The All India Tennis Association (AITA) is likely to write to the International Tennis Federation (ITF) requesting for next month’s Davis Cup tie to be shifted out of Pakistan and played at a neutral venue instead.
Pakistan is scheduled to host India in the Asia/Oceania Group I September 14-15 tie for the first time in 55 years. The winning side will find a place in the World Group playoffs.
In the changed political climate following the scrapping of Article 370, which stripped Kashmir of its special status, security concerns now stand heightened. Both countries have played each other on six occasions at the Davis Cup with Pakistan hosting the tie twice, India three times and one tie, in 1973, being hosted at a neutral venue, Kuala Lumpur. The last time India played Pakistan in a Davis Cup tie was at the Brabourne stadium in 2006. India has won all six ties.
It is understood that AITA is waiting for a clearer picture on the scenario and will not want to jump to a forfeit and invite a sanction. The national tennis body may write to the ITF in a few days seeking a “review” of the situation with regard to Pakistan hosting the tie. They will also seek the government’s view on the matter since diplomatic relations are currently strained. If the Indian government refuses to allow its players to travel to Pakistan, the ITF will then seek an explanation from the Pakistan Tennis Federation (PTF).
On its part, PTF says it’s “too early” to think of shifting the tie to a neutral venue. “Look, nothing has changed on our side,” general secretary Col Gul Rehman told ESPN. “We’re the hosts of the tie and things stand as they were planned as of now. Neither has anyone has approached us on the matter nor are we planning to pull out of the tie. Playing at a neutral venue shouldn’t even be a question right now.”
In April 2017, Hong Kong had refused to travel to Pakistan for the Asia/Oceania Group II second round tie citing security fears. The Davis Cup Committee had approved arrangements for Pakistan to host the tie, after they had successfully hosted Iran in February that year. The matter was referred to an Internal Adjudication Panel, which concluded that Hong Kong was in breach of Davis Cup regulations, awarding Pakistan a passage into the third round while Hong Kong was to stay put in Group II in 2018.
Until the Kashmir development two days ago, the tie appeared well on course. PTF had promised “full security and memorable hospitality” to the visiting Indian members and was even looking to extend an invitation to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to watch the tie.
The Indian cricket team last toured Pakistan for the Asia Cup in June 2008 and following the Mumbai terror attacks later that year no Indian team across sport has travelled to the neighbouring country.
“In my career, I have achieved everything which I could have dreamed of. And whatever happens next will be a bonus for me. I thought I will be able to come back by August but (now) January looks like a possibility,” Sania told PTI in an interview.
“Having (my son) Izhan is the biggest blessing I could have. If I am able to come back, it will be amazing. He’s my inspiration to get back to being fit. If I do come back, it will not be to prove anything. The only reason to come back would be that I love playing and competing.”
But why the “if”?
“I say so because I still have to see how my body reacts. The picture will be clear in the next two months. I don’t want to compete when I am not ready. There is no point in coming back and getting injured.”
Not many tennis players have enjoyed success after motherhood. Only Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong and Kim Clijsters have won a singles Grand Slam after giving birth.
In the current generation, only a few feature in the top 50 after becoming mothers. Among them, American great Serena Williams remains a fierce competitor at number nine in the world. Victoria Azarenka is in the top 50 in singles and doubles after giving birth to her son Leo. Germany’s Tatjana Maria, ranked 100, is also a mother and won a doubles title last year with Britain’s Heather Watson.
“There is enough self-motivation to come back but it’s nice to see people like Serena competing at Grand Slams after having a baby. It’s obviously very inspiring,” Sania said.
Elaborating on the time she has taken planning her return, Sania said a past knee issue is still bothering her and she needs more time to compete in the physically-demanding pro circuit.
“I have been able to get back to being as strong as I was before, which is great. But I still have a bit of a knee issue. It has not gone away completely. I had this knee injury even before I got pregnant that’s why I had stopped playing at the end of 2017. It’s not bad but still there, lingering.”
However, she did not divulge details of the injury.
“I don’t want to get into what problems I have with my knee but I had surgery on the knee before.”
Talking about her training and results, Sania said, “I train about three-four hours a day in two sessions with fitness and with tennis it’s more than that. Initially, the focus was on losing weight but now it’s back to the same rigorous sessions I was having before,” she said.
“I did not know how the body was going to react. You can’t actually anticipate after giving birth to a baby. I put on 23 kilos, I lost 26 kilos now. I am trying to become strong and to play at international level, I still need time.”
Sania, who worked with her Australian trainer Robert for a few months in Dubai, further said she won’t set any result-oriented goals for herself.
“There is no goal. Whatever happens in life hereon, regarding tennis, it will be just a plus. Once I make that comeback, I will see where I stand as an athlete. Right now I just want to make a comeback.
“Expectations are high as usual but I have not played tennis in the last two years. If I can make a comeback, Tokyo (Olympics) is something I am looking at.”