When Ojo Onaolapo made his international debut for Nigeria in 2008 at the African Junior Championships in Alexandria, Egypt, he was touted as another standout for the West African nation. As a left-hand player, he was skilful and calm on table and it was these qualities that caught the attention of the world table tennis ruling body, ITTF to award scholarship to the young Nigerian. From 2008 to 2010, Onaolapo has transverse the globe showcasing his talent to the extent that he made a mark in one of the tournaments he attended in Asia. But his hardwork and tenacity paid off when he secured a spot in the boys’ singles event of the maiden Youth Olympic Games in Singapore.
Beyond every odd, Ojo Onaolapo fought his way into the last eight of the competition and it was clear from there that the teenager has the world at his feet. Despite his exploits at global level, Ojo Onaolapo never had another shot at the top and he remained a local champion in Nigeria until he fought his way into the senior team in 2014 to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland and it was his singular efforts that earned Nigeria the bronze medal in the men’s team event after Ojo Onaolapo caused a major upset with a 3-1 win over India’s Sharath Achanta in the deciding game of the third place match in Scotland. His bizarre celebration of pulling off his pant after the golden win went viral on the internet.
It was this performance that fetched him a contract with Marcozzi table tennis club of Italy where he spent a season with the team before returning to Nigeria in 2015. Despite not been impressive at the World Team Championship in Malaysia, Ojo Onaolapo joined ADC Ponta Do Pargo in the elite Portuguese league in 2016.
Since joining the club on September 2016, Ojo Onaolapo had played 11 games losing three while his efforts had helped the team to remain second behind Sporting Lisbon on the league table.
In his last ITTF World Tour in 2015 at the Spanish Open, Ojo Onaolapo failed to make from the group but having tasted top level matches in the Portuguese league as well as playing against top players, Ojo Onaolapo has hinged his recent resurgence to the exploits of his compatriot – Aruna Quadri whom he described as an inspiration to a lot of Nigerian players.
“I think Aruna Quadri has raised our hope that with hardwork and focus one can achieve whatever you desire in life. Now we don’t have any option than to aim high because if Aruna Quadri can do it there is nothing stopping us from attaining bigger height in the sport. Aruna Quadri has given a lot of us hope that we can do it. If Aruna Quadri can be beating some of the top players in the world, nothing stops us from emulating him. That is why in 2017, I am intending to attend at least five ITTF World Tours in Europe because it is easier for us now that we are playing in Europe unlike in the past that we had to travel from Nigeria to attend competitions,” he said.
Ojo Onaolapo, winner of the U-21 boys’ singles of the 2015 Lagos Open believes playing in Portugal has improved his game particularly playing against some of the top star plying their trade in French league. “Having played in Italy, I can conclude that playing in Portugal is tougher with the quality of players in the league. I have learnt playing against the likes of Aruna Quadri, Andre Silva and a host of others who are also plying their trade in the competitive French league. Hungarian Open being my first World Tour outside the Lagos Open, I am hoping that I can go far in the competition. My immediate target is to qualify from the group and from there anything can happen,” the 22-year-old said.
He added: “This year I am hoping to improve my world ranking and also concretise my place in the Nigeria senior team. I know that my doing well in all these World Tours is very important for me to achieve my target. I hope that I can get back to my rightful place in the world by ensuing that I put up a good performance at the World Tours. I must also admit that it is not going to be easy but with hardwork and focus, nothing is impossible.”