KARACHI: It is all in the surface. Where there is a will, there is a grass court.
While Aisamul Haq Qureshi and Aqeel Khan are the undisputed heroes for Pakistan at the Davis Cup, in the World Group I play-offs last month they both happily shared the victory 3-0 against Slovenia with one man – Inamullah Khan, who despite the rain in Islamabad last month, kept the grass as green as it could be kept.
"All my life, making courts is all I ever did. I made the grass court in the Pakistan Sports Complex too, and now when Pakistan win Davis Cup ties on it, I feel more patriotic with every win. That is my joy," said the former player from Nawakili, gushing over Aisam and Aqeel’s victory the same way a family elder would.
The match-up in March as the hosts and the team with the surface advantage could not have been more nerve wracking for Pakistan as the rain would not allow them to play over the weekend.
What stood as a stunning feat was the surface, grass in Pakistan's case, which makes home-advantage in Davis Cup all the more important. With Aqeel and Aisam winning the singles rubbers and then doubles rubbers in style, they appreciated Inamullah as an unsung hero, who made sure that despite the rain and delay, the grass would not go bad, the surface would remain playable, and that the team would have the advantage to win the tie easily.
The tie was to start on March 6 and play through March 7, but delays meant it was played Monday March 9.
"I did not know that it was Inamullah taking care of the grass courts till last year, but the quality of the courts was great. According to the resources available to PTF, he did a great job and he should get an award too, for it. If this tie was on hard courts, the result would've been different," Aisam told The Express Tribune. "We had to play all three ties on Monday. They maintained the courts, we were not sure how the grass would be after the rain and under the covers, but by Sunday the court was ready."
Aisam played the first rubber against Nik Razborsek 4-6, 7-5, 7-7. Then Aqeel outplayed Blaz Kavcic 0-6, 7-6, 6-4. Finally, in the double rubber, Aisam and Aqeel bagged 6-3, 7-6 against Kavcic and Tom Koservar-Desman to seal the win.
"We were praying that it should start, but we had the referee, who has the most unbelievable experience, concerned the surface could've changed. Historically, it was the only tie that took place on grass under the lights. All in all, I am very happy with everyone who ensured the tie took place that day. The Slovenians, despite the loss, ended up praising Pakistan too,” Aisam said.
For 59-year-old Inamullah, being a part of the PTF team that prepared the surface was a delight in itself. "I remember when they told me that they would make the courts in Islamabad, especially for Davis Cup, in 2017. I was already dealing with a lot… I still have a back injury that sometimes troubles me… but I love the game and I love the fact that the players play on the courts I made," he said.
“That ITF approved the surface was proof enough that my hard work had paid off. Even with the covers, it was very hard to keep the grass fresh for the Slovenia tie. It required a great amount of caretaking, but Pakistani grass too is quite resilient and holds up well,” Inamullah added.
For Aqeel, Inamullah achieved the impossible by making sure the home tie went through. “I was there and I saw the grass courts being made at the Pakistan Sports Complex. There were experts saying it couldn’t be done, but Inamullah managed to succeed,” he said.
“It was very important for us to have grass courts that the ITF could approve, because we really wanted to play at home. It had been the longest time that we had been playing our ties away or on neutral venues because the ITF would not allow Pakistan to host the ties due to security concerns. Here we had the opportunity but circumstances almost made it impossible,” Aqeel recalled. “But I recommended bringing in Inamullah, and what he did despite the rain is nothing short of a wonder,” he added.
“After 2009, when we were figuring out where Davis Cup ties could be held in Pakistan, we picked Islamabad for safety reasons. But the capital did not have any quality grass courts that could satisfy ITF,” recalled PTF Vice President Khalid Rehmani. “The experts we had called in to develop a grass court in Pakistan Sports Complex all said there was too much gravel to make one that could meet international standards, but in came Inamullah, and he delivered on his promise back then even,” he said.
Looking back at his life, Inamullah said he remembered how when he was nine, his uncle used to make grass courts as well. “Watching him was where my love of tennis developed and for a while in the ’70s, I played the sport as well. But after an accident, I simply couldn’t play at the level I once used to and that is how I got into making courts.”
“There are at least 10 grass courts in Peshawar alone that I've made and worked on,” he added. “Now I'm a retired man who gets to take care of grass courts for the PTF only when it comes to the Davis Cup."
Although none of his children share his passion for the sport, Inamullah said he finds joy in local players. “I’m delighted every time I see Aqeel and Aisam, in particular.”
Pakistan’s next home tie, if it takes place at all with the pandemic, will be against Japan on September 18. “It will be tough, but if it goes through, I’ll make sure court preparation starts on time,” Inamullah said. “We are hoping the pandemic goes away soon, but no matter what, my services are always available for Pakistan.”