2020 was assumed to be the year local tennis rucks mist and hits higher altitudes until the Covid-19 pandemic surfaced. 2018 saw ITF (International Federation) lift the ban on Uganda Tennis Association (UTA) and there was finally hope to scale greater heights.
Uganda tennis is awash with talent which was in danger of going down the drain had the ban not been lifted.
Two and a half years later after the ban being lifted with massive progress visible through plenty of activity and plans in the near future, a full year was lost with no progress. UTA had targeted age grade tennis as the stepping stone for a strong national senior men’s team.
Grassroots tennis development is key because it identifies young talents and develops them into top players. Coaches, administrators, parents and youngsters all had roles to play to shape the future of local tennis but they will have to wait.
“The biggest issue has been failure to carry out grassroots coaching programmes due to the lockdown and other Covid-19 related restrictions,” said UTA administrator Alvin Bagaya. “Development, participation, and competition in the below 12 category are the biggest drivers of our programmes,” he added. A seven-year-ban is never an easy setback to recover from but the rate at which UTA had responded , ITF had noticed and were more than willing to throw more weight behind UTA president Cedric Babu and his Executive Committee.
At last year’s annual general meeting of the Confederation of African Tennis (CAT) in Madagascar, UTA was rewarded for steady and excellent development of the game.
The award in form of a plaque was received by Babu and Bagaya, who had travelled for the gathering to represent Uganda. It was an acknowledgement of all the coaches and academies that were working hard to make the progress possible.
Partners like the National Council of Sports (NCS), schools that let players travel and play at the ITF/CAT junior tournaments, the parents that sacrifice to give their children a chance to play the game and keep the flag flying high.
Since regaining the trust of ITF, Uganda had hosted two editions of the ITF Pro Circuit and also had the Junior Tennis Initiative (JTI) programmes flourish. The support from ITF Development Officer Thierry Ntwali was immense and an integral part of the structure.
It all seemed to be going well and that’s why for tennis’ case, it felt like a paused ‘Second Coming’ just as it was gathering steam.
Everything looked good and promising with entries at junior level soaring. The ITF /CAT East Africa U-12 hosted by Uganda in March had the likes of Eseza Muwanguzi, Edna Nabiryo, Charity Akot emerge in the girls’ category while Julius Junior Nyata and Francis Angonzebwa stood out for the boys against a strong regional line-up.
Legendary coach John Oduke was in awe after the tournament and predicted a steady rise for local tennis. “Tennis in Uganda has never died, we just needed to sort out a few things administratively and we knew we would be back. Now these are baby steps, we need to hold fort throughout the respective age categories,” he said.
January had seen 2019 USPA tennis player of the year Troy Zziwa, Allan Otto, Saidi Musa and Maggie Flavia Namaganda qualify for the finals of the U-14 African Junior Championships on the clay courts in Madagascar, recording another UTA victory. In the seniors’ category, David Oringa, Frank Tayebwa and Simon Ayella were showing poise and chasing a better run in the Davis Cup which was called off. The Fed Cup, too, was cancelled while various tennis academies could not operate. The interruption of the international calendar for the juniors and U- 14s left UTA with a dead year.
Wheelchair tennis hits a miss
In a bold move to implement inclusion, UTA had opened gates for wheelchair tennis to enable para athletes to feel at home while on the court.
The tennis version was to take off this year in Uganda. “This promotes inclusion and is a very key part of the growth and participation in the sport of Tennis in Uganda. It is a very big milestone for the game and sport in Uganda and the current administration,” Bagaya said at the launch back then in 2019.
ITF Wheelchair tennis expert Lawrence Karanja had drawn a road map of implementation. The response was positive with many para athletes showing interest but the pandemic left wheelchair tennis with no option but wait for another greenlight.
In a nutshell, local tennis was all about a missed year and yards. Next year offers more hope with more funding expected to facilitate the structures set-up as Uganda embarks on a journey to return to the long lost glory days.