Five years after Nigerian Quadri Akinade Aruna lost 3-4 to Egyptian Omar Assar in the pulsating 2018 ITTF Africa Top 16 Cup final in Nairobi, the African table tennis fraternity awaits another scintillating week of table tennis action.

Aruna and Asssar are among the elite players enlisted for the “Africa Festival of TableTennis” which kicks off at Kasarani indoor gymnasium with the Africa Club Championship from May 1-3, and ultimately the ITTF Africa Cup (World Cup qualifiers) from May 4-6.

Aruna plies his trade for Fakel-Gazprom in the Russian Premier Table Tennis League and is the first African player to be ranked in the top 10 in the world.

His entry in the Kasarani showpiece is already eliciting considerable zest and anticipation.

Aruna’s long-time rival Assar, is also a celebrity in his own right.  At the 2020 Summer Olympics, Assar finished 5th in the men’s singles after losing to China’s Ma Long in the quarterfinals. As of August 2021, Assar was ranked 36th in the ITTF world rankings having reached his highest ranking of 16th in March 2016.

Asked about Assar’s and Aruna’s comeback, Kenya team player Josiah Wandera remarked: “I have played against Aruna once in Tunis during the Africa 2020 Tokyo Olympic qualifiers. Aruna has a very powerful forehand. So, he is pretty much a forehand dominant player with loads of international experience.”

Wandera added: “There are very many good players competing in the tournament though. Assar will definitely give Aruna a run for his money and I just can’t wait to see who comes out on top between the two. Nevertheless, I’m sure the fans will enjoy seeing both play.”

Kenya national women’s team mainstay Lydia Setey on her part commented: “I put my money on Aruna because he is such a skillful player. He plays competitively with salient passion and upholds the spirit of sportsmanship on the table. He doesn’t give up at any given point-he fights to the very end.”

Setey went on: “Aruna has recently played very well against the likes of Tomokazu Harimoto from Japan and other world elite players; giving them a run for their money. So, I will not be wrong to say Aruna will be the victor in Nairobi.”

Born on 9 August 1988, in Oyo, Nigeria, Aruna competed for Nigeria at the 2012 Summer Olympics and 2016 Summer Olympics, reaching the quarter-finals in the latter competition.

In 2021, Aruna reached the quarter-finals of the WTT Contender event at WTT Doha. He lost 3-1 in the quarter-finals to Lin Yun-Ju after saving four match points and nearly mounting a comeback.

The same year in 2021, Aruna also reached the quarter-finals of the World Table Tennis Championships in Houston but lost 2-4 to Sweden’s Truls Möregårdh. At the World Cup 2014, he reached the quarter-finals in the Men’s Singles competition.

Aruna competed in the 2018 ITTF African Cup in Nairobi, placing first in group 2, allowing him to qualify for the Quarter Finals. In the Quarter Finals, Aruna defeated Derek Abrefa (4-0). In the Semi-Finals, he defeated Ahmed Saleh (4-1), allowing him to advance to the finals of the African Cup.

The 2018 African Cup Finals in Nairobi featured two of the only African players within the top 50 of the ITTF World Rankings, 2015 and 2016 Champion Assar against reigning 2017 Champion Aruna in the feud for African Table Tennis supremacy.

Aruna lost in the final to the Egyptian and will be hoping to make amends in Nairobi this time round.

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