From arranging vegetarian food to booking practice courts without asking and beefed up security, Pakistan is “going out of their way" to make the eight-member Indian tennis contingent feel “special" in Islamabad, which is playing host to the Asian U-12 ITF regional qualifying event.
A few Indian junior tennis players have competed across the border in individual capacity in different ITF Grade events but it is the first time that a junior national team has travelled to Pakistan for a multi-nation tournament. The Indian Davis Cup team has not travelled to the neighbouring nation since 1964 and no senior player has competed on the Pakistan soil since the friendship series between the two nations in November 2007 in Lahore.
Obviously, Pakistan is glad to host Indian players even if they are just 12-year-old boys and girls. Aarav Chawla, Ojas Mehlawat and Rudra Batham feature in the boys team while the girls team has Maaya Revathi, Harithashree Venkatesh and Janhavi Kajla.
Incidentally, former national champion Ashutosh Singh, who was part of the 2007 friendship series, is with the boys team as coach. Ashutosh says having the India flag on their official jerseys had started to attract attention even before they landed in Pakistan.
“At the Doha airport, a few people noticed the tricolour on our jerseys and they got interested in our group. They belonged to Pakistan and were happy to know that we were headed to Islamabad. If you are an Indian player, they want to talk to you," Ashutosh told.