Davis Cup: Indian tennis team to visit Pakistan after 55 years

Despite political tensions, Indian squad will travel to Islamabad for Davis Cup tie in September, officials confirm.

    India will tour Pakistan for a Davis Cup tennis competition for the first time in 55 years despite strained relations between the two nuclear-armed countries.

    A six-player Indian squad, along with the support staff, captain, and other officials will travel to the capital, Islamabad in September for the two-day Asia/Oceania zone Group I fixture, tennis federations from both countries confirmed.

    The fixture was thrown in doubt earlier this year following a spike in tensions between the two neighbours in the aftermath of the February 14 suicide attack in Indian-administered Kashmir that killed at least 40 Indian troops.

    The Pulwama bombing, claimed by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), triggered air attacks and forced the closure of Pakistan’s airspace, which was only fully restored earlier this month. 

    “It is not a bilateral series, it’s a world cup of tennis. So, we have to go,” All India Tennis Association (AITA) Secretary-General Hironmoy Chatterjee, told ANI news agency on Sunday, adding that a government clearance was not required.

    Salim Saifullah, president of the Pakistan Tennis Federation (PTF), told Al Jazeera he had received India’s list of delegation, which includes AITA President Anil Khanna, among others, and officials were in the process of issuing visas.

    “We are making all efforts to make it a pleasant, safe and secure tie,” said Saifullah.

    Last week, a two-member International Tennis Federation (ITF) team visited the Pakistan Sports Complex as part of a mandatory risk security assessment before all Davis Cup ties. 

    “They stayed at the hotel, they saw the venue, met the sports ministry officials and were quite happy,” said Saifullah. 

    Renewing rivalry

    India has never lost to Pakistan in six previous Davis Cup meetings. 

    Pakistan last hosted India’s Davis Cup team in Lahore in March 1964, when they lost 4-0. The two sides last met in the international team event in 2006 in Mumbai where India edged Pakistan 3-2.

    Pakistan had not hosted a Davis Cup in the country for 12 years due to security concerns after the 2009 attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team bus in Lahore.

    They were finally given the green light by the ITF in 2017 and have hosted four Davis Cup ties since.

    Pakistan and India’s sporting ties have also been heavily curtailed since the 2008 attack on the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai.

    Despite the political tensions, players from both sides said they were looking forward to renewing their sporting rivalry. 

    “This is going to be the biggest tie of my career,” Pakistan’s number two Aqeel Khan told Al Jazeera.

    “I’ve been playing Davis Cup for 20 years, but it’s going to be a huge tie for the country, Pakistan tennis and for the upcoming players.”

    Khan hoped that the home crowd will give Pakistan the edge against their higher-ranked opponents.

    Indian doubles player Rohan Bopanna, who reached the 2010 US Open men’s doubles’ final partnering Pakistan’s Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi, dismissed security concerns over playing in Pakistan. 

    “I am looking forward to the Davis Cup tie in Pakistan. I have spoken to Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi. He is a very good friend of mine and he said it will be fine. I have been there a few times,” Bopanna told the Press Trust of India earlier this month. 

    “I always found great hospitality from Pakistan. So I have no concerns about it.”

    Follow Saba Aziz on Twitter: @saba_aziz

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