One of America’s renowned founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, inspiringly said, “What is the recipe for successful achievement? To my mind there are just four essential ingredients: choose a career you love, give it the best there is in you, seize your opportunities, and be a member of the team.” This is definitely the case of 14 –year-old Liberian tennis prodigy, Saah Kandakai, who is currently the No. 1 single’s player for Trenton High School, in the USA. He is a freshman.
Some might call him an inspiration and also an optimist who sees the opportunity in every difficulty. Saah is a member of the New Jersey Tennis League, and amongst the top junior singles.
According to the New Jersey Tennis League (NJTL) and the New Jersey High School Sports, the Liberian tennis icon in 2014 reached the finals of the USTA Sectional U-14 qualifiers. He also reached the quarterfinals in his first Sectional Tennis Tournament in Philadelphia.
Eventually, some say, "Luck is when preparation meets opportunity" – and this is what happened to Saah when he escorted his father, Aflred Kandakai on one of his training sections. The young man played a tennis match against Mr. Tani Hanna, the chairman of Games World International in Liberia.
Mr. Hanna was surprised at how skillful Saah played for his age and decided to give him an opportunity of a lifetime.
He and Mrs. Anna Bsaibes, a shareholder at the Mamba Point and Oceano Casino (situated at Mamba Point) in 2011 sent Saah to Sanshall Casal in Barcelona – Spain and he spent three weeks at the tennis academy that Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray once attended.
Two years later, Mr. Hanna and his partners further sponsored Saah to train at the Sanchez-Casal Academy in Naples, USA.
How did Saah get so good at tennis? He accredits that to his father, his present coach, who started a refugee's tennis academy in 2006.
"He's at a pretty high level,'' said Michelle Gbelama, Program Director for National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL) of Trenton, affiliated with the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA). The NJTL is a non-profit developmental organization that provides tennis, education, nutritional and life skill programs
Founded in 1975, NJTL now serves more than 2,700 underprivileged youngsters in the Trenton area between the ages of 5 and 17.
“He found us,’’ Gbelama said about Kandakai. “He was passing Cadwalader Park and came to our office. We now support his tennis career and provide him with whatever he needs.’’
“He’s such a polite young man, oh my gosh,’’ said Trenton tennis coach James Jones, a graduate of THS and coach for more than 25 years. “He has good footwork. He’s very agile and he has quick hands. He’s willing to listen and really a joy to be around.’’
Kandakai does not just enjoy tennis. He wants to turn pro. His favorites are Federer and Novak Djokovic.
“I love the way Federer plays and he’s a great guy,’’ Kandakai said. “And Novak, I really want to be like him because he’s most consistent in playing and he’s really focused when he’s playing a match.’’
If he fails to attain the heights of the Australian Open, Wimbledon or the U.S. Open, his Plan B is earning a degree in civil engineering.
“Tennis is good for me. I want to play in grand slams,’’ he told a publication two years ago.
Regarding the refugee camp, he was quoted as saying, “(It) was very hard, that situation. But I play tennis because my dad is a tennis coach and he told me that tennis will make me a good person and I will have an education.’’
Kandakai’s mother, (who works nights as a supervisor for a house cleaning company), is very proud of her son, though she laughed when she said that he is not perfect.
“No one is,’’ she added. “But he’s a child you always want to be around. He’s funny and he’s loving.’’
One of his roommates from the academy in Florida, Andres Diaz of Mexico, put it best, “I am learning from him,’’ he said during an interview a couple of years ago, “because Alfred is a good example that, (despite) difficulties, you can follow your dream.’’
It may be recalled in 2011 and 2012; Saah represented Liberia in the under-14 and under-12 categories of the West and Central Africa junior championships in Ghana and Togo, where he was a quarter-finalist.
In 2013, he participated in the under-14 West and Central Africa junior championships in Togo, where he earned laurel.