By John Egbokhan
Nigeriaâ€™s quest of qualifying for the Davis Cup Africa Zone Group II got off to good start yesterday when it defeated Rwanda in straight sets of 3-0 in her opening Group D match played at the Royal Tennis Club de Marrakech in Morocco.
Perennial Davis Cup campaigner, Abdulmumuni Babalola, served off the trio of victories in the ongoing Africa Zone Group III qualifier, when he swept aside Rwandaâ€™s top seed, Olivier Nkunda in quick sets of 6-2, 6-2. Babalolaâ€™s sweeping victory came as little surprise to those who saw the player in action during the closed camping that the team had in Kaduna, before travelling to north Africa for the crucial campaign.
Drawing fillip from his forerunnerâ€™s domineering display, Nigeriaâ€™s top seed, Sunday Emmanuel, who is the highest ranking Nigerian player on the ATP singles rankings, stepped on the court to play Rwandaâ€™s seed two, Habiyambere Dieu-Donne, in the second singles match of the day watched by a handful of fans in Marrakech.
Aware that a second successive defeat would put paid to the qualifications hopes, Rwandaâ€™s Dieu-Donne came into the game determined to halt Nigeriaâ€™s seeming dominance and after six games in the opening set, scores were tied 3-3.
With nerves on the edge, Emmanuel provided something as he broke his foeâ€™s serve in the seventh game, before holding his own and again breaking to a love score to seal the set 6-3. He only dropped one game as he romped to a 6-1 second set victory.
Nigeria made changes in the doubles team, pairing Candy Idoko and Shehu Lawal against the Rwanda duo of Justin Ntaheranwa and Bizimala Mele. The match went in similar fashion as the Nigerians ran out straight sets 6-1, 6-1 victors.
The team is now just one win from advancing to the final qualifying stage which features the four teams who top the respective groups. Standing in Nigeriaâ€™s path is Algeria, who still has a game to play against Rwanda.
Should Nigeria beat Algeria, it has at least been guaranteed of a place in the Group III nextÂ year while a top-two finish in the final round-robin group, sees the team promoted to play in Group II in 2011.