By Awais Saleem
Islamabad, Sep 11 (IANS): Although Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi could not go on to win the men's doubles tennis title in the US Open with his Indian partner Rohan Bopanna, his family back home is still planning to give him a hero's welcome on his return to Lahore.
He created history in this year's US Open by becoming the first Pakistani to reach the finals of any Grand Slam tennis event. He and Bopanna were dubbed the Indo-Pak Express and became the darlings of the American media as also media back home.
Partnering Bopanna, he ended as runners-up in the men's doubles final of the US open to top-seed Bryan brothers, Mike and Bob, Friday. A day earlier, he had also lost the mixed doubles final.
This was the first time an Indian and a Pakistani player had combined to reach a tennis Grand Slam final.
In a cricket-mad country, Aisam's accomplishments in tennis are nothing less than heroic.
Starting out with the game, he did take inspiration from home. His maternal grandfather Khawaja Iftikhar was undivided India's No.1 player, prior to partition, while his mother Nosheen Ahtisham was Pakistan's top female tennis player.
With a tennis culture in home, it was natural for Aisam to pick up a tennis racquet at an early age. His exploits at the courts the world over have made him a household name in Pakistan and the family wants the reception on his return to be worth the effort.
"He is a winner for us," sister Shiza Qureshi said adding that they want to bring Aisam home from the airport in a procession.
"We invite common citizens as well as the government to join in and pay tribute to his historic feat," she said.
Ahtisham Qureshi, Aisam's father, said he was proud of his son.
"They competed well throughout the match and it was touch and go in the end," he recalled. "Winning and losing is part of the game. But even to reach this far is unbelievable," he remarked.
Aisam, a designated peace ambassador of the UN, brought tears to the eyes of his mother with his post-match speech.
"There are misconceptions about Pakistanis in US. I want to tell you that we are caring and peace-loving people very much like you. I would also like to say that whenever someone from our country comes here, they are considered to be from a terrorist state. It is not true. Pakistan is a peace-loving country. We all love peace as much as you do," Aisam said after the match to a packed-to-capacity audience at the centre court of Flushing Meadows in New York.
"He has shown how much he loves his country," his mother Nosheen said adding that "to say all this at such a prestigious event when the whole world is watching requires a lot of commitment."
"I don't know if our ambassadors are able to say all this so forcefully at any forum or not, but my son has conveyed the message to the entire world," she opined. She also felt confident that this was only the beginning for Aisam and "the best is yet to come".