Dubai: Bringing honour to his country and family are the driving forces that keep Pakistan’s Aisam-Ul-Haq Quraishi going in his quest to be crowned the world number one tennis doubles player.
In a country besotted with cricket, Quraishi had long waged a battle for recognition. But it simply never came — that is until he and his Indian partner Rohan Bopanna made it to the doubles final of the US Open at Flushing Meadows in 2010.
The pair fought valiantly, but lost 7-6 7-6 to the formidable American twins, Bob and Mike Bryan.
“Ever since I started playing professional tennis, my career has been fulfilling. I always wanted to bring honour to my family and my country and be recognised as a tennis player in a cricket-loving nation. It was only after 2007, after I qualified for Wimbledon and then in 2009 when I beat Roger Federer, that people actually started noticing me,” Quraishi told Gulf News.
“But after that, the US Open final was a very, very satisfying result, even though we lost. Everybody got to watch the final and it was a proud moment for me to be the first Pakistani to get to a Grand Slam final.
“That was a huge day and that was the first time I felt that everybody recognised me and appreciated what I am doing for the country.”
The 32-year-old star from Lahore is one of a handful of professional doubles players on the demanding ATP World tour. Like many of his peers, Quraishi began his tennis career as a singles player. Although he started playing rather late, he rose to an individual high of No 125. But once he switched to doubles Quraishi found his calling in the game and made steady progress until that high at the US Open in 2010.
“That performance was a very satisfying feeling but I still have a lot of goals that I want to achieve,” he said.
“Winning a Grand Slam is definitely right there at the top of the ladder. I feel I am capable of doing it. I felt I could have done it with Rohan Bopanna and now, with Jean-Julien Rojer [new partner], it is the same feeling.”
The pair have so far made two doubles semi-finals, with the Bryan brothers again proving too big an obstacle, but Quraishi insisted: “I have this feeling in me that I am still there, knocking at the door. I have just got to keep on working harder and, Inshallah, one day I will be able to win a Slam for my country and that will be a great moment.”
For someone who is 32 and possibly past his prime as a top-level sportsman, Quraishi has a lot of confidence based on the fact he is one of the more experienced men’s doubles players alongside the likes of Leander Paes, Daniel Nestor, Mahesh Bhupathi and Max Miryni.
“I am convinced that sub-continental players tend to mature after they touch their 30s. In cricket, we’ve had Wasim Akram, Imran Khan, Waqar Younis and Sachin Tendulkar. I think all these guys have generated a lot more power in their games after passing their 30th birthday,” Quraishi said.
“I still feel very young and I still feel that there are a few more years in me and hopefully I will be able to achieve my goals. But obviously, watching Leander, Nestor, Mirnyi and Mahesh gives us more motivation as well to work harder and we know that we can have a longer career. We just need to keep enjoying it and keep working hard and taking care of the body.
“The bigger goal obviously is to get to world number one in the doubles. I am not happy being No 9, 8 or 7. It’s a long step as I am still very new in the doubles — this is only my third year. I feel like I belong to the top and hopefully I can prove that.”