Tennis: Davis Cup returns to Pakistan

The Davis Cup teams of Pakistan (left) and Iran standing for their countries' national anthems, in Islamabad on Feb 3, 2017.
The Davis Cup teams of Pakistan (left) and Iran standing for their countries' national anthems, in Islamabad on Feb 3, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

Islamabad (AFP) - 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 rarely been held in Pakistan, which has fought a homegrown Islamist insurgency for years and due to foreign teams citing security fears.

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 games 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 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 represent 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.