LONDON (Reuters) - Pakistan’s leading player Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi loves competing in the Davis Cup in front of his home fans.
However, since an armed attack on the Sri Lanka cricket team in Lahore in March that has not been possible. Tennis has become yet another sport cast into the wilderness in Pakistan.
“I was supposed to play Davis Cup ties this year in Pakistan and they’ve all been shifted to different venues,” he told Reuters after winning his first round doubles at Wimbledon.
He has teamed up with Indian Prakash Amritraj and the pair beat 16th seeds Ross Hutchins and Stephen Huss on Wednesday.
Even before the ambush on the Sri Lanka cricket team, Pakistan’s Davis Cup tie against Oman was shifted to Muscat for security concerns. Although they won 4-1 Qureshi had been looking forward to playing in front of a home crowd.
“Pakistan is a sports-loving country and unfortunately we have these extremists who just want to create chaos and havoc. It’s hurting Pakistan,” the 29-year-old said.
“The Davis Cup is the only international tennis event we have at home where Pakistanis can get to see me play, so obviously I was really depressed.”
Despite having to travel to the Philippines for Pakistan’s next Davis Cup zonal tie in July, Qureshi’s enthusiasm for the competition has not been dampened.
“I’m still committed to the Davis Cup and getting the job done if I can,” he said.
Qureshi was also full of praise for his country’s cricket team, who were crowned Twenty20 world champions last weekend by defeating Sri Lanka in London.
“It definitely gives a positive message to people out there. It’s just sad these extremists want to disturb everyone,” he said.
As for the state of tennis in Pakistan, which is very much in the shadow of cricket, Qureshi hopes change will come.
“We don’t have the best infrastructure but this year I spoke with the president of the Pakistan Tennis Federation and he promised me he would take really positive measures.
“I actually wanted to have a challengers event in Pakistan but due to the attacks they won’t let me have that. Hopefully, next year they’ll have a challengers for the first time...”
Ranked 85th in doubles, Qureshi is enjoying his outing at Wimbledon and, for all the tensions separating Pakistan and India, Qureshi and Amritraj get on famously.
Amritraj, whose father Vijay reached the Wimbledon quarter-finals in 1973 and 1981 and also featured in the James Bond film Octopussy, told Reuters: “I see Aisam as my brother as I’m sure he does me”.
“We play very good singles but as a team I think we partner up well. The chemistry is fantastic, and it would be silly for us to ignore this,” the 25-year-old said.
Qureshi, who previously played with another Indian partner in Rohan Bopanna, has always felt an affinity for his neighbouring country.
“These guys are my best friends on the tour,” he said.
“We have the same taste and same culture and I love hanging out with them.”
The Indo-Pak duo’s second-round opponents are not yet known but a win could see them up against fourth seeds Mark Knowles of Bahamas and Indian Mahesh Bhupathi in the third round.