In 1988 when Ghana hosted the prestigious Davis Cup (African zone group IV) at the Accra Sports stadium, Ghana was almost non-existent on International Tennis scene. She had a thin, insignificant history in the sport, with no international rank or appearance and was considered paper-weight prior to the championship. Ghana was making her maiden appearance in the Davis cup, an equivalent to a Tennis World cup. It was a huge test and unequivocally presented a daunting task for the Golden Racket team of Ghana, under the chairmanship Mr. Eddie Annan, who was the then Ghana Tennis Association President.
However there was wide spread excitement in every part Accra and this was confirmed subsequently in the enthusiasm at which people trooped to the Accra Sports Stadium. It still remains a wonder. The response from residents of Accra and its environs was extraordinary. The spontaneous emergence of Local Jama groups added glamour to the championship was difficult to Phantom if that would suffice for a game More puzzling was how Ghanaians fancied the racket game played on a rectangular (23.8meters by 8.2meters) proflex hard court surface. After 3 days of hearing the “thwack”..”Plock”, sounds made by the rackets and the tennis ball, the Nation plunged the nation into a state of delirium, Ghanaian fans danced, waved and hoisted their Ghana flags. But was this the genesis of Tennis in Ghana?? Certainly not.
The Emergence of Modern Tennis
Previously known as Lawn Tennis, the game dates back to a 12th-13th century french handball game, “jeune de paume” (game of the palm) and then later a complex indoor racket-and-ball game. (Britannica). In 1873, modern Tennis began to take shape and became even more structured and codified. The Likes of Major Walter Clopton Wringfield published a book of rules which was influential in shaping the way the game was played. In the late 19th century there was a revolution in the outfits worn, as the compulsory white attire was replaced by a current trend of lacostes, sneakers, and comfortable tennis wear with better colour and style . The wooden Rackets were replaced with metalic more durable tauntly strung rackets. There were also racket frames that allowed Tennis players to customize the Rackets and allow for proper grip. The tennis balls previously white, came in sveral colours and hues. As the Britannica puts it,
“Its period of most rapid growth, as both as both the Spectator and Participant sport. Where various championships were opened to Professionals as well as amateurs and continued in the 1970s, when television broadcasts of the expanding Professional tournament circuits and the rise of some notable players and rivalries broadened the appeal of the game. A numbet of major innovationsin fashion snd innovation fueled and fed the boom” .
In late 18th century and early 19th century, the Racket and Ball game began to gain prominence in parts of West Africa. In 1895, a group of commercial and cooperate organizations such as CFAO, UTC, UAC came together to form the Nigerian Tennis Association. An Association backed by Nigerian law. Five years after, a similar group of Commercial and corporate firms in the then Gold Coast also came together to form the Accra Long Tennis Club in 1900.
The Accra Tennis club began as an ‘all white’ club in the early 1960’s with game was dominated by British Elites who engaged in the sport for leisure or amusement and as a profession. Despite the emergence of tennis in Ghana, the early game had very little to offer the native citizens of Gold Coast. Mr. Odartey Annan the 80 year old Veteran Tennis player and official recalls;
“Formerly, the game was for only whites, wether portuguese, Americans, British, they were allowed to join. The Game brought nothing to us, it was only for the Elites, the truth was that your montly salary could not buy a racket. We only use to go to the tennis courts to catch balls for the Whiteman, who gave us two shillings thereafter, that was alot of money in the sixties”
Native Ghanaians continued their sweet duty as ball boys, picking up loose tennis balls for white men and enjoying the game as a scenery. That served as an informal mode of learning and understanding the game.
Few years later, a profound change occured that redefined eligibility into the Accra long Tennis Club. S.P.O Kumi, a diplomat in the Ghanaian government and a student athlete with Oxford University broke the jinx and became the fist black man to join and play for the Accra Long tennis Club. Thereafter his entry opened the floodgates for other local Ghanaian players to be recruited to join the club which was virtually Ghana National Men’s tennis team. The likes of Gyimi Baddger, Buckle, W.D Laryea, Anthony David Dove and Odartey Annan.
Mr. Odartey Annan shared his experience of playing Early Tennis in Ghana.
“I entered the team because my passion was so great. Anytime i went to catch tennis balls for the white men, i go home and my parents use to beat me, but i knew what i wanted. And k was learning the game. Because of that i had chance to enter the team and I travelled to France, Switzerland , United States of America and all over the world without using a dime from my pocket.”
The 1960’s through to the late 1980’s were very busy Tennis years. Annual inter-club tournaments within the Sub-region and abroad deepened the Ghanaian Tennis experience and helped to build a formidable competitive Ghanaian team. In 1988, The Golden Rackets team ushered in the Second wave of Ghana’s tennis History. This was a huge milestone in Ghana tennis and a very signifivmcan period which gave Ghana an international face in the game.
Ghana Davis’ Cup History
The Davis cup was first played in 1900 when Tennis was first introduced in Ghana. The competition beagn with two teams but has now been expanded to a 142-nation tournament. The tournament has been dominated by the United Sates who have 32 Davis Cup titles on their trophy shelve. Spain are the Defending Champions with the likes of FedEx ATP number one sesd Raphael Nadal Raphael Nadal featuring for Spain on a number of occasions.
The Davis cup suffered a mild setback during the World War II , resuming in 1949. It consists of a World Group (of 16 top teams), and 4 other Group Zones where prevailing countries in each zone qualify to replace relegated teams in other zones.
Ghana’s Golden Rackets have featured in the Davis cup 28 times. Ghana made her first appearance in 1988, hosting the Group 4 African Zone at the Accra Sports Stadium. All six of the Stadiums courts were used for the 3-day event. Ghana was represented by the super quartet of ; Atiso Kojo (number one seed), Franklyn ofori, Ken Dowunah and Sampson Ahinakwa won the 3-day event amidst a charged atmosphere at Accra Sports stadium centre court. Ghana has never recorded such huge numbers at any Tennis event in its history till date.
Mr. Yakubu Leah a Ghana Tennis official, reminisced the 1988 experience .
“I did not officiate in that tournament, but it was very exciting that for the first time, Ghana was going to participate. You saw people with the Ghana flag and it was the only time the Tennis court was over packed and people could not get a place to sit”
The Golden Rackets keep soaring and making great strides in Davis cup and in 1990, Ghana reached Europe / Africa group one. The highest feat attained by the Ghanaian Men’s Tennis team. Ghana took on Great Britain, her colonial masters in during in one of the historic Davis Cup ties, a game that was played at the Accra Sports stadium and Golden Rackets were well beaten. Franklyn Ofori, Daniel Omabo and Isaac Donkor were overwhelmed as the former colonial masters bruised their heads.
In 1994 Ghana slipped to the Group II zone after some good run of form before missing out on the Group I Europe/Africa zone. Top Ghanaian seed Franklyn Ofori was in action together with Isaac Donkor.
Ghana struggled to chalk further success from thence and has had very dissapointing campaigns after 1994 through to 2014.
In 2015, Ghana made it to the African Zone Group III and was seeded in a tough Pool A. Led by Captain Joseph Acquah, the Golden Rackets lost to Tunisia, Namibia , Algeria and Lybia which finished bottom of Pool B. It qas a campaign to forget at the Smash Tennis Academy in Cairo Egypt. On the Outdoor Clay court, the Ghanaian quartet of Japheth Bagerbaseh, George Darko, Pascal Ziyab Alome and Wisdom Na-Adjrago were schooled. Ghana fell back knto Africa Zone Group IV and was on a 4 year recess until 2019 July.
Ghana’s made a promising return as she popped up her head in 2019. The Golden Rackets Finished top of Africa zone IV group to qualify to Zone III of the Davis Cup. The Golden Rackets had little problems, beating Group B winners Rwanda in the African Zone IV playoffs. Isaac Nortey oused Obiang Lyold 7-5, 7-5 in a singles eveng while Herman Abban also beat Lebendje Willy 6-0, 7-6(4). In the men’s doubles Benjamin Palm joined forces with Isaac Nortey to beat Rwanda’s duo of Antchandie Herve and Obiang Lyold. Coached by The Experienced Fredrick Egyir the Golden Rackets are showing big glimpses of a dream team.
Stand Out Players
Franklyn Ofori of Ghana makes history as the Ghanaian tennis player to have made the most appearances in tha Davis cup, spanning a duration of 14 illustrious years and has been key in Ghana’s tennis story.
He holds the record for the most wins in the Men’s single, by a Ghanaian in the Davis cup (29-16) and the most total wins by a Ghanaian player (42-31). In the Davis cup Men’s Doubles, Franklyn Ofori goes into the Ghanaian tennis archives having chalked the most Doubles wins for a Golden Rackets player(13-15), in the Prestigious Davis cup.
However, thats not the best record in the Davis Cup tournament chalked by any Ghanaian duo. Henry Adjei Darko and Gunther Darkey hold the best Davis Cup Doubles record for any golden rackets dream to have featured in the tour. The duo hold a record (6-4), having won six out of their ten ties played. A very impressive record given Ghana’s inconsistent run of form in the tournament.
Davis cup Ranking
Ghana is currently ranked 126 out of 142 countries according to the recent Davis cup Rankings. Ghana trails two places to Benin having accumulated only 26.25 points. Meanwhile South Africa remains the highest ranked African team at 52nd position with a total point count of 513.91 .The former Davis cup champions are placed ahead of Tunisia who occupy 56th position with Morocco, Zimbabwe and Namibia lying Third, fourth and fifth respectively.
France , Croatia, Spain and Belgium lead the Davis cup ranking as the best 4.
The Third Wave
In 2015, the Ghana Tennis Federation rolled out a project that was to harness young talents project Amateur, Juvenile Tennis. Ghana suscribed to the CAT/ITF U-12 and U-15 Tennis championships and have since reaped fruitful results. Recruitment of some of the finest Junior talents in the Sport has made Ghana a powerhouse in Juvinile tennis. Ghana sucessfully defended the U-12 West-Africa CAT/ITF championship for the fourth consecutive time, the last title win coming in Febuary last 2020 year.
Source: Dampte-Larbi Godfred | Tenolf Ghana