Aruna Quadri: Excitement as Africa’s No. 1 ping-ponger begins Germany adventure

Africa’s Number 1 table tennis player, Aruna Quadri, continues to break new grounds in table tennis and his steely journey to be the best has seen him traverse the world. But so much is being expected of him yet again following his movement from Portugal to Germany, reports OLALEKAN OKUSAN.

He is ranked 20th in the world and Africa’s Number 1, Aruna Quadri is set for a new adventure in Table Tennis Bundesliga (TTBL) in Germany  after his long sojourn in Portugal.

His arrival in the top European League has generated huge excitement and many German table tennis aficionados cannot wait to watch him make his debut on Sunday for his new club – TTC RhönSprudel Fulda-Maberzell.

Quadri is already a familiar face to many German fans following his exploits at the 2014 ITTF World Cup in Dusseldorf, Germany and coupled with the famous win over German superstar Timo Boll at Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Many were skeptical in February when the TTC RhönSprudel Fulda-Maberzell announced they had secured the services of the Oyo State-born athlete but there has been so much buzz in the last one month as many eagerly await his debut in the German Bundesliga.

Even before the kick-off of the new TTBL season, organisers of the league have admitted that the arrival of the Nigerian has increased interest.

President of TTC RhönSprudel Fulda-Maberzell, Stefan Frauenholz, said Quadri’s arrival would boost followership.

“TTC is confident about the new season; Quadri Aruna is a world Top 20 player. The Nigerian has not lost a game in Portugal in six years. He plays very attractive table tennis and I think fans will enjoy him a lot,” Frauenholz said.

Speaking in the same vein, spokesperson of TTBL Patrick Wichmann, noted that Quadri’s transfer to the Bundesliga has attracted the attention of table tennis fans in Germany.

“We are very happy to have Quadri in the TTBL. As a league, we have felt the national interest which his transfer has attracted, including international media response,” explained Wichmann. “Quadri is a global table tennis brand; we are very happy to have him in the TTBL and looking forward to his debut this month.

“In TTC RhönSprudel Fulda-Maberzell he is replacing Croatia’s Tomislav Pucar, who played two seasons with the team. Now it will be exciting to see how fast Quadri gets used to the action in the strongest league in Europe,” Wichmann added.

But it has taken a long route for Quadri to arrive at the world stage starting from his humble beginning in the ancient Oyo town with some twists and turns along the way.

The journey from Oyo town

Aruna Quadri is the last child of his mother, a teacher, Madam Shakirat Aruna, from the ancient town of Oyo, South West Nigeria.

Children of teachers in Nigeria usually have it tougher when it comes to academic performance with the society in general often expecting them to do far better than others. Doing sports is out of it for most children of teachers as their parents somehow mistaken any sporting streak with academic laziness-which is therefore often harshly reprimanded. Such was the background from which Quadri emerged.

But he was lucky though as he enjoyed maternal support and he started playing table tennis as a kid in the ancient Town of Oyo where he was fond of watching proceedings at a table tennis hall.

A former player turned coach, Abolarin Oluwole, who is credited with discovering Quadri spoke about the humble beginning: “I knew Quadri Aruna as far back as 1998 when he used to accompany his senior brother, Femi who was also a good player to the table tennis hall in Oyo.

“Their house was beside the hall and he used to peep through the door to watch us play but when I discovered he had interest in the sport, I started inviting him to the hall to play.

“I was then an undergraduate at the University of Ibadan (UI) and I used to assign him to be in charge of the hall whenever I am not around. He was trustworthy as he took great care of the hall for me.

“Before I started training him I had to inform his mother who gave me the permission and he did not lag behind in his studies. He was very dedicated to table tennis and I saw determination in him. Whenever they were about to take examinations in school, his mother would come to inform me not to allow him to come around the hall,” Oluwole added.

Madam Shakirat Aruna picked up the narrative:  “It was his senior brother that first started playing the game. But when he started playing table tennis, I supported him too.

“The owner of the table tennis board, Oluwole, appealed to me to allow him to play. I agreed with the hope that it would not affect his studies.

“There was a time I had to caution Oluwole not to allow table tennis ruin my son’s studies not knowing that this is what will bring fame and fortune to him.

“I must say that Quadri is a promised child because nobody knew he would become famous with table tennis,” the retired teacher said.

Quadri started primary education at LA School New Durban and later proceeded to Oba Adeyemi Grammar School in Oyo Town, Quadri was outstanding in his studies.

A table tennis coach in Oyo Town, Isa Ayoola, who was also there for Quadri at the start of his career, said he was happy that his former player has excelled on the world stage.

“I never knew that Quadri could go far but I knew he was a determined player from the outset,” Ayoola told The Nation. “Whenever he lost a match he was fond of meeting older players to assess his performance and review his mistakes.”

Aruna started table tennis in 1999 in Oyo Town and his first national competition was in 2000 when he became the national cadet champion in Lagos. His performance earned him a call-up to the Oyo State team to the 2004 National Sports Festival where he claimed bronze in the men’s singles. He was also at the 2006 National Sports Festival in Ogun tagged “Gateway Games” where he made it to the final but was defeated by veteran Segun Toriola.

The feat in Ogun prompted the then Chairman of Lagos State Table Association (LSSA), Wahid Enitan Oshodi, to invite him for competitions in Lagos where he joined the Union Bank Table Tennis Club, a team that also supported his growth in the sport.

Rising to global fame

According to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Quadri is regarded as the most successful table tennis player from Africa at the Olympic Games.

At Rio 2016 Olympic Games, he defied all odds to defeat former world number one, Timo Boll of Germany to hit the quarterfinal in the men’s singles table tennis.

Prior to the Rio feat, Quadri had been named the World Player of the Year by the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) in 2014 – the first and only African player till date to have won the gong since its inception in 2013.

His victory at the 2017 Polish Open made him the first African to claim an ITTF tournament title outside Africa.

But Quadri actually announced himself to Africa in 2009 when he won the African Cup to qualify for the ITTF World Cup in Russia.

With support from Oshodi, he made his ITTF World Tour debut in 2009 in Kuwait and Qatar as a tune up to the World Cup in Russia. His sterling performance in Russia caught the attention of global table tennis kits firm, Joola, which signed him up for equipment support. Prior to his movement to Europe in 2010, Quadri played in the Iran elite league for BIPC Table Tennis club for four months.

From 2010, he moved to Portugal to play for Associacao Recreativa Novelense (ARN) in the Portugal elite table tennis league.  From their ranking as underdog, Quadri lifted ARN to finish second in the league. The next season he was snapped up by Grupo Desportivo Toledos another Portuguese club and he featured for the team for two seasons, leading them to their first league title. While at GD Toledos, he signed up for Jura Morez in the French league and played for one season.

The leading Portuguese side Sporting decided to sign the Nigerian in 2015 and for five seasons, he led the team to claim the titles in the league and he was unbeaten in the league since joining Sporting.

Quadri has made an indelible mark on the continental and world table tennis since gaining global limelight in 2014 when he became the first African player to win the prestigious ITTF world table tennis player of the year award.

Quadri’s defeat of the Frenchman Antoine Hachard in the Men’s Single final match of the ITTF Nigeria Open in August 2018 must count as the icing on the cake of yet another brilliant year in which he was also crowned 2018 Sportsman of the Year at the annual Nigerian Sports Award.

In September 2018 at the ITTF African Championship in Mauritius, Quadri proved his worth against the best players on the continent. Aside leading Nigeria to dethrone Egypt in the men’s team event, he fought his way to the final to claim the title, which had eluded him for four years.

His overall success is evidenced by the April 2020 ranking of the international Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) on which the Nigerian ranked among the top 20. In the August 2018 ranking, Quadri became the first Nigerian – and the second African – to make the top 18 rating in the monthly ranking of the world table tennis ruling body, after rising from 20 to 18.

At club level, Quadri for five years represented Sporting of Portugal and contributed to his team’s impressive performance of a semi-final berth at their maiden outing in the European Table Tennis Union (ETTU) Champions League. He leads the Portuguese side in their second outing in the competition.

Stardom and keeping it humble

Whether playing for his club or Nigeria, Quadri’s humble carriage, graceful play and heartfelt acknowledgement of the crowd even in the most difficult moments of any match, continue to make him the table tennis aficionado’s delight as his fan-base steadily soars within and outside Africa.

Yet Quadri acknowledges the fact that he is a role model for many young athletes not just in table tennis but across all sports.

He told The Nation: “I am conscious of the kind of impact I can have on the lives of a lot of people across the world. So for me, I ensure I remain positive and a good ambassador of my country wherever I find myself.

“All these successes mean I must redouble my efforts in training and continue to compete in major competitions across the globe. I will not be carried away by my profile. I’m humbled by it and remain focused on maintaining my status in the global rating.”

A rare gem in table tennis

Former President of Nigeria Table Tennis Federation (NTTF), Oshodi, described Quadri as a rare gem and a pride to Nigeria and the African continent at large.

“Quadri is humble and has this hunger to be the best,” Oshodi said: “Most top athletes have these qualities but in Quadri, I found a player who had an extraordinary amount of belief that he would make it to the top and become a national team player.

“Whenever he loses in any event, he comes back stronger. He is always willing to put in the work to learn and better himself across all spheres.

“In table tennis, school and life, he wants to keep improving. He wants to know how he could improve himself all the time. He always bounced back from every setback and never got carried away with his success. He may not be the most talented athlete of his age group but he is the most determined.”

Meanwhile, Oshodi has charged upcoming players to take a cue from the 2019 Nigeria Open champion, painstaking hard work and perseverance are ingredients for success.  “There is no shortcut to success but patience, hard-work, discipline and respect for your sport and your body allied to talent will lead to the top.

“Quadri is at the top table of world table tennis now coming a long way from Oyo; it is because he had managed to stay true to those qualities,” Oshodi stressed.

Laurels and awards

Titles

2009      African Cup         Winner

2014      Africa Top 16 Cup             Winner

2016      Africa Top 16 Cup             Winner

2016      Olympic Games  Quarterfinalist

2017      African Cup         Winner

2017      Polish Open         Winner

2018      African Championship     Winner

2018      Nigeria Open      Winner

2019      Nigeria Open      Winner

2018      Commonwealth Games  Silver

Awards

2013      Ball Sports Personality of the Year, Nigerian Sports Award

2014      Ball Sports Personality of the Year, Nigerian Sports Award

2014      Athlete of tahe Year, Nigeria Table Tennis Federation (NTTF)

2014      International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) Star Player

2014      International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) Star Point

2017      Nigeria Sportsman of the Year

2017      New Telegraph, Sportsman of the Year

2018      Nigeria Sportsman of the Year

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