ISLAMABAD - Former Davis Cupper Mushaf Khisal Zia has said that Pakistan Tennis Federation (PTF) should hunt fresh talent and groom them by providing international exposure as it is the only way to raise standard of Pakistan tennis.

In an interview with The Nation, Mushaf, who is record holder of fourth longest match of Davis Cup history, said: “During our times, we used to get fed up from traveling and participating in a huge number of national and international events, but now the players are finding it really difficult to find even handful of ranking events.”

He said during his golden playing era, when players like Haq brothers, Rashid Malik, Haseeb Aslam, M Khaliq, M Khalid, Umar Rashid were in action. “That was really great time when the country was blessed with immense amount of talent and we used to play highly top class matches right from the quarterfinals stage and it would take really special effort to play in the semifinals and winning the event was a remarkable achievements. But now a few spectators turn up to watch even finals, that is really a sign of big worry,” he added.

Mushaf said: “I had two options, one was to play cricket as a professional as I had represented Rawalpindi Division in 1982, but I opted tennis and became Pakistan No 1 U-14 player. In U-18, I represented the country in Asian Amateur Tennis Championship in Thailand in 1981 and was at that time the youngest competitor of the championship at the age of 16.”

He said: “I went to play in Junior Wimbledon 1982 and 1983 where Pat Cash, Patrick Macenro and Stefen Edberg used to play same year. I won 19 national junior tournaments without losing a single match in 1982 to 1983 and represented Pakistan Davis Cup team in 1984 along with Hameedul Haq, Islamul Haq and Rashid Malik. I won my first match in 1984 against Asian No 1 Korean player.

“We used to have 4 to 5 weeks long Davis Cup training camps and five-set trial matches before Davis Cup team selection. But now there is hardly any camp and only three-set matches are played even in the national ranking tournaments, which shows our players don’t have stamina and fitness of playing long matches,” the ex-Davis Cupper said.

“I had won a lot of junior and men tournaments in Europe and USA and represented Pakistan in Davis Cup, SAF Games and won six bronze medals in SAF Games and Asian Games in Korea and was the first reserve player from Asia at Los Angles Olympics. I was the Pakistan Davis Cup team member for 10 years in running and also remained non-playing captain in 1990s, 2000 and 2012. I won two singles matches against Chinese Taipei in late 80s,” he said.

Mushaf believed the main reason behind progress of tennis in his era was PTF president Gen Rahimuddin and Col Munir who managed to arrange hefty sponsorships. “The national ranking tournaments used to be held in quite a number across the country but now only a few major cities conduct ranking tournaments. At that time, one or another department used to hire tennis players as I was playing for PIA, then for Wapda and HBL but now, no one bothers to offer jobs to sports persons, with only exception of cricketers.”

Mushaf said: “There is a dire need of paying attention towards producing female players, as the country has been facing acute shortage in this area. In the past, female players had represented the country at junior grand slam events but now our female players are only playing in Fed Cup matches and their performance is open to all.”

He strongly recommended the PTF to raise number of national ranking tournaments, conduct maximum junior level training camps, increase prize money, as if the players start earning handsome money, they will fully focus on their games and produce better results.

“I suggest the Pakistan Tennis Federation (PTF) that it must start national ranking event from U-10, U-12, U-14, U-16, U-18 level. I am sure brilliant players will emerge from junior ranks. We have to give top most priority to enhance pool of players, as only then we can raise the standard of Pakistan tennis,” he added.

“The PTF must involve private and corporate sector to ensure funds could be generated, same as other countries hire professionals on commission basis. I hope PTF president Salim Saifullah Khan has already trying his best to raising standard of the game in the country and more sincere efforts are needed which can ensure Pakistan tennis get better with each passing day,” Mushaf concluded.