ISLAMABAD - Ace Pakistan tennis player Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi and Pakistan’s longest serving No 1 tennis player Aqeel Khan have demanded the Pakistan Tennis Federation (PTF) to include veteran Shahzad Khan as fourth player in Davis Cup team for Davis Cup Asia-Oceania Group-II semifinals tie against Hong Kong starting from April 7 here at Pakistan Tennis Complex newly-laid grass courts.

Talking to The Nation, Aisam, who is out of country to play ATP tournaments, was informed about absence of Abid Ali Akbar, who couldn’t reach play tie due to his commitments in USA and who should replace him, replied: “Yes, I have heard Abid Akbar’s absence and in his absence, Shahzad Khan is the perfect replacement, who has long experience of playing on grass courts. In fact, he is the only present player after me and Aqeel of having the vast grass courts experience and played alongside us on quite a few times.

“Abid Akbar and M Abid are good players, but Abid Akbar never played on grass, while M Abid though has know how of grass courts, as he plays tennis at Bagh-e-Jinnah grass courts, but under present circumstances, keeping in mind Hong Kong has a very young and talented squad, I strongly recommend the PTF to include Shahzad, which will give us boost and much-needed back up. I am 37 and Aqeel is also of same age, so it will be difficult for both of us to shoulder the lime share of burden, anyhow, we are determined to give out our best, but I personally feel Shahzad can be the best option,” he added.

About Pakistan’s realistic chances in the tie against Hong Kong, Aisam said: “Hong Kong players play most of their tennis on hard courts, and if the tie is played on synthetic courts, it will be tough for us to beat them, but being a host, we have chosen grass courts, which will help us win the crucial tie.

“I am playing one of the best tennis of my career and looking forward to spearhead Pakistan Davis Cup team. I don’t think Hong Kong players have enough experience of playing at grass courts, and hopefully, the things will be in our favour and we will succeed in winning the tie,” Aisam concluded.

Sharing his views, Aqeel Khan said Abid Akbar was a good option as he played well against Iran. “As Abid Akbar didn’t have any grass courts experience, so in my personal opinion, conditions demand Shahzad Khan’s inclusion in the team, who has vast experience of playing on grass courts and his bullet services can be more than handy.”

Aqeel said he would reach Islamabad on March 17 and start training hard there. “Whether grass courts are ready or not, it doesn’t matter, as I know once the PTF has informed the International Tennis Federation (ITF) about playing the tie on grass courts, it should stick with it. We can’t change the surface now and I hope the PTF will also defend this decision successfully.

“I hope the grass courts will be ready soon, well before start of the tie. Playing against Hong Kong at hard courts could damage our cause, but thanks to PTF, which decided to play on grass courts, which help us win the important tie. I strongly recommend the PTF to bring Shahazad to give Pakistan edge in the tie,” Aqeel concluded.

PTF secretary M Khalid Rehmani confirmed that the tie would take place on newly-laid grass courts adjacent to Roshan Khan Squash Complex. “The work is going on very fast while grass courts expert Inam Ullah will reach Islamabad today (Monday) to witness the courts. I am quite sure the courts will be handed over to us within March 26 to 30 to hold the event successfully. Actually we need courts by April 3, two days earlier before the Davis Cup tie starts.”

When asked about Abid Akbar’s replacement and whether the federation was thinking on the lines of advice by Aisam and Aqeel or it had other ideas in this regard, Rehmani said both Aisam and Aqeel had requested to include Shahzad as fourth player. “I have conveyed their request to PTF president Salim Saifullah Khan, and the decision in this regard will be made in two or three days. M Khalid will be non-playing captain of the team, replacing Rashid Malik, who has other commitments,” Rehmani concluded.