by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
Unexpected but there were signs that such a performance was in the offing; at the recent ITTF Challenge Seamaster Nigeria Open in Lagos, he was named the tournament’s most improved player.
Notably, he reached the main draw of both the Men’s Singles and Under 21 Men’s Singles events.
Furthermore, one month later in September, the pupil at the Aquinas College in Lagos, excelled in the table tennis events at the National Youth Games staged in Kwara State, located in the North Central region. A major multi-sport event over one thousand athletes competed.
Organised in conjunction with Nigerian Table Tennis Federation, he won the Under 17 Boys’ Singles event beating Habib Olamilekun in the final, in addition to securing Junior Boys’ Doubles gold in partnership with Olorunda Akomolafe.
The performance gained Taiwo Mati selection for the 2017 Egypt Junior and Cadet Open; on Monday 16th October, full of hope he departed Murtala International Airport in Lagos for Cairo. It was quiet unheralded departure, the return was quite the reverse, he returned a hero, greeted by a whole host of fans.
On his return he spoke to Olalekan Okusan, the ITTF-Africa Press Officer
“I used to think that I could not play against a top player but, after taking part in the Nigeria Open where I won some important matches, my confidence grew; this gave me the determination to aim high. Also, at the Nigeria Open I watched my hero, Quadri Aruna; I watched closely how he conducted himself when playing against his contemporaries.
Quadri Aruna is a player I want to emulate because he is very hardworking and humble. When I saw him in Lagos, I was too scared to approach him but whenever I watched his matches; I noticed that he is approachable. One thing that has attracted me to Quadri Aruna a lot lately is his generosity. In recent times, he has been supporting a lot of young players. I think this is good for the development of junior players. If we can have three Quadri Arunas in Nigeria, I think we really improve.
After my performance at the Nigeria Open, I returned home and started working hard with my coach, Dotun Omoniyi. Although, my school work must take most of my time, I still find the time to attend training regularly. I hardly miss training and I listen to my coach. It was not easy combining both but I am determined to make it work.
At the National Youth Games, I played against the best players in Nigeria but with the support of my coach, I was able to emerge as winner in singles and doubles. Also this tournament really prepared me very well for the Egypt tournament and I am so excited that I won two gold medals for Nigeria.
Playing against the Egyptians made me stronger as the competition progressed but I must confess that the Cadet Boys’ Singles final was my toughest match; the Tunisian was a very good player. He made me work hard for every point. I am very excited that I won being my first international tournament. I just hope that I can have more opportunities to compete in championships like this in future.”
In the final of the Cadet Boys’ Singles event in Cairo, Taiwo Mati beat Tunisia’s Youssef Ben Attia, the top seed, (11-7, 11-3, 13-15, 11-9, 11-7); in the title decider in the Hopes Boys’ Singles competition, he defeated Egypt’s Moamen Salaheldin (11-1, 14-12, 11-6).