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Wimbledon: Nduka Odizor ’s 1983 exploit, other trivia on world’s oldest tennis competition

Wimbledon: Nduka Odizor’s 1983 exploit, other trivia on world’s oldest tennis competition

The last time a Nigerian got to the fourth round of The All-England Lawn Tennis Championship, better known as Wimbledon, a brand-new car sold for ₦3,984. In June 1983, Nduka Odizor was a stage shy of the quarterfinals when he lost to Chris Lewis of New Zealand 6-1, 6-3, 6-3. 

The Duke of Wimbledon, as he is fondly called, eased off the challenges of Loic Courteau of France in the third round, seven-time Grand Slam winner John McEnroe’s doubles partner Peter Fleming of USA in the second round, and Guillermo Vilas of Argentina in the first round.

Wimbledon ’83 did not start smoothly. A planned nationwide television blackout of the event was put on hold at the last minute by union technicians, while some of the 26,000 spectators complained about the price increase of strawberries and cream from $1.50 to $2.20. The 24-year-old Nigerian had nothing to complain about, though.

It all started on June 21, 1983, when Nduka Odizor, playing his third centre court match ever in a Grand Slam event, defeated the fourth-seeded Vilas in 247 minutes with the scores 3-6, 5-7, 7-6, 7-5, 6-2. His 14 aces, clean opening volleys, and aggressive service returns dominated Vilas in the final two sets.

“At first, before I went out on the centre court, I thought I’d be very nervous,” he said.

“Amazingly, I was not.”

At 15, Odizor’s career began as a promising lad whose first tennis racquet was made from a wooden table. Discovered by an American university professor, he was encouraged to continue his studies in the United States. He graduated with a degree in marketing from the University of Houston in 1981 and was ranked 82d on the men’s computer rankings.

Nduka Odizor’s space on the court was replicated on the track as he ran both the 100 and 400 metres during his undergraduate days. At some point, he was voted ‘Athlete of the Year’. But his actual strength, which carries him through the highs and lows of the gruelling world of tennis, is his firm belief in God.

“For me, the Church comes first, my wife second, and tennis third,” he said.

“There can be no other way. Religion is deeply important to me and my aim in life is just to please God.”

Odizor surely has the spiritual, mental, and physical strength needed to succeed and he was one of the most improved players in the world in 1982. His breakthrough, in only his second Wimbledon, was remarkable, as just a few years earlier the Duke came with a racquet for the 1970 United States State Department clinic novelty tournament.  It was at the tournament Dr Robert Wren, a visiting psychology professor from the University of Houston, recognised Odzior’s potential and offered to pay for his final year of high school.  It turned out to be a centre court entry at the most prestigious Grand Slam.

In the second round of the 1982 edition of Wimbledon, he lost to Mats Wilander and almost met with the same fate when Vilas led in the third-set tiebreaker. The Argentine lost his cool and attacked in the rally well behind the baseline. Nduka Odizor read his game and countered with a crisp forehand passing shot and won the tiebreaker, 9-7.

That proved to be the turning point of the game and, subsequently, Odizor played with every confidence and belief that he could muster. However, they both bagged in their serves until the eleventh game when the set was at 5-5. Odizor handled his opponent’s serve expertly and then held on to win the set 7-5. This forced the match to a deciding set. As the final set approached, the Duke broke early and dove into the lead by 3-1. Odizor was having fun as he dominated the exchanges. Vilas looked exhausted as the Nigerian took pleasure in tossing him about the court.

Vilas won a game back, but there was no stopping Odizor, who was racing to the finish line in what was to be his biggest ever career win in the singles. This win in the first round was short-lived as it ended in the fourth round of the tournament.

Odizor registered wins against Fleming in the second round, 6-4 4-6 9-4 6-2, then another five-set triumph over Courteau, 3-6 7-6 6-4 3-6 6-3. This third-round win saw the Duke through to week two. But by the time the week started, fatigue had crept in. Some say it was over-confidence, but that is debatable because Odizor was a shadow of himself. He succumbed to a 6-1 6-3 6-3 defeat to unseeded Lewis.

Prior to the sensational 1st round performance on centre court at Wimbledon against Vilas, Odizor had made significant progress on the men’s circuit. He moved from a ranking of No. 457 in 1980 to 65. He had a passage to Wimbledon after winning two titles in Nigeria and Taiwan in 1983.

Though Odizor played regularly at the Australian Open (got to the 3rd round in 1985), the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open (got to the 3rd round in 1985 and 1987), he did not live up to his talent. However, he made a name for himself in the doubles circuit, winning seven titles.

Nduka Odizor represented Nigeria at the Olympic games in 1988 but crashed out in the first round. He got to his highest ATP ranking of No. 52 in June 1984, the highest any Nigerian has ever reached. And that begs the question: will a Nigerian tennis player ever reach the level of Odizor? Thirty-nine years down the line, Nigeria is still looking for the next Nduka Odizor.

Trivia

When is Wimbledon?

The 135th Wimbledon championship will start on Monday, June 27, 2022, and run until Sunday, July 10.

So, why is Wimbledon called SW19?

Wimbledon is a district and town in the Borough of Merton in southwest London, England. The London SW postcode area is a set of postcode districts that cover the southwest part of London – Southern Western (SW1 – SW10) and Battersea (SW11-SW20). So, SW 19 refers to the postcode of the All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC). The seat of Wimbledon is 19 because it is part of the district of Battersea and is called SW19.

The full address of the Wimbledon championships read as, ‘The All-England Lawn Tennis Club, Church Road, Wimbledon, London, SW19 5AE.’ Tickets can be bought at this address or online.

How much are Wimbledon tickets?

The most expensive tickets are the Centre Court tickets for the finals, which cost between £230 (₦125,888) and £240 (₦131,531). The cheapest tickets are £8 (₦4,368). Ticket sales and sponsorship swell the pockets of the organisers and the winners.

Who won Wimbledon the most?

With nine wins, Martina Navratilova holds the record for most victories (1978–1979, 1982–1987, 1990). She holds the record for most back-to-back wins as well. It came between 1982 and 1987.

In the men’s category, Roger Federer holds the record for the most singles titles, with eight (2003–2007, 2009, 2012, 2017). Björn Borg (1976–1980) and Federer (2003–2007) hold the record for most back-to-back wins, which is five.

Who is the current Wimbledon champion? Federer?

No. It’s Novak Djokovic. The Serbian won the men’s title in 2021. Australia’s Ashleigh Barty won the women’s singles competition.

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