by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
In Algiers Azeez Solanke was quite a revelation; notably en route to the semi-final stage, in the second round he recovered from a three games to nil deficit to beat Egypt’s Karim Elhakem, the top seed (8-11, 8-11, 6-11, 11-8, 11-6, 11-8, 11-8), before in the penultimate round being beaten by Abdelrahman Rahmou, also from Egypt (11-7, 11-5, 11-3, 11-7).
Success for Abdelrahman Rahmou but in the final when facing colleague, Youssef Abdel-Aziz it was defeat (11-7, 11-5, 11-7, 11-7).
Now one year later, Youssef Abdel-Aziz, 17 years old, starts as the favourite for the title but Azeez Solanke is more than ready for the challenge; recent training sessions, he has attended, under the leadership of Segun Toriola and Olufunke Oshonaike have added to his confidence.
Azeez Solanke spoke to Olalekan Okusan, the ITTF-Africa Press Officer
I think attending more competitions in 2016 has helped my confidence because I have seen top players compete at big stage, while I have also discovered my mistakes as well. So in Tunisia, I am going there to make a name for myself and my country because it is a rare privilege to be considered to represent Nigeria; there are enormous talents in the country.
In the past year, I have been privileged to be trained by two of Africa’s great players, Segun Toriola and Olufunke Oshonaike. I noticed that their kind of training was unique because they trained us with the modern style and this has impacted on me and it has helped me to win a state championship in Nigeria. There is no doubt that the coaching under these two legends has really helped us a lot in Nigeria and we are looking forward to more of this in future.
I have played against some of the Egyptian junior players; I discovered that it is only German based Youssef Abdel-Aziz who has beaten me several times. However, after watching him at the last World Junior Championships in South Africa; I discovered that what gave him an edge over me is exposure. I am particularly prepared to wrestle the title from him. All other players in the Egyptian team have suffered defeats at my hands.
I am aiming to do better than I did in 2016 when I get to Tunis. I have been monitoring players from Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt and I noticed that they have been playing Junior Opens across the globe, while we are really training well in Lagos.
As usual, I will try my best and hope for the best result in Tunis. I cannot wait to get to Tunisia for the Championships.