HNH Spotlight with Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi – The Tennis Ace Proudly Representing Pakistan on the World Stage For Two Decades
Team HNH Style sits down for a candid interview with Pakistan’s No. 1 Tennis player (Interviewer: Maliha Hasan Author: Faisal Rahat)
Tennis is an extremely demanding sport, both physically and mentally, and only the most perseverant athletes shine on the tennis courts. We have been spoiled by three of the greatest tennis players of all time, pushing each other to their absolute limits and sharing the stage by winning one Grand Slam after another. From the elegance and magical touch of Swiss ace Roger Federer, the grunt work and relentless attitude to chase the ball by Spaniard Rafael Nadal, the resilience of Serbian Novak Djokovic, and the new generation trying to topple the Big 3, Men’s Tennis is at an important juncture of the Open Era.
Almost every country is proudly represented by at least one talented Tennis athlete, and for Pakistan, proudly bearing the weight on his shoulders for over 15 years, is none other than the extremely fit and talented, Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi. Aisam has been Pakistan’s top-ranked Tennis player for as long as we can remember and is the only Pakistani tennis player to reach the final of a Grand Slam. His preferred competition is the doubles and he has mastered it.
We sat down with Aisam for a candid interview and asked him a few questions about his life and his passion for tennis. We began by asking him about the beginning of his Tennis journey and how old he was when he first decided to pursue a career in the professional sport, to which the 40-year-old replied that he was probably 17 or 18 years of age.
“Even though I started playing Tennis at the age of 13, I never thought it would turn out to be a professional career for me. It started as a hobby, and all my family members are either doctors, engineers, or entrepreneurs, and we never had a professional athlete in our family. Growing up, my grandfather, Khuwaja Iftikhar Ahmed was already No. 1 before partition, my mother Nosheen Ehtesham was Pakistan’s No. 1 for ten years, and my uncle represented Pakistan in the Davis Cup, so I had very big shoes to fill.”
“My mother took me to the tennis courts. I still remember my first day with a wooden racquet. I hit with her for 45 minutes and all the coaches in that club were pretty amazed. So that’s how my journey started. I remember my first match – I lost 6-0, 6-0 and that’s the most I’ve ever cried in my life! My only motivation was to defeat the guy the next time I play him and a year later, I did that.”
Aisam added that at that time, he felt like Tennis could give him a platform where he can make his parents proud of him.
“When I became World No. 6, Under-18 Asia No. 1 in 1998 that was the time when I felt like Tennis was meant for me. I’ve been able to achieve so much since then. My parents were there to back me up and now I’m sitting here in front of you, after 22 years!”
Asked about his most memorable moment on the court, Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi answered that growing up, it was his dream to play Wimbledon and what he will never forget is the first time he practiced with the great Stefan Edberg. Apart from that, playing the greatest of all time, Roger Federer is also Aisam’s biggest moment in tennis. And of course, the finals of the US Open.
Talking about Stefan Edberg, Aisam said:
“He has been my idol. Ever since I was a young player, I used to idolize him and his game and I started playing serve and volley just to copy him. When I was 20 years old, I was based in London, and he used to live in London as well, after retiring from Tennis. We ended up at a club and arranged a practice together. I went to that club in a T-shirt and the rules clearly stated that you have to wear a collared shirt so Stefan Edberg gave me his shirt to practice and to this day, I have that shirt in my closet!”
We proceeded to ask Aisam if he has any regrets or looking back at his career, would he have done anything differently, to which the Pakistani tennis maestro replied that if he could change one thing personally, it would be to be with his family when his grandparents passed away. He said:
“When I was growing up, my family and I had to learn everything ourselves. There was nobody on the tour to guide me. So everything for me was a learning curve. I made a lot of mistakes – hiring different coaches or maybe I didn’t train the way I should have. The knowledge I have gained in the past 20 years, I would definitely go back in time and give it to my younger self.”
Aisam added that it is in his plans to guide the youngsters in a proper way about sports psychology, training, and diet, as he becomes older.
“I think life is all about giving. I feel very blessed and I’m doing something that I really love. At the same time, it is my obligation as a human being and as a Pakistani, to give back all the lessons that I’ve learned, to the youth of Pakistan. Insha’Allah when I come back home in November, I plan to start a talent hunt program, the first of its kind in Pakistan. And select 16 kids from 4 different cities and I’m going to get them a scholarship for a year where they will get free training, tennis coaching, and diet plan. At the end of the year, the top 2 who qualify, will be sent abroad for a month to play international matches.”
Upon being complimented for promoting mental wellness, Aisam replied:
“Mental health is the most important thing, in any field. No matter which part of life you are from, if you are not mentally stable and happy, to face the battles of life, it all comes down to mentality. I think it all starts with a mental attitude. That’s why I feel it’s very important to have goals and dreams.”
We asked Aisam about his fitness regime and whether he has any tips for the rest of us, to which Aisam said:
“Nowadays, during this COVID era, I think the most important thing in life is to be patient. There are no shortcuts in life and there are no shortcuts to success. One has to be ready to make a lot of sacrifices and I think you need to wholeheartedly believe in your capabilities and trust the process.”
“If Pakistan cricket team can win the world cup; if Jahangir Khan can be a world champion in squash for 10 years; if we can be gold medalists in hockey during the Olympics; if I, being a Pakistani, can beat Roger Federer or can reach the finals of a Grand Slam, or be top 10, then obviously one can achieve anything in life, and it’s all about hard work, perseverance, and sacrifices.”
Upon being asked whether he enjoys the fame or whether this is the dark side of being successful, Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi answered that he feels proud and happy for being recognized for what he does and that there’s some kind of personal satisfaction to it.
“I think fame has helped me to become a better person because there is always something at the back of my head that I don’t want to jeopardize the respect associated with my name or with my family. I think Pakistanis give you a lot of respect and personal space even when you are famous.”
Team HNH Style ended the spotlight interview by asking Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi for a video message for youngsters about how to handle the struggles, successes, and disappointments in this line of work to which he sent a very realistic and relatable message.