Pakistan made history at the International Tennis Federation (ITF) Wheelchair World Team Cup Qualifiers as they not only made their international debut, but also defeated India 2-1 in the first tie of their Group in Antalya, Turkey.
This is also the first time in the country’s history that the wheelchair tennis athletes are competing in an international event.
They are in men’s Asia Group A with India and Malaysia.
Pakistan is fielding Muhammad Irfan, Fida Hussain and Asif Abbasi with Muhammad Khalid Rehmani being the captain.
“This has been one of our goals and it has been very impactful for Pakistan to perform so well here,” vice president of Pakistan Tennis Federation (PTF) Khalid Rehmani told The Express Tribune, who specialises in wheelchair and beach tennis.
“We defeated the Indian team that had very experienced players, who have been into wheelchair tennis for more than a decade. Meanwhile, our players have been playing wheelchair tennis for past few years only.”
In the first singles rubber of the tie against India, Hussain lost to Durai Mariappan 6-0, 6-0 but in the second singles match Abbasi outplayed Sathasivam Kannupayan 6-0, 6-0, to level the tie 1-1 and pushing it to be decided on the doubles rubber.
Hussain and Abbasi defeated Indian doubles players 4-6, 7-5, 10-3 to seal the 2-1 win in the tie.
The qualification event is featuring teams from Africa, Americas, Asia and Europe, as they will want to book one of the four spots in men’s event as the World Team Cup, which will take place from May 2 in Portugal.
Road to Antalya
Rehmani added that the representatives from other countries were also surprised to see Pakistan play well, as the sport only began properly in Pakistan recently.
“We thought of getting four wheelchairs from China and then we started to ask the interested players to come for trials and the response was overwhelming. Hundreds of players showed up, but the key was to pick the ones who have upper body strength. From there we chose 24-25 players and held regular camps stretching 3-4 months each year to train them, and this is the result,” said Rehmani.
Rehmani added that most of the players who came to the trials were affected by polio.
Rehmani added that the goal was to make sure that the players get international exposure that can also inspire other players as well.
One of the challenges with wheelchair tennis in Pakistan is the lack of chairs, but in the last three years the Sindh Tennis Association roped in a local manufacturer who made 15 chairs for the tennis players.
Now the target is the Asian Games, while also finding a way to facilitate specialised coaches for the wheelchair tennis players all across the country.