A controversy and a triumph


Controversy dogged the Pakistan Davis Cup team on its campaign against Lebanon recently. According to news reports and insider information, the ITF has written a harsh letter to the Pakistan Tennis Federation regarding certain actions of the Pakistan Davis Captain following the conclusion of the tie.
The tie had been extended to Monday because of bad weather and the Pakistani management had refused to pay the hotel bill for the extra day. This apparently led to an altercation between the Lebanese management and Rasheed Malik, the Pakistan non-playing captain. The Lebanese complained to the ITF which saw enough substance in the charge to issue the letter.
All this is embarrassing, to say the least. Tennis is an elitist sport and instances such as these are rare, especially in this day and age of instant communications.
The PTF president Kaleem Imam has been posted overseas, something unavoidable, but he has been active in tennis affairs, coming home every few weeks. What is harder to explain is the behaviour of the PTF management in Lebanon and at PTF’s home office in Islamabad. It needs to be stated that this PTF management in Lebanon has had a chequered history, yet PTF continues to persist with the same tried and tested and found wanting faces. There was a particular incident in India which was extremely serious but was covered up by Dilawar Abbas and Khalid Khokhar because they only played favorites and victimised opponents and their children. It is good to see that the PTF has taken a firm stand and replaced the non-playing captain with Mohammad Khalid a mature and non controversial man.
Bangladesh came within one swing of the bat of defeating Pakistan in the final of the Asia Cup. This performance was no flash in the pan. They had trounced New Zealand 4-0 some time back and defeated Sri Lanka and India on their way to the finals. It is quite obvious that after years of defeats and tribulations, the Bengal Tigers have reached critical mass. Now they no longer panic when within sight of victory. Their batsmen are compact, solid and reliable and they bowl and field with commitment. The only question mark about Bangladesh is their ability to win away from home, in Tests as well as ODIs. Now that they have the self belief, these performances won’t be long in coming. Welcome Bangladesh, you are, at long last, true members of the Test cricket community.
Pakistan deserve all the credit for defending an eminently gettable total. The spinners kept them in the match and it was an inspirational decision of Misbah to give the final over to Aizaz Cheema, who had earlier caught some stick. Cheema responded like a thoroughbred, saving the game for his team, when Bangladesh were a boundary away from the title. This over could have been a make or break for Cheema, what with our fickle and knee jerk selection philosophy. Had he not saved the day, he could possibly have been consigned to the scrap heap. Misbah’s brave decision was a winner in more ways than one.
Roger Federer seldom ceases to amaze us. Well past his halcyon days of 2004-8, this was yet another new and improved Federer who swept the field at the BNP Paribas Masters in Indian Wells.
On display was a counter to Rafael Nadal’s ferocious topspin forehand. In the past, Federer would stay well behind the baseline and loop the backhand back, which would then set up for Nadal’s forehand winner.
At the BNP, Federer refused to retreat from the baseline, taking the backhand early, giving Nadal no time or space to hit his patented forehand winners. The effect was startling, with Federer cruising effortlessly past his nemesis to tie him for the most Masters titles with 19.
If ever there were any doubts about Federer’s claim to the GOAT (Greatest of All Time), they were dispelled considerably. The Tennis Channel in a survey conducted with the aid of independent experts, voted Federer as the greatest player of all time. Federer edged Rod Laver for the top spot. Rounding out the top 10 were Steffi Graf in third, followed by Martina Navratilova, Pete Sampras, Rafael Nadal, Bjorn Borg, Margaret Court, Chris Evert and Billie Jean King.
Missing from the top 10 were past greats like Bill Tilden, Helen Moody, Henri Lacoste or Ellsworth Vines, Pancho Gonzalez or Lew Hoad. The ranking seems heavily weighted towards players from the modern age. This is understandable because the standard of tennis has improved out of sight from the 1930s and 40s. It needs to be emphasised that all these players from the past were champions and would have successfully adapted their game to compete against the modern players.
Aisam Qureshi and Jean Julien Roger won their first round match at the Sony Masters in Miami. They had lost early at Indian Wells and are not ranked high enough to be seeded in major events. This means that they will have to face top teams in the early rounds, something they may have trouble overcoming. This is a crossroads in Aisam’s doubles career. With his current partner, he will struggle against the top teams, playing close matches without many positive results. Should he get a better partner or rejoin with Rohan Bopanna he would be a contender for the major championships. Perhaps his best chance of winning a major might be the mixed doubles, where he is very effective against the girls, with his interceptions at the net. Aisam has had a good career and is showing little sign of slowing down.