By Amindeh Blaise Atabong
SOUZA, Cameroon (Reuters) – Six years since weeping over a lost match, Manantsop Delisle, 14, is excelling at a Cameroonian tennis academy for underprivileged young players whose founder offered her free training after being impressed by her dedication to the game.
Now she wakes up at 5 a.m. every day to start a round of workouts, practice sessions, and school classes alongside nine other girls and 22 boys boarding at the Oyebog Tennis Academy in the town of Souza.
“My idol is Serena Williams, I dream of being like her,” Delisle said after training.
She caught the eye of former national champion Joseph Oyebog when she was in tears after losing a practice match, aged just eight. He said he was drawn by her “fire” for the sport.
He established the academy in 1999 to support communities in his homeland, which often lack access to facilities.
Delisle is one of around 12,000 young people to have studied at one of its 25 centres.
“Being a recipient of such a gift, the love of tennis, I wanted to share the love with other kids,” said Oyebog, a former professional on the ATP international circuit.
Since graduating from the academy, some beneficiaries have won scholarships for further training abroad, while more than 20 academy trainees have International Tennis Federation rankings.
Oyebog himself went from playing on an improvised court in his mother’s backyard to getting sponsorship to train in France and the United States. He won national tournaments and competed in the Davis Cup international men’s team competition.
Nathalie Diffouo is grateful to the academy for her daughter Delisle’s successes, which include winning a national championship in the age 13-15 category.
“If I had to pay for everything to get her where she is today, I would never have been able. We barely struggle to survive,” Diffouo said at her home after returning from planting cassava.
The academy is run with support from donors, mostly from the United States. It offers tennis training at little or no cost.
“We just want to give every child an opportunity to have a clean meal, clean water and a place to play and study,” said Oyebog in a room lined with trophies and awards.
(Editing by Alessandra Prentice and Alison Williams)