Mugabe remains dominant

KAMPALA, UGANDA – Mugabe extended his dominance of local tennis although Robert Buyinza ran him close last season.

Mugabe and Buyinza made history as part of the first Ugandan tennis team to feature at the Commonwealth Games. Jalia Nanfuka was the only female on that team but apart from her participation, there was little to write home about from their performance in the Games held October 3-14 in New Delhi.

“Going there and playing was very important. We had to start from somewhere as Uganda,” Mugabe said in the wake of his 6-2, 7-6 first round defeat to Pakistan’s Aisan Ul-Haq Quresh. “Hopefully tennis will continue to be represented at the subsequent editions.”

Buyinza was also blown away by India’s Rohan Bopanna 6-1, 6-4 in a highly-publicised first round match attended by a huge home crowd. But rather than drown in the agony of his and teammates’ first round exit, Mugabe had no regrets and was instead grateful for the ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity to play against highly-rated opponents.

Quresh and Bopanna were losing finalists in last year’s US Open men’s doubles. “It was the highlight of my career. Where else could I have gotten a chance to play against him,” Mugabe noted. “He is the best player in his country and a US Open finalist. It was like a dream come true and I savoured every exchange with him in that match.”

Coming off a lean patch during which he had suffered shock defeats in the International Tennis Federation (ITF) East Africa Money Circuit, Mugabe couldn’t be faulted as he arguably played the best tennis of his life against Quresh at R.K Khanna Stadium in New Delhi.

Numerous distractions including sweltering conditions and players collapsing on nearby courts, Mugabe played purposeful tennis in the second set. After trailing 3-1, the Ugandan top seed gallantly fought back to level the game at 5-5. The decisive set didn’t materialise as Mugabe double faulted in the tiebreak. “I need to try and remain calm in such tight situations,” Mugabe said then.

For Buyinza, it was the lack of exposure and inexperience at the big stage that accounted for his 6-1, 6-4 loss to Bopanna. The lone lady in the fray, Nanfuka, was blown away in quick successive sets 6-0, 6-1 by Bermuda’s Lamberty Jacklyn.

To wrap up Uganda’s forgettable show at the Games, Nanfuka and Mugabe were easily swept away by Scotland’s Jamie Murray and Robert Brown in the mixed doubles. But it was pretty easy for Mugabe in the region where he deservedly took the plaudits as East Africa’s best player. Earlier in the year, he was voted the Uspa sportsman for the month of February, won a money circuit event in Rwanda, Burundi and a cash-rich Simba invitational tournament in Dar-es-Salaam in September that attracted several big names from as far as Zimbabwe, Morocco and Egypt.

Defining moment

His real defining period of the year was when he won the Uganda Open in February – being the first Ugandan after legendary John Oduke in seven years to clinch the accolade.

Mugabe followed up that feat by ending a 31-year-old jinx for Uganda when he defeated homeboy Francois Rogoi 7-6, 6-7, 6-2 in the Kenya Open final. He ended the year with victory at his maiden tour of Democratic Republic of Congo where he bagged $1,500 (Shs3.6m) for winning the men’s final. At the end of 2009, Mugabe was ranked 763 and had set his sights on reaching the top 500 but fell too short as he finished 2010 at 1723. He is currently seeded 1241 in the doubles.

Uganda also pulled out of the Davis Cup reportedly due to lack of facilities where the team could train after National Council of Sports (NCS) had evicted Uganda Lawn Tennis Association (ULTA) from Lugogo over unpaid rent arrears.

Some junior teams never made it to some international tournaments and ULTA’s development programme was questionable. ULTA have all to prove that 2011 hasn’t come a little too fast for them as there are many questions than answers over their development plans.