ISLAMABAD - Pakistan’s longest serving No 1 tennis player Aqeel Khan has said that there is an acute shortage of professional tennis players in the country and the federation has to take drastic steps to attract youth towards tennis.

Talking to The Nation, Aqeel said: “For the last 20 years, hardly a few players emerged on the tennis circuit, while juniors never bothered to continue their success at senior level. For me, the PTF has done the right thing by opting to start laying down modern synthetic courts at Senator Dilawar Abbas PTF Complex, which is a great initiative and I have always supported this idea.”

He said now the need of the hour is that past and present greats like Aisamul, Hameed, Mushaf and others to sit and start passing on their experience to the generation next. Without investing, we won’t be able to get even handful of young players. As my career ends, off course, I would like to start an academy, but realistically, I would repeat same things, which past greats have been doing.

“I might not be able to produce a single champion, as I have to look after my family and I couldn’t run my kitchen by offering free services. But yes, it is my promise that I will at least pick one of two bright kids and pass on my knowledge to them. We have only one international star in shape of Aisam, so we badly need quality players,” he added.

He said that now tennis has changed and new rules are being adopted by the ITF. “We will know against whom and when we are going to play our next Davis Cup tie, while we have long break from tennis. Last tournament was held some four months back and we last only played in the Asian Games. During present days, we need to play round the year tennis to not only improve our international rankings, but also to run our kitchens.”

Aqeel has a long dream of running an academy for the youngsters in Sindh and he has also urged Sindh and CDA to provide him a piece of land. When pointed out towards signing an MoU with Pakistan Sports Complex to start his academy, he said: “Yes, I am seriously thinking on these lines. I have wasted the last decade in requesting Sindh and CDA for the piece of land for my academy. Had I provided the land, I would have constructed a top class academy by now, where I would have worked with fresh blood.

He said now next few months are highly busy, as the federation has prepared a calendar, where three ITF juniors are followed by men’s tennis tournaments. “But the thing is we need tennis on regular basis.”

About ladies tennis, Aqeel said: “The PTF needs to dig deep to stop ladies tennis from further decline. Same females are playing for the last 10 years so the federation needs to focus on junior female players, who may fill the gap and provide ladies tennis a new lease of life.”

“I am ready to spend overtime for the genuine talent and will bear their expenditure. There is huge tennis talent available in the country but we need to find and groom them and invest heavily to get quality tennis players to serve the country at higher level,” Aqeel concluded.