Lanham resident Tita Mba said his favorite aspect of tennis is the individuality of the sport.
There is no one else to rely on, no one to blame. It takes a strong will to succeed in tennis — someone who is internally driven.
Moving from Cameroon, West Africa to the United States before his 17th birthday certainly took some courage.
But tennis, Mba said, is also a sport of opportunity. He has experienced that firsthand as a longtime student at the Oyebog Tennis Academy in Cameroon.
The brainchild of his uncle and former men’s professional tennis player Joseph Oyebog, the academy was founded in 1999 to provide underprivileged youth the opportunity to prosper through tennis.
Mba was 4 when he got his first racquet.
Since its inception, more than 5,000 children have been introduced to tennis through Oyebog’s cost-free programs, according to the organization’s website.
The academy is run on donations, athletes are provided with proper attire and equipment.
“Tennis is not very popular [in Cameroon],” Mba said. “Soccer is the biggest sport. Tennis is expensive. This makes it affordable and gives everyone a chance. It’s a great opportunity to get an education. When [the kids] are 16, 17 or 18 they can apply for scholarships in the United States.”
In December 2008 Mba moved with his mother, father and brother from Cameroon to Maryland and earned an athletic scholarship to play tennis at NCAA Division I St. Francis College in New York.
He is one of 20 former Oyebog students currently playing tennis collegiately in the U.S., according to the organization’s website.
A rising senior, Mba went 6-2 at the No. 3 singles position at St. Francis this past season.
Hopeful he can follow in his uncle’s footsteps as a professional tennis player, Mba improved on last year’s third-round result by reaching the round of 16 in a 64-man field at this year’s U.S. Open National Playoffs Mid-Atlantic Sectional Qualifying tournament held two weeks ago at the Tennis Center at College Park.
The winner of the men’s singles competition, Matt Brooklyn of Washington, D.C., advanced to the U.S. Open National Playoffs scheduled for August at Yale University, where he will play for a wildcard entry into the U.S. Open Qualifying tournament at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center Aug. 17-20.
Thankful for the chance he was given as a child in Cameroon, Mba acts as an ambassador for the academy.
Every summer since he moved to the U.S., Mba has worked for his uncle’s tennis academy in Connecticut, working to collect donations to send back to Cameroon.
“Tennis is something that I love, something that’s always been there for me,” Mba said. “It’s important for these kids to know they can have a goal in mind.”