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Young talent, gunning for glory

Tennis runs in her blood, as does a strong sense of defiance. Sixteen-year-old Ushna Suhail is the only Pakistani girl in the Asian Junior Tennis Championships, and having made it to the second round in both singles and doubles, she’s looking to further the cause of her ilk back home, reports Siddhanth Aney.

sports Updated: May 26, 2010 01:07 IST
Siddhanth Aney

Tennis runs in her blood, as does a strong sense of defiance. Sixteen-year-old Ushna Suhail is the only Pakistani girl in the Asian Junior Tennis Championships, and having made it to the second round in both singles and doubles, she’s looking to further the cause of her ilk back home.

The pedigree is beyond doubt — Pakistan’s best-known tennis player, Aisam Qureshi, is her first cousin, and her grandfather, Khwaja Iftikhar Ahmad, was once among the top-ranked players of Asia. “Taking up tennis was a natural choice, it’s always been a sport that my family has been closely associated with. I have been playing since I was 11.”

During her first ITF junior tournament in Doha, Suhail told her mother that she hoped to see the Pakistan flag flutter at the stadium in future. That passion still drives her.

Suhail has trained in Delhi before, but the ITF tournament held last week, was her first in India. The experience has been enjoyable. “The excitement of playing competitive tennis, against good players, is a great motivator. The field here is fantastic. In Pakistan, there are only 4-5 girls who are competitive, so we don’t get much match practice.”

Lack of competition or not, Suhail achieved a feat this March, winning both the under-17 and the ladies’ titles at a major domestic event back home. She hopes to carry on the good run here. “I don’t set too many goals for myself, but I hope to get as far as I can. I want to give my best and leave the rest to God.”

The future looks bright and daunting in equal measure. Suhail plans to go professional by the end of the year, mixing ITF events with WTA tournaments. That will mean lots of hard work. So far, her tennis career has been almost entirely funded by her parents. Her father is a senior executive with Pakistan International Airlines, which is helpful, as it gets her cheaper air tickets. The fiery youngster gets a lot of her strength and confidence from her mother, Sabrina, who is the first female professor of dermatology in Pakistan.

Doing things a normal teenager wants, is also a conflict. The O-level aspirant doesn’t get to go to school much, but manages to keep in touch with friends on her cell phone and through Facebook. But this is a price she more than willing to pay.

Her mother sums it up saying, “As long as she has the passion, we will keep going. If the tennis federation at home decides, maybe we will be back for the Commonwealth Games.”