Muhammad Shafique Raja

ISLAMABAD, Jun 14 (APP):Young tennis sensation Huzaifa Abdul Rehman is determined to step into the slot of next superstar of the tennis in Pakistan by taking over the reins 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 the United States (US) 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 spread. But 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.

He said, “I’ve been here even before the eruption of this pandemic. Instead of rushing back to my country I preferred 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 the twilight of their careers, Huzaifa seemed determined to assume the charge.

“I grew up watching them. I respect them a lot. They’re great players. But one day every great player has to call it a day.

“I’d heard Aqeel stating in a TV programme some time back that he and Aisam won’t be able to feature in Davis Cup after two years or so. I also believe that it is the turn of some youngsters now. I along with other young guns will be there to occupy their slots,” he added.

The former Asian No. 2 in under 14 category, 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. He 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.

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.

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 as 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 (International Tennis Federation) 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 scarcity of funds.