International sporting events have been rarely held in the country which has fought a homegrown Islamist insurgency for years, with foreign teams citing security fears ever since the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
A 2009 militant attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team bus in Lahore effectively sealed Pakistan’s fate, with no international cricket fixtures played in the country for a further six years until Zimbabwe visited in 2015 for a low-profile tour that failed to create a breakthrough.
Instead, Pakistan has been playing all major sports at neutral venues, with cricket in United Arab Emirates and tennis in their opponent’s countries.
But on Wednesday Pakistan Tennis Federation secretary Khalid Rehmani said the International Tennis Federation (ITF) has given them the go-ahead to host a Davis Cup tie against Iran in Islamabad in February next year.
“We welcome the decision which will help tennis in the country,” said Rehmani.
Pakistan last hosted a Davis Cup tie in Islamabad against New Zealand in 2004, and were forced to play its Group I play-off tie in Christchurch, New Zealand which they lost 5-0 in September this year.
Rehmani hoped security will not be an issue.
“Security has improved,” he said, adding that the PTF has arranged the same level of security as would be given to a visiting foreign president.
“Pakistan has recently hosted three international squash events in Islamabad so the situation is conducive now,” he said.
The Group II tie with Iran will be played from 3-5 February.
The Pakistan Cricket Board has announced it will host the final of their Twenty20 league, the Pakistan Super League, in Lahore in March next year. The inaugural season of the league this year was hosted in the UAE.
At 31-years-old and having wrapped up his 13th year as a professional tennis player, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga can be forgiven if complacency started creeping into his game.
Nearly nine years on from when the Frenchman had his breakthrough moment, reaching the Australian Open final before losing to Novak Djokovic, Tsonga is still in search of a similar result that can change his status from a perennial top-tenner, to grand slam contender and top-four threat.
While Tsonga’s aware he is closer to the end of his career than its beginning, the world No12 firmly believes that he can challenge tennis’ top table and is willing to make all the necessary changes in his game in order to achieve that.
“If I’m more consistent, if I play one or two full years, I think I can do something great,” Tsonga told Sport360 while promoting Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala World Tennis Championship, where he’ll be making his fifth appearance this December.
“I finished the year pretty good, I played good tennis, a little bit different than the way I played the last few years. A little bit more aggressive, more coming to the net, I felt good and I hope I will continue on that way.”
Leg and knee problems have heaped pain on Tsonga this season and forced him to tearfully retire from the third round at Roland Garros and the US Open quarter-finals. But he bounced back from both disappointments by reaching the last-eight at the Shanghai Masters, the final in Vienna and the quarters of the Paris Masters, beating world No4 Kei Nishikori en route.
“I think I changed a little bit my materials, we changed a few things in my game, in a positive way,” explains Tsonga. “I also changed my serve, which is a good thing for my knee but also for my game, because I’m saving energy.”
Saving energy is something he won’t be doing much of this off-season, Tsonga already having begun his 2017 preparations last week. He opted out of being an alternate at the ATP World Tour Finals, saying he was planning on having his longest pre-season training period to-date.
The Switzerland-resident believes 2017 will be “special”, particularly because of the fact he and fiancé Noura El Shwekh are expecting their first child next year.
Last year was the first season since 2010 that Tsonga has gone without winning at least one title. The Le Mans-native claimed three top-10 scalps compared to seven losses against opposition in that bracket throughout the year.
Armed with a power game that has seen him claim victories over each member of the ‘Big Four’ in the past, Tsonga has struggled against tennis’ current dominant duo – Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic in recent meetings.
Tsonga is 2-14 against Murray and has lost 13 of his last 14 matches to the Scot, while he’s 6-16 versus Djokovic having lost 14 of their last 15 clashes.
Is he concerned by his lack of success against them in big matches?
“I’m focused on me to be honest because it’s really often all about me,” said Tsonga, who in total owns 28 combined victories over members of the ‘Big Four’.
“When I play good tennis, even if the guy in front of me is playing really good tennis, I have a chance. So the most important thing for me is to be really consistent, play against those guys all the time to get used to it.
“But I think I have more maturity now and I think if I played them a little bit more I will be able to do something better than what I did in the past.”
While Tsonga’s year has been a tough one, 2016 in general was good to the French. Gael Monfils returned to the top-10 for the first time since 2011, reached a first major semi-final in eight years and made his maiden appearance at the ATP World Tour Finals. Lucas Pouille also stole the show with his two grand slam quarter-final showings at Wimbledon and the US Open, where he beat Rafael Nadal.
Monfils’ focus and consistency stood out this year and allowed him to pick up his first title in over two years with a triumph in Washington.
But Tsonga, a good friend of the flamboyant Frenchman, doesn’t feel Monfils has done much differently to explain his rise to his current ranking of No7.
“I think he didn’t do something really different than the other seasons, he just won a tournament which made the difference,” said Tsonga.
“It’s really close between the guys who is ranked No6 and the guy who is 20. You win one or two tournaments and boom, you’re in the top-10. He didn’t change anything because I don’t think he beat so many top-10 players this season.
“He’s today No7 but he didn’t beat so many guys, so I think he’s just been more consistent when he played matches against guys who he should beat.”
Monfils claimed just two top-10 wins in 2016 – one of which came against Tsonga on his way to the Monte Carlo Masters final.
Off court, it’s been a whirlwind year on the tennis circuit starting from the match-fixing allegations that were posed by Buzzfeed and BBC early in the season, followed by Maria Sharapova’s failed drugs test and more recently the revelation of Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs) of several Olympians, including tennis players, by Russian hackers.
On the match-fixing claims, Tsonga said: “For us it’s really frustrating because it’s like a ghost you know? Everybody is talking about something you never heard about or nobody approached you to do things like this so you just feel like it’s strange. It’s strange for us.”
The leaked TUEs showed how many athletes were allowed to take banned substances for a wide variety of reasons, some of which are highly questionable.
“Now I know it’s something that can happen. I just tell myself ‘Jo, just do your thing’. That’s why I think it’s important to think about myself and not about what people say because you never know and the most important is to feel that you have no regrets and you gave everything and that’s it,” said Tsonga.
The Swiss maestro, who last played a competitive match at the 2016 Wimbledon Championships (losing to Milos Raonic in the semi-final) is ready to make a comeback after a long spell on the sidelines with a knee injury.
Federer will play for India Aces next month on December 9-11 in Hyderabad, India – one of three countries hosting the third edition of the event alongside Japan and Singapore.
And with the Fed set to please his army of fans by doing what he does best again, Sport360 pinpoints three key reasons why the 35-year-old made the right decision to play in the IPTL again following his stint with the UAE Royals last year.
The 17-time Grand Slam champion, who revealed at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that he is back to full fitness, had originally planned to make his return at the Hopman Cup in Perth in early 2017.
But, by playing the exhibition-style event in India in December, the Swiss can build-up valuable match time on the court and get the feel of being out there in the thick of it again.
Although he has been training hard in Geneva and Dubai recently, a few sets here and there at good intensity away from a practice court will benefit Federer and give him a chance to test how he is physically before heading down under.
NO MURRAY OR DJOKOVIC
The fact that none of Federer’s close rivals are playing in India bodes well. Although the IPTL is a team-based competition and it is more of a tune-up for players rather than a total focus on results, the fact the likes of Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic won’t be there is good for the Swiss.
A defeat to one of the above or other close rivals, even just over the course of a set given the IPTL’s format, would give the Swiss’s counterparts an early indication into his level of play – and potentially an early mental advantage.
Federer would probably prefer to ease his way back and keep his cards close to his chest.
The veteran was recently voted as the ATP World Tour’s fans’ favourite for the 14th straight year and he will receive a great reception in India.
The adulation and joy of people who still want to see him in action should send a shudder down Federer’s spine – and is undoubtedly a key reason why he still wants to play on for years to come.
The IPTL is a nice opportunity for him to get that buzz back and hit the ground running for the new season.