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|Qureshi, left, plays with his doubles partner Rohan Bopanna of India at Flushing Meadows this week [AFP]|
For a nation devastated by floods and embarrassed over a cricket corruption scandal, Pakistanis are pinning their hopes on an unlikely sporting star to give the country something to cheer.
After a month of fasting for Ramadan, Pakistani Muslims will celebrate Eid this weekend and many will also hope that Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi can add to the festivities by becoming the first tennis player from his country to win a grand slam title.
Tennis tends to slip under the radar in cricket-and-hockey-mad Pakistan but Qureshi has already raised the sport’s profile by breaking new ground for his country after reaching the US Open mixed doubles final and semi-finals of the men’s doubles event.
“I know how important my performances are right now for my countrymen,” Qureshi told Geo Super channel from New York.
“I am eager to give them something to celebrate about after the floods and cricket scandal.
“I am really proud to become the first Pakistani to reach the knockout stage of a grand slam event but my job is still not finished as yet.”
Pakistani cricket fans have been left disheartened by the latest controversy to befall the side, a spot-fixing and betting scandal in England that has led to the suspension of Test skipper Salman Butt and fast bowlers Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif.
“I know how important my performances are right now for my countrymen. I am eager to give them something to celebrate about after the floods and cricket scandal”
Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi, Pakistani tennis player
Qureshi, who is ranked 34th in the International Tennis Federation (ITF) men’s doubles rankings, is also no stranger to controversy but has shaken off the problems to flourish as a player.
In 2002, he faced the wrath of his countrymen and national tennis federation for partnering Israel’s Amir Hadad in the doubles event at Wimbledon and the US Open.
He was also criticised when he started his current doubles partnership with India’s Rohan Bhopanna three years ago, but Qureshi remains unbowed by any negativity and has always maintained that sport was above caste, creed or politics.
“He has always been a strong character and once he makes up his mind he will not change it,” his mother Nausheen Ehtesham told the Reuters news agency, adding that her son had the ability to triumph in New York.
‘We need good news’
“We all need some good news and I am confident my son can do it,” she said.
Pakistan Davis Cup coach Rashid Malik acknowledges that Qureshi’s strong tennis background – his grandfather Khawaja Iftikhar was an all-India champion – and his parents have been a source of great support.
“I think Qureshi always had talent but also had the advantage of parents who supported and financed him,” Malik said.
“In Pakistan, tennis is not taken seriously as a career although we have talent.”
For the last three years, Qureshi has concentrated on a doubles career after attaining a highest ranking of 125th in singles but Malik believes it is still not too late for the 30-year-old to make an impact on his own.
“He just has to work on his fitness and raise its level to do well in singles,” Malik said.
Qureshi is partnering Czech Kveta Peschke in the mixed doubles at Flushing Meadows.