Seun Ogunsakin became Nigeria’s first teenage recipient of a wild card in over a decade to feature at the Junior Grand Slam in Wimbledon in July.
Despite that, the youngster agonisingly missed out on a chance to take part at the world’s most prestigious tennis event.
Ogunsakin, 14, rose to the peak of the African U-14 Junior rankings, from the number four position he held for a while.
But attaining that level was not an easy route but for the conditioning process he underwent under his father Akinwunmi Ogunsakin, a tennis coach in Ekiti State.
Akinwunmi, a civil servant in Ekiti, revealed that Ogunsakin’s rapid rise to stardom was from a process that came with the conditioning of a tennis ball to his feet during infancy.
“He (Seun) was still crawling when he started learning about conditioning,” Akinwunmi said.
“I tied a tennis ball to his bed to draw his attention to the sport, and as young child, he tried as much as possible to catch the ball. By the time he was walking, he had gone through stages of conditioning, and he built on it.”
And the rest, like they say, is history.
At 11, Ogunsakin displayed unbelievable skills winning the U-14 boys title at the 2020 CBN Junior Tennis Championships in Lagos after defeating Mohammed Idris from the Federal Capital Territory.
For majority of the spectators at Lagos Lawn Tennis Club, Onikan, his victory was not the main attraction but his fantastic service, double hand rallies and deft touches on drop shots earned him a place in the hearts of tennis lovers that fateful day.
The left-handed Ogunsakin stretched Idris from one end of the court to the other until the Abuja-based tennis prodigy pulled a shoulder, which forced him to retire.
Ogunsakin won the tie 8-2 and instantly became an emerging star in Nigerian tennis.
After receiving the CBN Boys’ 14 category trophy, dark-skinned Ogunsakin revealed he wanted to model his game after Spaniard Rafael Nadal, one of the greatest players to have played tennis, winning 22 Grand Slams and setting numerous records till date.
“I model my playing style after Rafael Nadal, but I don’t want to be like anybody. I want people to be like me,” he said.
“He is one of the greatest players and I hope to be regarded as one when I get to his level.
“I love Nadal. He is incredibly talented and his athleticism is insane.”
Ogunsakin’s journey to Europe suffered an initial setback as he was denied entry visa into France despite submitting valid documents.
But Young Nadal, as he is popularly called, was determined to succeed.
“It was a tough moment for me when that happened,” he stated.
“The Foreign Affairs (Department) had issued a ‘note verbale’ in support of my application but I was denied. I didn’t lose hope because I had so much support so when I was granted, I vowed to prove myself.”
After spending three weeks in France, one in Germany and one final experience in Belgium, Ogunsakin believes he is now a reborn player.
While on the tour, Ogunsakin impressed tennis observers, officials and even his colleagues with his outstanding performances despite not winning any medal or trophy.
Such was his performance and the impression he left on the minds of those who watched him play that Guido Pierre Schneider, Tournament Director, International Deutshe Tennis meisterschaften U-14 event in Germany, couldn’t help but heap praises on the youngster.
“Among others, Ogunsakin defeated a 13th seeded player in Artem Semenov and showed that we will certainly see great matches from him in the future,” he said.
“I wish him all the best for the future and I am already looking forward to seeing him on the tour in a few years!” Schneider stated.
The youngster revealed that the Euro tour was eye-opening for him, especially with the calibre of players he came up against and how he was able to weather the storm in difficult situations.
“First of all, I’m really happy that I had a chance to go to that kind of place. Now, I can prove myself, I know what to work on during games, and I met a lot of people who gave me a lot of advice,” Ogunsakin stated.
“With the things I’ve learnt and what I need to work on, I believe that in the next two years, I should be among the top 50 players in the world.
“I will achieve this because I’ll work harder.
“Even if I know how to play, I still have to work harder to be able to achieve this dream,” he added.
When pressed further on the biggest advice he got during the trip, the African number one U-14 player said, “The person told me that a champion is not defined by their wins but by how they recover when they fall.
“He asked me to keep fighting and never give up without a fight. He said that it’s better to lose with the knowledge that I gave my best than to just give up without a fight.”
Many tennis fans will hope to see Ogunsakin become a superstar in the near future, just like the 20-year-old Carlos Alcaraz, who became the third youngest Wimbledon Open winner in July.