ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Friday welcomed the return of international tennis after a 12-year hiatus, taking a 2-0 lead against Iran in a group II Davis Cup match in Islamabad.
International sporting events have been rarely held in the country which has fought a homegrown Islamist insurgency for years, with foreign teams citing security fears ever since the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
A 2009 militant attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team bus in Lahore effectively sealed Pakistan’s fate. Pakistan has played at neutral venues ever since, hosting its “home” cricket matches in the United Arab Emirates, and tennis in opponents’ countries.
But security has improved in the last two years, signalling hopes for the slow revival of international sport on Pakistani soil.
Hopes were high at the Davis Cup match in the capital Friday, where Pakistan won both singles matches in straight sets.
Aqeel Khan beat Iran’s Shahin Khaledan 7-6 (7-1), 6-4, 6-2; while Aisam Qureshi downed Anoosha Shahgholi 6-1, 6-2, 6-2.
Khan said he was “extremely happy” to see international tennis return to Pakistan.
“We have to play well as the home crowds have a lot of expectations from us,” he admitted.
“This is a huge achievement,” Salim Saifullah Khan, president of the Pakistan Tennis Federation told AFP, saying that having the home advantage for the first time in years would prompt a “huge leap” in Pakistani tennis.
Pakistan last hosted a Davis Cup tie in Islamabad against New Zealand in 2004, and were forced to play its Group I play-off tie in Christchurch, New Zealand which they lost 5-0 in September last year.