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Featured Player: Jebutu Emmanuel, 17 years old, Nigeria

Updated: Nov 24, 2022

Jebutu started playing at 10 years old when his older brother, a coach, bought him a racquet. He found he had a great talent for the game upon winning a junior tournament, after which, he says, “Lots of other juniors wanted to play with me.”

Players face great hurdles to playing professionally no matter where they come from, but the problems can be especially daunting for those from backgrounds like Jebutu’s, in Nigeria.“Getting to tournaments is always the biggest hurdle,” he says. “I have to make all my own money to support myself getting to the tournaments. I usually pick up balls at local clubs and courts and with that money I save and travel with friends to compete. If you get to the semi/final of a Nigerian tournament you can win 200,000 Nigerian Naira ($480). I give most of this money to help my mother with food and things but the rest of the money I keep and use it to travel to more tournaments. It is very hard and sometimes at tournaments there would be loads of us staying in one room so we can afford the prices of staying overnight in different towns and cities.

It’s very difficult to maintain an ITF ranking simply because players like Jebutu cannot afford to play enough tournaments. Tennis is incentivized toward those who play more often, and that costs money that many juniors don’t have. It’s not that they lack talent; they lack resources. “I am losing points because I can not afford to keep traveling and competing,” Jebutu says. “I am playing in Morocco now to try and get my points back up.”

Jebutu’s plans for the future:

“I would love to play the tour, I am about to turn 18 years old and that means I can not compete in ITFs anymore. To play the tour I need to be sponsored and I need a full time individual coach which I don’t have right now. If going on the tour doesn’t work out for me, my back-up plan is to go and play college tennis in the USA. I have only played tennis in Norway, Morocco and Nigeria. My dream is to visit America and play tennis there.”

Jebutu’s best achievements so far:

“I won an ITF Doubles tournament with my Nigerian friend and I played a J4 and lost in the semi-finals. When I train and win there are some people who see my potential and are willing to financially support me. I just love traveling and meeting new people and it's an opportunity for me to play with new people. For example, there are no white people in Nigeria so it's great I can travel and play against white people, they see me and are like wow look at him. I’m usually the only black guy there.”

Jebutu’s upbringing and tennis in Nigeria:

“Tennis is very expensive to play well and to play against good players in Nigeria. But it is easy to get a court because they are usually free and you don’t need to book them. I usually stay in Lagos to train but need to go to other cities for the national tournaments, but it is rare that there are tournaments in Nigeria so you need to travel to get good and that is expensive. I live in a very poor town where people struggle and my mum is always telling me to go to America or to go to another country and not to come back to Nigeria because there are better opportunities in other places.”

Jebutu’s family:

“I have a close family and there are 4 of us. My mum and me are really close and I do everything I can to support her. My dad died when I was younger so I need to provide all I can for the family. My brother is a tennis coach and my sisters do not like tennis. My mum has never seen me play but she is very supportive of my goals and when I travel to these places I miss her a lot.


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