By Larry Hodges
Photo copyright 2000 by John Oros
Those of you who were active in the 1980s will remember one of the most exciting players in the world: Atanda Musa, the acrobatic two-winged looper from Nigeria. The best player ever to come out of Africa, he became the model for players all over the world who wanted to emulate his spectacular game. And now … he’s living and coaching right here in New York City!
Musa, who spent 15 years on the Nigerian National Team, reach #20 in the world at his peak. He was 10-times African Men’s Singles Champion, and even won Singles & Doubles at the Commonwealth Games one year. A professional player since 1979, he is now more coach than player – yet, at age 41, he was recently rated over 2600.
Yes, he can still play, as those who watched him win the 4-star Garden State Open in September can verify. His match against China’s Wang Fei in the final was a barn-stopper – see write-up in previous issue. He gave USA #1 Cheng Yinghua a scare in the senior final at the Meiklejohn Senior Championships – leading Cheng to say that, if Musa had been trained in China, he could have been one of the best players ever.
Musa led the Nigerian Skypower Team to victory several times at the U.S. Open Team Championships in the early 1980s. In 1985, he made the semifinals of the U.S. Open. Who did he lose to? None other than Cheng, who would go on to win the Open in his first trip to the U.S., three years before moving here. Who did Musa defeat in the quarterfinals? A youthful Jan-Ove Waldner – not yet at his peak, but who had already made the final of the World Cup.
It was a long journey for Musa, who started out when he was 8 or 9. His father encouraged him a lot, and it led to his professional career.
Musa is known to many for his spectacular backhand loop. However, it is his forehand that wins most of his points. He seemingly can run down any ball and either loop or lob it back. He also has a blocking game that surprises opponents who don’t think of him as a close-to-the-table blocker. Yet it was mostly his forehand block that won him the Garden State Open. He’s simply an all-around player – with a powerful looping game - who always seems to find a way to win.
Besides playing, Musa has always liked coaching as well. In 1992, he became a full-time coach in Saudi Arabia for three years. In 1995, he was hired to coach in Qatar at the Ali club. In 1997 he returned to Nigeria, where he continued to play and coach.
In 1999, Musa came to the U.S., at first to play in tournaments. He ended up staying, along with his family – a wife and three kids, aged 2, 7 and 15.
Musa became the full-time coach and manager of the Manhattan Table Tennis Club in New York City. The club has five tables, and is almost always open – a truly full-time club. Musa coaches about 25 hours each week. The club’s owner, Jerry Wartski, is Musa’s sponsor, and Musa is very thankful for his help.
So … if you’re in the New York City area, and want some coaching, want to see some spectacular shot-making, or simply want to play, Musa invites you to stop by. Get ready for some serious looping.
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