For those who don’t know Pakistan’s Aisam ul Haq Qureishi reached the final of the men’s double and mixed doubles at the US Open tennis. This post contains my reflections on his achievements and compares his story to that of Mohammad Amir, the Pakistani cricketer currently suspended for his role in the alleged ‘spot-fixing’ scandal.
Pakistani cricketers are often seen as players blessed with talents from the Gods. Like footballers in this country, when they are successful they are put on pedestals, and when as recently they perform poorly and disgrace themselves, they are vilified.
One of the players implicated in the spot fixing scandal is the young fast bowler Mohammad Amir. His story is remarkable and one which resonates throughout the world. As a boy he was once delayed to getting to practice because of a Taliban blockade. Despite his humble background and the many obstacles in his path, he became the most exciting talent in the game. Then, as if part of a Shakesparean tragedy, it appears he succumbed to the temptation of money, leading to his downfall.
Aisam ul Haq Qureishi’s story is not Mohammad Amir’s story. His mother was Pakistan’s number 1 tennis player, his grandfather was a top tennis player and his father is a successful businessman. His world is not Mohammad Amir’s world. Playing tennis growing up he would have been served by the ball boys seen at the elite private clubs throughout Pakistan.
However none of this is to take away from what he has achieved because in the context of international tennis, Aisam’s has been a true underdog story. As Ahsan at the Five Rupees blog pointed out, Pakistan has virtually no history of producing tennis players. To get to where he has, Aisam has had to show remarkable dedication and perseverance.
Aisam was a good junior, but did not make it big straight away. Part of this was probably because he continued to try to make it as a singles player for too long. Aisam is a wonderfully old school tennis player. His smooth single handed backhand and deft volleys reflect his upbringing on the grass courts of Lahore.
Unfortunately for the majority of his career, he has been a journeyman, a relic of an older time and different style of play. Its not surprising that Stefan Edberg was his idol. He occasionally showed glimpses as a grass court singles player, before injury or moving to a different surface held him back. Doubles is where his true ability has always been. The serve and volley game is an anachronism in modern singles, but in doubles control of the net area is still crucial.
For many years he played both singles and doubles without truly excelling in either. Finally this year he concentrated on doubles, and his own game as well his partnership with India’s Rohan Bopanna have developed, to allow him to make it big. Given the scandals with the Pakistani cricket team and the country’s overall summer from hell, its been extremely refreshing.
Aisam’s success is to be celebrated but its important not to go overboard with its implications for Pakistan tennis. Due to the cost of playing, it is a minority sport, played by a fraction of the population. Its extremely unlikely that this leads to a next generation of Pakistani tennis players making it big. The next Mohammad Amir is not becoming a tennis player.
What Aisam’s story is though, is an example that if you dedicate yourself wholeheartedly, you can take advantage of the opportunities provided to you. For example, I’m not sure Aisam was making enough money at the early stages of his career to be able to support himself financially. Had he been born in different circumstances, he may have had to stop his pursuits.
But he was given the opportunities and he has made the most of them. This is also a a reminder of why we should be wary of simply celebrating talent. Pakistani cricketers like Mohammad Amir have also had to work extremely hard to get to where they have. However cricket is one of the only areas of Pakistani society where someone without many opportunities can make a name for themselves, by working hard and a bit of luck. For the rest, its the obligation of the government and civil society to create the conditions in which people can thrive.
Finally Aisam’s is a story of admirable pluralism. He played doubles with an Israeli at Wimbledon and the world didn’t fall apart (despite the misguided efforts of the Pakistan Tennis Federation to suspend him). He plays mixed doubles with a woman from the Czech Republic and the world doesn’t go crazy. Finally, he achieves his biggest success playing alongside a Hindu Indian, about whom he isn’t afraid to say that he is his best friend on the tour, and people are not criticising him, but celebrating his achievements!
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Filed in: Current affairs,Pakistan,Sports