ISLAMABAD: Ace player Asiam-ul-Haq and seasoned campaigner Aqeel Khan won their nerve-wracking singles matches on Friday to give Pakistan a solid 2-0 lead against South Korea in the Asia-Oceania Zone Group-I Davis Cup tie here at the Pakistan Sports Complex grass court.
In a nail-biting contest lasting one hour and 45 minutes on the opening day of the tie, Aisam after saving two match points on tiebreak defeated Korea’s top player Soon Woo Kwon 6-3, 1-6, 7-6(6). The Pakistani during the match struck as many as 20 aces against six coming from his opponent.
Aisam, 37, through nine powerful aces outclassed his rival to take the opening set 6-3. However, the 20-year-old Kwon made a resounding comeback to bag the second set, stunning Aisam and local tennis fans with his speed and accuracy.
Kwon held his serve in the first game and then in the second game Aisam held it. From this point however, the Korean did not look behind winning the set in style.
During the set, he kept aging Aisam engaged in long rallies due to his speed as he earned points while employing powerful forehand, backhand and slice shots.
The third and decisive set witnessed a very close battle as both Kwon and Aisam demonstrated quality tennis giving each other tough time. Aisam was leading 2-1 when the Korean held his serve making it two all. The scores were tied 4-4 and then 5-5, which simply showed how close the competition was.
In the 11th game, Aisam held his serve but in the very next game Kwon held his serve to make it 6-6 as the set extended to tiebreak.
In tiebreak, Kwon claimed early points and was only one point away from victory, having six points against Aisam’s four. But in a magnificent final push, Aisam saved two match points to win the set and with it the match.
“[Though] I won, it was not an easy match,” Aisam said after his victory.
Aisam, who was over the moon added that his main focus was now on the doubles match to be played on Saturday.
In the day’s second match, the 38-year-old Aqeel — using all his experience — subdued Hong Seong-chan 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 in a match that continued for two hours and 43 minutes.
After conceding the first set, Aqeel made an impressive comeback playing excellent game from the baseline. In the second set, the seasoned Pakistani campaigner showed great fighting spirit as Hong led 3-2.
After the scoreline showed 4-4, Aqeel through excellent drop and slice shots earned lead at crucial moments — making it 5-4 and 6-4.
Though Hong secured another point to put brakes on Aqeel’s advance for a while but the seasoned Pakistani soon seized the much-awaited point to win the set 7-5.
The battle continued in the final set as both players were not ready to concede a single point. They held their serves until it was 5-5 when Aqeel held his serve to make it 6-5 and in the next game, he broke the serve of Hong to clinch the set 7-5 and come out victorious.
“I wasn’t confident that I would win but the support from the crowd, Aisam and Hameed bhai boosted my morale and I managed to secure this crucial match,” Aqeel said.
Now, the doubles match and two reverse singles will be played on Saturday.
“We are focusing on the doubles. I am very happy over the performance given by both our players today,” said non-playing captain Hameed-ul-Haq.
While lauding both Aisam and Aqeel for winning their matches, Hameed said after getting a 2-0 lead the chances of a Pakistan victory were bright.
“In Davis Cup, you can’t say anything with certainty in advance. This tie is very much open as three matches are [still] to be played. And I am optimistic that my boys will produce good results,” Hameed said.
Published in Dawn, February 3rd, 2018