Haroon Rahim: The greatest tennis player Pakistan has ever produced

Published in THE NEWS (a leading Pakistani English daily) October 28, 2007

He not only appeared in the main draw of three of the four Grand Slam tournaments: Wimbledon, US Open and French Open but he also has the honour of winning matches in all three of them

By Ijaz Chaudhry

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During this year’s Wimbledon championships, interest in tennis among people of Pakistan was the highest in decades. This sudden and short lived attention to tennis in the country was due to the fact that Aisam-ul-Haq became the first Pakistani to play in the main rounds of Wimbledon, the most prestigious of all the tennis tournaments, since Haroon Rahim in 1976. Aisam reached the second round where he lost to the former Wimbledon champion Marat Safin.

As it had happened after such a long time, many sports followers got inquisitive about past performances of Pakistani tennis players. The query about the “greatest Pakistani tennis player of all times” also sprang up.

A number of Pakistani players before Aisam have figured in the main draw of Wimbledon. The list includes Mahmmod Alam, Saeed Hai, Munir Pirzada, Saeed Mir, Munawwar Iqbal and Haroon Rahim.

Out of them only Saeed Hai and Haroon Rahim appeared in grand slam tournaments other than Wimbledon.

However, Haroon Rahim easily stands out. He not only appeared in the main draw of three of the four grand slam tournaments: Wimbledon, US Open and French Open but he also has the honour of winning matches in all three of them. Moreover he won matches not only in singles but also in doubles in the main round of each of these three.

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He is also the only Pakistani to reach the quarter-final of any grand slam (1971 US Open, doubles). In addition, he has the unique distinction of being the only Pakistani to win ATP title either in singles or doubles — Haroon won both. And he attained a world ranking of 44 and no other Pakistani has ever come even close to that.

Born in Lahore in 1949, Haroon got early encouragement right at home. His father, a civil servant, was a tennis fanatic and encouraged all his children to play tennis competitively.

Apart from Haroon, not only his two other brothers, Zufiqar and Sarfraz but sister Shahnaz also won the national championships of Pakistan.

His was a precocious talent. Haroon became national champion at the age of just 15. He also represented Pakistan at the Davis Cup at the same age. Both are Pakistan records till today. Then onwards there was no looking back. Apart from representing Pakistan, he also started playing in the international professional circuit.

Soon he was awarded tennis scholarship by one of America’s top universities, UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles). At UCLA, under the tutelage of famous coach Glenn Bassett, Haroon’s talent really flourished. He led UCLA to win NCAA title in 1970 as well as in 1971. His team mate in 1971 was one Jimmy Connors who later became one of tennis’ all-time greats and also remained Haroon’s doubles partner for some time on the pro-circuit. Apart from winning the team title, Haroon also won the NCAA doubles title in 1971 with Jeff Borowiak. In singles, he reached the semifinal of easily the world’s most competitive collegiate championships.

Haroon turned professional, when still a teenager, in 1968 and remarkably made his debut in the grand slams’ main round the very same year.

He remained active on the professional circuit for around a decade. During this period, he appeared in grand slam events a number of times.

Haroon’s best results in Grand Slams

Singles:

Australian Open

French Open  Second Round

Wimbledon    Second Round

US Open        Third Round

Doubles:

French Open  Second Round

Wimbledon    Third Round

US Open        Quarter Final

Though Haroon could not land a grand slam title he did win five ATP titles (two singles and three doubles).

It is pertinent to mention that ATP tournaments along with Grand Slam events form the first tier of the professional tennis circuit followed by ATP challenger (2nd tier) and Futures (last tier).

Haroon won his both ATP titles in 1976 and against very distinguished opponents.

The first at Little Rock against former Wimbledon runner up, Alex Metreveli, and then the second at Cleveland, against the former record holder of the fastest serve, Australian, Colin Dibley. His three doubles titles were won at Oslo, Norway in 1974, North Conway in 1975 and Little Rock in 1978.

He twice finished as runner-up in ATP tournaments, in 1972 he lost to the US Open winner Manual Orantes in the final.

In ATP doubles apart from winning three crowns, he lost in the final the same number of times. In one of these, his partner was his team mate at UCLA, legendary Jimmy Connors.

Haroon reached a career highest ranking of 44 in 1977. He was respected and feared by all the top pro-circuit players and defeated top players like Connors, Ashe, among others. Haroon married an American girl and lives in the US.

Youth always looks for role models in every sport. For any Pakistani youngster taking up tennis seriously, Haroon should be the inspiration.

His accomplishments at all levels are quite awesome: National champion at 15, Davis Cup appearance also at 15, Winning scholarship to the best ‘tennis university’ of US of his time, Excelling at NCAA, Shining at grand slams, Winning ATP titles, Defeating most of the top players of his time at least once.

Achievements of Haroon should serve as a motivation to Pakistan’s up and coming tennis players. It remains to be seen if any Pakistani player in future can come close to attaining these heights.

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