The man who took the Pakistani flag to Arthur Ashe Stadium (US Open 2010
Although Pakistan’s players have made headlines internationally many a times, none did in the field of lawn tennis till very recently when a young man from Lahore made headlines across the world when he played the mixed doubles and men’s double finals of US Open 2010.
Aisam ul Haq rose to prominence in 1998 when he played his first Davis Cup match and won. He also won the doubles beating the Thai duo in the Asia/Oceania Zone Group II final and advanced to Group I. This was the year when he decided to become a professional. In October 1999, he won his first futures singles in Indonesia on hard court. By the year end he was ranked 355th in doubles and 365th in singles in international tennis ranking. It was from here that he was to take the Pakistan flag to the coveted US Open doubles final some 11 years later and rank in the first 20s.
From 1999 onwards, he started maturing his game, mainly focusing on the doubles and bettering his international ranking. 2007 was a lucky year both for Aisam and Pakistan when he moved up to the second round of the Wimbledon. He was the second Pakistani to earn this honour, Haroon Rahim being the first who did it some 31 years ago in 1976. Aisam ended the year ranked 125th in singles and 90th in doubles.
2009 was a meaningful year for Aisam. Aisam played in Pakistan’s win over Oman in the Davis Cup which they won 4-1. Aisam won his 1st rubber and he won the Doubles match with Aqeel Khan, but did not play in the dead rubbers. Aisam ventured his Wimbledon quest but again lost in the second round paired with Prakash Amritraj of India. In November 2009, Aisam paired with James Cerretani defeated Roger Federer and Marco Chiudinelli in straight sets at the Basel Open doubles 6-4, 6-3. Obviously this was his careerâ€™s best achievement and set the pace for his future successes. Aisam, being called Qureshi (his family name), was from now on in the limelight and making headlines. He teamed up with Bopanna from India for both Challengers in Aachen & Helsinki and they won both Titles. The good year had earned him a 59th place in the doubleâ€™s ranking.
2010 was the luckiest year for Aisam and his partner Rohan Bopanna. He won his first ATP title ever in the SA Tennis Open in Johannesburg, paired with Bopanna. They defeated Karol Beck and Harel Levy 2-6, 6-3 (10-5) in the final match. He also reached his first ever Grand Slam quarter finals in 2010 Wimbledon Championship.
He rose to prominence and fame when he sailed through the quarters, the semis and reached the final of US Open mixed doubles and menâ€™s double finals. In the mixed double final, paired with Kveta Peschke of Czech Republic, he lost the mixed double final to Bryan and his partner Liesel Huber. In the menâ€™s double, the 16th seeded Qureshi and Bopanna showed resilience and superb team spirit to subdue every pair en route to their final clash with the consecutive eight time winner Brayan brothers. The duo gave the Bryans quite a run for the title but eventually lost to them 7-6, 7-6.
But losing the two finals were of no consequence to spirited Qureshi and his partners as he had achieved which no other Pakistani could ever. 2010 was a year of success and achievement and has made him more confident to eye the Wimbledon and US double titles in 2011.
Beside playing the game, Aisam surprised everyone in the arena, with Pakistani flag fluttering in the background, the first time ever in US Open history, with his emotion packed speech to project Pakistanâ€™s quest for peace. Aisam told the jam packed crowd at the Arthur Ashe stadium, â€œI feel there is a very wrong perception of Pakistan as a terrorist country. We are a very peace-loving country and we want peace as much as you. Since September 11, every time I come to the States or Western countries, I feel people have the wrong impression about Pakistan as a terrorist nation. There are extremists I think in every religion but, just because of them, you can’t judge the whole country as a terrorist nation. I just want to get this message across as a Pakistani.
The Stop War, Start Tennis message by both Aisam and Bopanna means a lot improve relations between their two countries, Pakistan and India. Their efforts have been rightly acclaimed when Aisam and Bopanna were awarded the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian of the Year for 2010 â€“ an award Aisam had previously won in 2002 with Amir Hadad of Israel for playing together despite pressure from their communities. Aisam is now a member of the “Champions for Peace” club, a group of 40 athletes committed to serving peace in the world through sport, created by Monaco-based international organization. Paired with Pakistani singer Hadiqa Kianai, Aisam has also been nominated as UN Goodwill Ambassador.