by Muhammad Shafique Raja
ISLAMABAD, Jun 08 (APP):Pakistan’s promising Huzaifa Abdul Rehman is determined to step into the slot of next superstar of the tennis in Pakistan by taking over the keys of the game during the next decade.
“I’ve been training really hard since the time I began tennis at the age of four. Since then I never became complacent. Whether I’m in Pakistan or abroad; whether it is off season or I’m there to play in some tournament I never give up my training,” Huzaifa told APP on phone from United States of America (USA) where he is undergoing training at Florida’s Next Generation Tennis Academy.
Like other sports, the tennis season was suspended in March across the world due to the coronavirus. The hiatus is likely to continue as no immediate end to the pandemic seems in sight. However, there was no break for the 18-year-old Huzaifa, who preferred to stay in Florida where several other talented youngsters like him are undergoing rigorous training while adhering to the safety measures.
“I’ve been here even before the outbreak of this pandemic. Instead of rushing back to my country I chose to stay here. I know as a pro you need to keep going and doing hard work even during such unfavourable times,” he reckoned.
Pakistan has produced some really good players in tennis with two of
them – Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi and Aqeel Khan dominating the country’s tennis scene during the last 15 years.
But with both the icons reaching at twilight of their careers, Huzaifa seems determined to take over the reins of Pakistan tennis’ stewardships at least for
next 10 to 15 years.
“I grew up watching them. I respect them a lot. They’re great players. They’ve earned a name for the country. But one day every great player has to call it a day.
“I’ve heard Aqeel stating in a TV programme back some time that he and Aaisam won’t be able to feature in Davis Cup after two years or so. He’s rightly stated that. I believe it is the turn of some youngsters now. I along with other young guns will be there to occupy their slots.”
Huzaifa along with Shoaib, another young talented player had already got the opportunity to represent Pakistan in the Davis Cup tie against arch-rivals India in New Zealand in November, last year after Aisam and Aqeel pulled out of the event, protesting against shifting of the matches to a neutral venue.
Though, the inexperienced Pakistan outfit remained unable to win the tie, Huzaifa put up a valiant fight against the seasoned Indian player Sumit Nagal. Huzaifa went down 6-0, 6-2 in that match but not before showing his class.
“The guy [Huzaifa] I played came up with some really good shots. He played to his potential but has a long way to go,” Nagal had stated of Huzaifa, who punched above his weight in that fixture, resisting as much as possible by engaging the Indian in long rallies.
Nagal is the only Indian player, who took a set off Roger Federer in a 1st round clash of US Open in August last year. Although, Nagal lost the match, he shocked
the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd by taking the first set 6-4 before conceding next
three sets 1-6, 2-6 and 4-6 in an epic battle.
Before impressing at Davis Cup in his maiden appearance, Huzaifa had already proved his worth at the national level by winning two back-to-back ITF World Junior Ranking Tennis Championships in Islamabad last year. He also emerged victorious
in a number of other events.
Huzaifa finished Asian No. 2 in under-14 category in 2016.
In 2017, he attended a four-month training session at Potter’s Wheel Tennis Academy, Beijing under the supervision of Carlos Rodriguez, the coach of former World No. 1, Justine Henin.
In May 2018, he underwent a 10-week training at Koza WOS, Istanbul under the watchful eyes of Gavin Hooper, the coach of Monica Seles and Marian Cilic.
He was the only Pakistani among over 1300 top ranked tennis players from across the world, who participated in Junior Orange Bowl International Tennis Championships in Florida.
Travis Eckert, the director of Florida’s Next Generation Tennis Academy was also full of praise for Huzaifa, observing that the youngster was brimming with talent.
“He already came to us a great player from Pakistan. He’s been training here for the last four months. I’m really excited about his progress.”
“He’s got a great tennis body. His game skills and fitness level is also great. The future is bright for Huzaifa and Pakistan tennis,” Travis told APP on phone.
“We’re excited for the ITF tournaments to open up again. Hopefully, towards August he’s going to play ITF Men Circuit, which is one of the lower tier level pro events. That’s going to be his focus and I hope he’ll put up all his energies. Let’s see how far he can go,” Travis added.
Tennis remains very popular across the world but in Pakistan lack of facilities and proper funding are the main hurdles in players’ development. Huzaifa’s father Col (retd) Faisal believes his son is an incredible talent, who can make his way to grand slam events and earn a name for the country provided he gets proper backing.
“Obviously, like any other youngster he too has the dream to play grand slams. I hope we’ll see him exhibiting his prowess at that level also. To materialize that dream I’m doing whatever I can from my own limited resources.”
“But I feel he needs tough training regimes like the one he’s currently having at Florida to reach to that level. But you know, tennis is a very costly game and for a father like me it’s not easier to accommodate all his playing needs,” he said while pointing out towards the scarcity of funds.