For the first time in 60 years, an Indian tennis team has travelled to Pakistan to play a Davis Cup tie. The 10-member contingent, including the five players, support staff and coaches, landed in Islamabad for the World Group 1 playoff tie, to be held between February 3-4, on Sunday to a warm reception despite the All India Tennis Association’s (AITA) attempts to have the tie moved to a neutral venue.
“I can say we are all well looked after,” Anil Dhupar, secretary general of AITA, told The Indian Express over the phone from Islamabad. “Having been here 24 hours, I can say all is well. From the reception at the airport from the Pakistan Tennis Federation (PTF) to the three-hour-long practice the players had today, the hospitality has been great.”
The Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) and PTF have ensured to follow the security arrangements approved by the ITF and have granted the team the security cover usually reserved for heads of state.
“Since an Indian team has come to Pakistan after 60 years, we are taking extra precaution. There are four to five layers of security around the Indian team. I, as event security manager, am with them during travel,” Col Gul Rehman, secretary general of the PTF, told PTI.
Sporting ties continue to remain frosty between India and Pakistan. In recent times, however, a Pakistan team traveled to India for the cricket World Cup, and an Indian bridge team had travelled to Lahore for the Bridge Federation of Asia and Middle-East Championships (BFAME) where they won four gold medals, ensuring qualification for the World Championships.
Unlike in 2019, when India were slated to play in Pakistan but geopolitical tensions between the countries meant the tie was shifted to a neutral venue in Nur Sultan, Kazakhstan, this time around, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) rejected AITA’s appeals for the same. The national federation first saw its appeal rejected by the Davis Cup Committee, and then by an independent ITF tribunal. Once no more options were left at their disposal, AITA approached the Sports Ministry seeking permission for the team to go to Pakistan, which was approved without much resistance.
If India were to forego the tie, they would be immediately relegated back to World Group 2 and could potentially suffer sanctions from the ITF. Forfeiting the tie had never been a consideration, the authorities say. “There was no question,” Dhupar says. “We did what we could to get a neutral venue, but since we could not, we are here. All that is behind us now. What matters is the boys are charged up for this one now.”
With India’s top-ranked singles players Sumit Nagal – fresh off a run to the second round of the Australian Open – and Sasikumar Mukund pulling out of the tie last month itself, the World No. 463 Ramkumar Ramanathan will spearhead an Indian contingent full of doubles specialists. Nagal had won both of his singles rubbers and spearheaded India’s home win over Morocco in the World Group 2 tie in Lucknow in September alongside Rohan Bopanna, who has now retired from Davis Cup duty.
Yuki Bhambri, who is now a full-time doubles player, may be roped in to play a singles rubber if needed. Saketh Myneni, N Sriram Balaji, and Niki Poonacha are the other players in the squad.
Pakistan’s contingent will be led by their veterans. 43-year-old Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi, ranked World No. 127 in doubles and having reached a US Open final alongside Bopanna back in 2010, is their highest-profile player. 43-year-old Aqeel Khan, still playing nationally even though he is no longer on the singles or doubles world rankings, will be alongside him. 23-year-old Muzammil Murtaza, ranked 1679, will also be part of the team.