffered a setback following an initial internal wrangling that was only resolved last year but “we’re back to reassert our commanding stature in Africa,” he vowed.