The Davis Cup was started by Dwight Davis in 1900. A Harvard student, Davis had envisioned the Cup to be an annual team competition between the USA and Great Britain. Over a century later, interrupted by the two world wars, the Davis Cup has grown out of all proportions with about 150 countries participating in different groups based on results from the previous years.

Pakistan is currently languishing in Group 2. Their peak was reached in 1984 when they played Japan for the Group 1 Finals with the winners playing the USA in the World Group. The Pakistan team’s composure was destroyed by the extreme insensitivity of a Sports Board official who reprimanded them from wearing track suits donated by the Sports Board itself, ten minutes before the players were due on court! Pakistan reached the finals again a few years ago but were outplayed by Chile. Again, PTF mismanagement was a major cause.

With other countries refusing to come to Pakistan, our first round tie against Kuwait was moved to Sri Lanka. The idea was, presumably, that the heat and the clay courts would enervate the Kuwaiti team more than our boys. At the end of the first day, the teams were tied at one match all, with Aisam winning in straight sets against Al Obaidly, an inexperienced Kuwaiti, whereas Kuwaiti number one Mohammad al Ghareeb trounced Aqeel Khan in straight sets losing just six games. Aqeel has performed great deeds for Pakistan in the past eighteen years but age and a possible career ending shoulder injury has taken its toll.

The doubles was all important and was duly won by Aisam and Aqeel against Ghareeb and Mousa but not before losing the second set. Pakistan nerves were jangling at the end of the second sets as a possible upset loomed. But Aisam and Aqeel regrouped to romp through the third and fourth sets to give Pakistan the vital 2-1 lead at the end of the second day.

The first match on the third day was to be between the two number ones Aisam and Ghareeb with the number 2 players to follow for the fifth rubber. Unfortunately Aisam was unable to play the crucial match and newcomer Abid Akbar was thrown in at the deep end against one of the most experienced Davis Cup players in the region. Abid had shown considerable promise as a teenager when he was ranked number three in Pakistan, but victimization by Dilawar Abbas meant that he had to move out of the country to the USA where he excelled in NCAA tennis. Abid was brought back by the new Saleem Saifullah led set up.

The match was a classic with Abid taking the first set in a tie break only to lose the second. He then trounced Ghareeb in the third set losing only one game in the process. Abid had five break point chances in the fourth set for a decisive lead but failed to convert. Ghareeb then stepped up his game and won the fourth and fifth sets to tie the score at two matches all. Aqeel Khan then used all his experience to dominate Sayed Hashem in the decider, losing only five games in the process.

This was an adequate performance from Pakistan against what was essentially a one man team. Mohammad Ghareeb has anchored Kuwait’s Davis Cup teams over the past dozen years and he proved that he is still a force to contend with. In the past he has played close matches with Roger Federer(7-6,6-4) and top tenner Giles Simon (one set all) and he showed his class in the two singles matches he played. But there was little or no support for him from his team mates.

Pakistan will look back at the match with mixed feelings. Our two players who have served the country for eighteen years, are fading, with Aisam stating that he could only play doubles and Aqeel hobbled by a shoulder muscle tear. We need to start a reconstruction process. There are a few youngsters capable of taking up the responsibility. Samir Iftekhar and Abid Akbar, along with Ahmed Choudhry Mohammad Abid should form the core with Aisam and Aqeel gradually fading away in the next couple of seasons.