by Blythe Lawrence
He may not often challenge for titles on the ITTF World Tour, but Quadri Aruna has distinguished himself by being ranked inside top 25 male table tennis players in the world.
Born and raised in Oyo, south-western Nigeria, Aruna moved to Lagos in the early 2000s after unexpectedly capturing the country’s cadet title at the turn of the century. Widely regarded as Africa’s best player of the last decade, the highly popular two-time Olympian is a man who understands that hanging in there and biding his time can pay off in big ways. Small defeats today can reform themselves, contributing to big victories tomorrow.
The philosophy came in handy this week in Panagyurishte, Bulgaria, where the 31-year-old beat Japanese superstar Jun Mizutani in seven games (8-11, 11-9, 6-11, 12-10, 11-9, 4-11, 13-11) to reach the men’s singles semi-finals at the Bulgaria Open for the second time in three years, notching his best result on the 2019 ITTF World Tour along the way.
There were several moments in the match where things might not have gone Aruna’s way, but the player known for his incredible comebacks stood and simply refused to be defeated. Returning from match point in game seven, he evened the score at 10-all and capitalised on his opportunity, battling back from match point a second time to eventually win the game 13-11 and thus bring an end to an unforgettable contest.
Never say die might have been his prevailing attitude at the table, but when Aruna arrived in the mountain town of Panagyurishte, 90 kilometers east of Sofia, other things were on his mind.
Exhausted by his efforts earlier this month at the ITTF Africa Cup and ITTF Challenge Plus Nigeria Open (Aruna went on to win the latter), the prospect of playing in Bulgaria seemed like a vacation.
“I’m very tired after playing 11 days in Lagos non-stop. I said I should just come to Panagyurishte since I’m in the main draw only to enjoy myself.” Quadri Aruna, 11th August 2019
Having made up his mind to have a good time just after celebrating his 31st birthday on 9th August, enjoy himself is what Aruna did, and it was the others who suffered:
First up was China’s Ma Te, who was defeated in seven games.
“It’s difficult for everyone [playing against him]. I spoke with my colleagues that have faced him before and their advice allowed me to manage this match and win it. I have not played him before but those who did told me about the spin in his racket that I was able to play a little bit against him.” Quadri Aruna, 15th August 2019
Wong Chun Ting of Hong Kong was the next victim, suffering the same result. That set up the quarter-final duel against Mizutani, which proved just as strenuous as the others. With his back to the wall during match point in the seventh game, Aruna could have capitulated and admitted defeat. But he’s a fighter; Rocky-like, something had hardened in him.
“Point after point I get more and more tired because he is a defender, but of course I’m here to enjoy myself and play without any kind of pressure.” Quadri Aruna, 17th August 2019
The semi-final loss to China’s Zhao Zihao has in no way dented his spirit. Aruna looks to the future. As always, it’s his to shape.