I had a great weekend just by staying indoors and watching the final matches of the Australian Open. The first was a bit of a disappointment, really. Serena Williams just walked over Russia’s Dinara Safina in less than an hour. They had both played very well over the past two weeks and the final match was billed to be very exciting. But that was not to be.
Safina was so disappointing that at the end of the match, she said she had been a “ball boy”. That’s not to detract from Serena Williams’ victory. She played exceptionally well and if Safina had played even a quarter as well as Williams did the match wouldn’t have been the one-way affair it was.
But the men’s final on Sunday morning was a different ball game altogether.
It’s always a classic when Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal play. And this game was no exception. As expected, it was a very close contest but Nadal was a virtuoso. He didn’t exactly walk over Federer but the day simply wasn’t the Swiss champion’s.
After such a delightful feast of tennis, I couldn’t help but ask: why don’t we play tennis in Ghana?
Tennis is such an exciting game. It’s better than football. But football is cheaper to play – just stuff some polythene sheets into an old sock, take positions in front of parallel gutters and the game is on. Tennis is not like that. You need specialised equipment and it cannot just be played anywhere. In spite of this, there cannot be any excuse good enough for the neglect of the game in Ghana.
Growing up, I used to hear of names like Frank Ofori, who did quite well even on the international circuits. There was an Accra Open (sponsored by Milo). Ghana was appreciably high on the Davis Cup rankings. Now, it seems we have taken permanent residence at the bottom of the pile. Tennis, a game gaining popularity around the world, has now been relegated to the ranks of what we like to call the “lesser known sports”.
I don’t play tennis. It’s too late for me to even try to find out whether I can play the game. But I love it. I love to watch. It’s a graceful, disciplined sport. I think tennis is great for conditioning the mind and forcing it to concentrate. Safina lost to Williams on Saturday because she was a nervous wreck on the court. On Sunday, Rafael Nadal seemed to have a steely determination to win and he did. Federer just wanted to win but he didn’t show sufficient determination. And he lost.
I think tennis builds the character of its players in ways football, for example, does not. Tennis forces its players to be gracious in defeat. It forces winners to be magnanimous and reach out to losers in ways football, for example, does not.
I think it’s time this nation started paying attention to a game like tennis once again. Indeed, we need to rejuvenate all the other so-called “lesser-known” sports – volleyball, handball, swimming, squash and even athletics.
Football is a great game. It has a very large global following. But it’s not the only sport there is. Unfortunately, we have concentrated all our efforts and monies on this one game to the detriment of all others. The situation is so bad that at the last Olympic Games – the greatest sporting event on earth where all of the world’s major sporting talents compete – we could only field athletes for only two sports: athletics and boxing. And they all flopped. Some of them blamed their inability to perform on lack of government support. One of them, Vida Anim, complained so bitterly that she was left in a lurch after she had used her own funds to treat her injuries. Where did all the money go? Football!
I think we should spend the little money we have wisely in developing other sporting infrastructure so that we can compete on the world stage in games like tennis. I believe that among the 22 million of us, there should be a handful of great tennis players at any given point in time who can compete with the likes of Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer. These people are “sitting” on their talent because there has never been an avenue for them to show what they have. The few who dare to try are not given the needed support because all the money has been invested in football. Incidentally, Ghana won the Africa Youth Championship in Rwanda over the weekend with mostly grown men who are supposed to be teenagers. But after investing so much in football over the years, this country has not won a major trophy in 27 years.
Over the past ten years I have heard a succession of sport ministers proclaim their determination to revamp the so-called lesser-known sports. But they all ended up focussing rather unhealthily on football. I hope this changes in my lifetime. In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy my tennis – from the Australian Open to Wimbledon to Roland Garros and all the tournaments in-between. But I’d relish the game even more if I were cheering on my compatriots instead of Novak Djokovic and Jelena Jankovic, my favourite tennis players – who are from Serbia!