ISLAMABAD -  Aqeel Khan and Aisamul Haq Qureshi Friday gave Pakistan perfect start in the Davis Cup Asia-Oceania Group-II final against Thailand as hosts won both opening day singles matches played here at Pakistan Sports Complex grass courts.

Governor Sindh Muhammad Zubair was the chief guest on the occasion, while PTF President Salim Saifullah Khan and others were also present.

Pakistan’s Shahzad Khan was the chair referee in the first match played between Aqeel Khan and Thai Wishaya Trongcharoenchaikul, while International Tennis Federation match referee Massimo Morelli was very much present on the occasion.

It was complete mismanagement witnessed on the part of the Pakistan Tennis Federation. Despite issuing accreditation cards in bulks, the federation failed to pull even small crowd as majority of the make-shift seats left empty, and the PTF near and dear ones were occupying the seats where PTF President was sitting.

Aqeel was clearly underdog against Wishaya but the 37-year old delivered again his 100 percent despite hot and humid weather. Aqeel displayed top quality tennis and gave Pakistan a perfect start in the tie. Aqeel took the first set 6-3, by breaking third game of Wishaya. He took the set in 29 minutes. The second set was played on a high tempo. Wishaya was looking highly charged and was not hiding his emotions as well while on the other hand Aqeel was enjoying all out home crowd backing mainly based on parents and relatives of the players.

Aqeel played some delightful backhand shots down the line and his service was also very good as he hit number of aces, which were rarely witnessed in recent past. Aqeel took the second set 7-5 after breaking 10th game of Wishaya in 35 minutes. Aqeel totally dominated third set as he was dictating terms and hitting countless winners. He broke third game of Wishaya but his serve was immediately broken back as he failed to control emotions. Aqeel again broke Wishaya serve and then managed to control his feelings to hold onto his serve, thus winning the set 6-4 in 39 minutes and giving Pakistan 1-0 highly crucial lead . After hitting the winner, Aqeel bowed down to pay homage to almighty Allah. Non-playing captain M Khalid embraced Aqeel , while PTF President Salim and Patron Senator Dilawar Abbas also went to congratulate Aqeel .

The confidence in Pakistan camp was sky-high and crowd was expecting Aisam to do the same with Kittiphong Wachiramanowong to give Pakistan comfortable 2-0 lead . Aisam , who is playing Davis Cup and other international major events for almost two decades, never looked in such commanding and dominating mood.

Aisam simply outclassed Kittiphong in all departments. It was a delight to watch Aisam serving with such energy and his opponent had no clue about what is coming next. Aisam demolished Kittiphong to take the first set 6-1 in just 26 minutes. He was in a hurry to take the second set as he took the set 6-0 in just 17 minutes without dropping a single game. The crowd and especially his parents were looking highly satisfied, while his brother and sister also travel long distance to ensure their presence on historic occasion as Pakistan was playing Davis Cup final at their soil after almost 12 years gap.

Aisam looked a bit tired in the third set, as heat was taking its toll. The 37-year old Aisam was fully feeling the body was burning and he had to wrap up the set before humidity play its part. Aisam broke third game of Kittiphong and he had wonderful chance of breaking 5th game and then 7th game but he failed to seal the initiative. After surviving some anxious moments, Asiam prevailed as he hold onto his 10th serve, thus won the set 6-4 in 30 minutes.

While sharing his views soon after the match, Aisam said he is 37 and was aware that he can’t afford to let his opponent off the hook. “Obviously, I was in a hurry as I know once the younger opponent settles down, he will push me to the limits. It was first time that Kittiphong was playing on grass surface. Had it was on clay or hard courts, the results could have been far different. I need to cool down and give my body rest. Maybe we don’t play doubles today and let Shahzad and Abid to gain exposure and win the day for Pakistan . But it is not final and we will sit and decide our planning for doubles.”

While sharing his views a down to earth as always, Aqeel attributed his victory to team effort and accepted that he was under pressure but after some time, he started to relax and that strategy paid off. “I decided to go all out attacking as it was the only realistic option for me to stand chance of winning the encounter as he was not only much younger, but also enjoy singles rankings, while I don’t have even a single ITF point.”

When asked why both players keep discussing their ages in front of media and is it a indirect message to federation, who call them aging horses, both Aisam and Aqeel laugh off and said: “It is reality and we know age factor is a reality. It was only our experience, which prevailed. Otherwise they both were highly good, if they had played on grass courts previously.” When this scribe asked Pakistan team captain M Khalid to tell whether he is thinking about giving rest to his most powerful doubles pair, Khalid replied he will sit and decide with players. “We have to give exposure to other players as well. On the other hand Thailand’s hopes of bouncing back and keep alive their hopes rests solely on the shoulders of twin brothers Sanchai Ratiwatana/Sonchat Ratiwatana and anything less than the victory in doubles will signal the end of the road for Thailand and reverse singles on 17th will not be more than dead rubber.”

 

Mohsin Ali