September 29, 2010

Aisam-ul-Haq comes of age


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi has certainly become a household name in Pakistan with his recent exploits at the US Open in New York. He made it to the final of the mixed doubles as well as the men’s doubles that brought rare smiles on the faces of the sports enthusiasts in the country who have had to endure bitter pills from the high-profile cricketers.

Aisam’s qualification in both the events provided the people of Pakistan an opportunity to cheer about amid catastrophic flooding in which hundreds of lives were lost and millions were displaced.

Big screens were set up across the country for spectators to watch his matches while he also received a call from Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani ahead of the finals.

The 30-year-old Aisam rose to the status of a hero despite having gone down fighting in both the finals of the grand slam event. Tennis has hardly ever been the game of the masses in Pakistan but there was tremendous excitement in this part of the world when he crossed one hurdle after another in the prestigious US Open.

Now Aisam is not only acclaimed as a tennis star but he is very much a high-profile celebrity and the leading brands are queuing up to procure his endorsement to promote their products. What a turnaround for the immensely talented fellow who has worked his way to the top without any significant support or assistance from the sports bodies of the country.

His teaming up with India’s Rohan Bopanna also create waves as they try to use their tennis partnership to promote more peaceful relations between Pakistan and India. The pair wear sweatshirts emblazoned with the slogan “Stop War, Start Tennis” and there has been talk of a match being played across the India-Pakistan border.

“I’ve always said there’s no reason the Indians and Pakistanis can’t get along with each other. We always said sports can reach places where no religion or politics or politician can reach. If you can change a few people’s minds on the Indian or Pakistani side, I think it’s a great thing,” Aisam believed.

“It’s been hard times for Pakistan especially in the last two months so to be able to help send some positive news back each day has been fantastic,” he said.

“I have spent the last 14 years trying to put tennis in the spotlight in my country where cricket is like a religion there. This moment is like a highlight in my career. When I was growing up, I thought maybe someday I could win a Grand Slam or make it to one Grand Slam final. But two Grand Slam finals in a week? It’s unbelievable,” Aisam observed.

“People recognized me a bit before now. When I beat Roger Federer, that was huge news for people back home, even people who didn’t know that much about tennis,” he recalled.

Well Aisam is now not only recognized in Pakistan but admired as well in the truest sense of the word. He seems to be having the talent and the will power to bring more glories for the country.


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