ISLAMABAD: Seasoned campaigners Aisam-ul-Haq and Aqeel Khan showed their class and experience again on Monday as Pakistan blanked Slovenia 3-0 in the World Group I playoff here at the Pakistan Sports Complex.
After winning their respective singles matches, both Aisam and Aqeel showed impressive performance against their Slovenian opponents in the doubles.
The tie, which was originally scheduled to be held on Friday-Saturday, was delayed for two days because of inclement weather in the federal capital.
Though Monday was the last alternate day to decide the fate of the tie but Pakistan’s aging duo made full use of home conditions and their vast experience on grass-court to stun the Slovenian players to register a fantastic 3-0 triumph. The result made the remaining two reverse singles dead rubbers.
In the doubles, the veteran Pakistan pair exhibited brilliant performance against Slovenia’s Blaz Kavcic and Tom Kocevar Desman.
Pakistan now face Ukraine which defeated Chinese Taipei 3-2 in their World Group I playoff on indoor hard courts in Zaporizhzhia last week.
The 39-year-old Aisam, the former US Open doubles finalist, looked in fine touch as he won several crucial points while his longtime partner Aqeel equally played well as they battled past the visitors in straight but nail-biting sets of the match that lasted for one hour and 26 minutes.
After the hosts comfortably won the opening set 6-3, the contest saw a huge drama in the second set.
Both the teams held their serves as the scoreline read 4-4, 5-5 and then 6-6. Then in tiebreak, Pakistan got five early points but the Slovenians hit back earning four back-to-back points. Then it was 6-5, 6-6 and 6-7.
At this crucial moment, Aisam played a powerful stroke, which could not be returned by the opponent players as Pakistan bagged the match 6-3, 7-6(6) and with it the tie.
Earlier, the 40-year-old Aqeel stunned top-ranked Slovenian Blaz Kavcic who is world No.285 in the singles.
Kavcic, with his brilliant serves and speed crushed Aqeel 6-0 in the first set. However, Aqeel, the long-serving national champion, made a resounding comeback in the second set. In a neck-and-neck fight, the score was 4-4, 5-5 and then 6-6 before the match went into the tiebreak.
In the tiebreak too, it was 6-6 but Aqeel — backed by charge-up home fans — earned the final point to win the set and took the match into the final set.
The Pakistan veteran was in full control in the final set which he won 6-4. Aqeel adorned his victory with 18 aces.
Aisam, whose match against left-handed Nik Rozborsek had been stopped by referee on Sunday evening due to moisture on the court, started off nicely when the match resumed on Monday. Aisam on Sunday had lost the first set 6-4 and it was 4-4 in the second set before the play was stopped.
On Monday, Pakistan’s ace player looked in much better form as he took the second set 7-5.
He maintained the good work and took the final set 7-6(1) in tiebreak. Aisam delivered as many as 21 aces during this match.
Speaking at the post-match press conference, Slovenia’s non-playing captain Miha Malakar said Pakistan played brilliantly. However, Malakar said that due to the inclement weather, his players could not get sufficient practice on grass-court.
Meanwhile, speaking at the press conference, Aisam while appreciating Aqeel’s extraordinary services for the country over the years urged the government to provide financial support to the champion player.
“Aqeel’s services for the country are matchless. Today, again he exhibited brilliant performance to enable Pakistan to outclass Slovenian — the first European team touring Pakistan. This player deserves due recognition, there should be a financial package for him,” Aisam emphasised.
Aisam underlined that the Pakistan Cricket Board this year took an initiative of honouring country’s prominent sportspersons under ‘Hamaray Heroes’ campaign, during the course of the ongoing Pakistan Super League.
Aisam, however, regretted that Aqeel was not contacted by the PCB in this regard.
“I don’t know, which criteria the PCB is following for selecting the players [for ‘Hamaray Heroes’ campaign]. The services rendered by Aqeel, who has represented Pakistan in Davis Cup in a record number of matches, are simply matchless. All those, including tennis players cannot match his services. He has helped Pakistan win several international events,” Aisam highlighted while appreciating the PCB initiative.
“Their [PCB’s] initiative is very good for encouraging sportspersons. However, I guess, Aqeel should have been on the top [in this campaign],” he said.
Published in Dawn, March 10th, 2020