Pakistan fetes Grand Slam tennis star Aisam

Fans, relatives and tennis officials gave Pakistan’s first Grand Slam finalist a hero’s homecoming on Wednesday, hailing him a peacemaker and a role model.

Government and Pakistan Tennis Federation (PTF) officials draped
Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi with garlands as fans chanted “long live Aisam” and “our new hero.”

Qureshi, 30, fell short of winning Pakistan’s first Grand Slam title but his unusual pairing with India’s Rohan Bopanna in the men’s doubles was praised against a backdrop of struggling peace efforts between Islamabad and New Delhi.

It also came as Pakistan cricket struggles to fight off damaging allegations of corruption.

Qureshi and his Czech partner Kveta Peschke went down to Americans Liezel Huber and Bob Bryan in the mixed doubles final of the US Open on Friday, before Qureshi and Bopanna lost to Bob and Mike Bryan in the men’s doubles final.

“I am pleased that I have been able to bring some joy to my countrymen,” said Qureshi.

“I didn’t win the titles but I am sure I will do that in the years to come,” added Qureshi, who plans to play exhibition matches with Bopanna soon.

Qureshi became the first Pakistani to reach the finals of a Grand Slam event, news welcomed by President Asif Ali Zardari and millions of Pakistani fans.

Qureshi’s parents spoke of their pride.”We are proud of his achievement and by reaching the finals of the US Open he has made the nation proud,” his father Ehtesham said.

“His partnership with Bopanna has already been praised by Indian and Pakistani media and throughout the US Open Qureshi-Bopanna pair got more praise because they come from rival nations,” Ehtesham said.

“I was always confident that my son will do it and write a new chapter in the history of Pakistan’s sports and will bring a Grand Slam title soon,” said mother Nausheen Qureshi, herself a former national tennis champion.

“He has become a role model for the youth,” she said.