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What Tennis Means to me


My first memories with the game start as early as third grade. Papa brought us sisters Spider-Man rackets. Initially my sister and I both went with our dad to the Tennis courts. She lost interest in the sport later. I was the tom boy. I have memories of playing Tennis with my dad in various Air Force colonies like Badaber (Peshawar), Masroor, Faisal, Malir (Karachi), Islamabad and Sargodha. He was the one who taught me the game from scratch. He was a devoted father and taught me different techniques, service, double handed backhand and forehand. He taught me the game so well that I actually never had to take Tennis lessons. Over the years I remained regular in the sport even though I used to be the only girl in the courts almost everywhere. I didn’t mind that as I actually enjoyed played with guys and men as my level of sports was competitive with them. Honestly I never enjoyed playing with girls and found them too easy to beat.




It was no surprise in college when I was the only girl who played Tennis. I was told to arrange for a Doubles partner as Federal board Tennis championship was coming up. I started my search but unfortunately there wasn’t a single girl who had ever played the sport. I then taught the sport to one basketball player who was interested in learning. We practiced everyday while bunking classes. But of course she couldn’t learn the whole sport so soon. In doubles matches, our sports teacher gave her only one gallery to cover and I covered the whole doubles court. We had matches in various colleges. There was always a sense of competition and rivalry during the championship. In some girls colleges, they made fun of me, called me names and sang songs against us Bahrians. We also had our songs (tarana’s) which we sang after each win while we jumped, hugged each other, danced and even lay down in the courts unable to retain our happiness. Our college had songs with hilarious lyrics like ‘Samundar ka pani, pani ka bulbula, Bulbulae mei Machli, Machli ka Anda Bahria’ (Water in the sea, bubble in water, fish in bubble, egg in fish, Bahria). No wonder, they made fun of us! We would then retaliate with our songs against them like ‘city, city shitty school’ whenever we had matches against The City School. 

Federal board championship final and trophy in 2002

After a series of matches, we reached quarter finals, semis and then Finals which were held in Islamabad College for Girls in F-6 Islamabad. There was a sense of tension throughout the match as the spectators were on the opponent side. They kept calling me names and would shout even in the middle of points. They made fun of my sunglasses, called me names and when I stopped responding to their loud remarks, they would say Bahray Bahri Bahrian (Deaf Bahrian). But of course I never took it to heart and (thank God) beat my opponent in straight sets. In doubles, I had a hard time running everywhere and I wasn’t feeling well that day and had to cover almost the entire doubles court. But we managed to win doubles too. The ecstasy was so unreal. We had become the Federal Board champions. We were later called to attend the Championship Trophy ceremony at Higher Education Commission headoffice where we received a huge Tennis trophy with my name  engraved as I was the captain. I ran home with cramped legs but I managed to run upstairs and give the news to mama. She has always been as supportive as Papa towards my playing Tennis. I will never forget how happy I was. That Championship trophy lay in our TV lounge for 2 years and was a matter of pride for our whole family.

Islamabad Pakistan Tennis Federation courts on bottom left. Pic with Isham ul haq Pakistan No.1 
I was known to the whole college thanks to Tennis. Even the principle knew me by name. Later when my younger sister had to get admission in the same school, the principle gave her immediate admission as the only question he asked was ‘Is she Nadiya’s sister?’. and she was in. 

In Lahore DHA 2016

In Bahria university, we had singles tournaments in which i was the only one who participated. We played in Fatima Jinnah University Rawalpindi, Naval courts E-8 and in Lums University Lahore. My best friends and I travelled to Lahore and stayed in their hostel twice as I had matches there. We really had the time of our lives during these trips. We used to be out galavanting the city, on joy rides at all odd hours of the night. All my friends cheered for me whether my match was at 1 pm in extreme hot weather or at 2 am in the middle of the night. During matches, the pressure was on. I lost some matches badly against girls from Punjab university and beat girls from Lums easily. I was also in Table tennis team. We thoroughly enjoyed the different culture of Lums. We were also invited to a party there. When we reached in our usual sporty gear and P caps, we found out it was a completely different sort of party. We ran away from the other door as fast as we could. We realised the guys who had gone with us went missing inside the party halls so we girls quickly grabbed a rickshaw to get back to the campus. We weren’t used to that western culture. 


In university, I started playing Table Tennis more than ever before. We became really good at the sport too. We used to practice within university and at Naval gym after university. We had matches for which we played in different universities like Fatima Jinnah Pindi, Iqra university, Numl University, Szabist etc. We had final matches in FG university and met national level players who actually played that chinese level of the game. Before the match we were practicing cross court on the same table. They were so good their rally would last for 5 minutes or so. And ours would only last for two to three shots. It was embarrassingly funny. The nerves when you realise your opponent is a world class player. Our pictures were also published in newspapers. 

In AWC 2006

Meanwhile, I used to play Tennis every evening at AWC where my dad worked. The head of Pakistan Tennis Federation used to play with us there. So he asked me to participate in matches held in PTF courts in Islamabad. I started playing there. I played some tournaments there and unluckily I had matches against Pakistan’s No. 1 Sarah Mehboob who beat me badly. But of course, I never gave up and kept my cool. After some months, there was an All Pakistan Universities Tennis camp in which I was selected. From cities all over Pakistan, 4 girls and 4 guys were selected. The first day during a match, I had to ask the marker who my room mate was. He replied ‘Nadeem’. That awkward moment when someone takes a boys name when you ask him about your roommate. My response was ‘I can’t live with a boy!’ He looked at me blankly and said ‘Nadeem is a girl’. I couldn’t believe my ears but I was happily relieved to meet her as she was actually a girl. 

It was extremely hot and our accommodation was in Islamabad Sports Complex hostel. There was only a fan in our room and it was extremely hot. We used to pour water on our floor and bed and on our selves before we tried to sleep as it was unbearable otherwise. We had our fun times in the hostel and there were strange mysterious things I learned about life there too. I even saw girls who looked exactly like guys and probably homosexuals first time in my life. It was an experience in itself. That was my first and last experience of living in a hostel and it taught me so much about life. Tennis camp was by the government and we were supposed to be paid our daily wages for being a part of this camp. Our food, drinks, racket maintenance, grip and gut change was also part of the package. But the guy who was supposed to clear our dues used to come with excuses. I don’t remember a single time getting paid. But I wasn’t in it for the money anyway. 

In Lahore DHA 2016 

Our coach had been playing Davis cup finals and was a good player. But unfortunately, he wasn’t decent. I had been very innocent and raised in a protected environment. I never understood peoples tricks until then. Thank God, my friend Nauman from my university was also in this camp and he warned me to be careful around him and never be alone with him no matter what. Nauman’s father worked in the sports complex so he started pick dropping me if I ever had a problem. Anyway, the tennis camp was extremely tough. During summer, we had to run and sprint the whole day as we only had full days to practice. There were no lights in PTF. We even had to walk all the way to our hostel in the jungle. We would try to get a taxi which we mostly couldn’t find. Once we did find a small Suzuki taxi, and we all had to fit in it. Four girls and four guys. It was one hell of a ride but we had no choice as our legs had cramps and we couldn’t possibly walk so much. 

We had our fun times too. Nauman and I would try to team up and while the opponents were serving, we would distract them by making strange faces and jumping in a funny way. They would often end up in a double fault. Then we would go hysterical over such childish behaviour. 

At night, we would sometimes walk outside the sports complex to Aabpara and have some better food at Kamran Restaurant. We used to be dressed in our Tennis gear and our male players were with us. Everybody else used to be staring at us as its not an area where girls roam around without pardah (veil). The tennis camp was to prepare us all for the tournament in Istanbul. After the training, the government passed the decision, that instead of 4 boys and 4 girls, only 2 of each will be going for the match. They decided not to take the whole team. So I didn’t make it but learned a lot from the tennis camp. 




In Lahore Lums during championship, 2004
Among my best memories are Tennis nights in Air Weapons Complex, Wah and National Defense University, Islamabad. In AWC, I was given very royal treatment as I was the Deputy DGs daughter. Whenever I reached the courts, I was offered a chair to sit on. If some guys or men were knocking, they would offer me to play first. I of course would let them complete their game first as I came later. The coach would give me special attention and taught me tricks. I had reached a good level of the sport at that time and enjoyed competing with guys and uncles there. The coach was from KPK and would say ‘Ao Kana’ every time he played a really good shot. There were 3 ball boys in every court. There were arrangements of yummy treats like Pakoras, carbonated drinks, coffee and hot Samosas. Every time there was a Love set (6-0) score in any of the courts, that team had to treat everyone including spectators. We played Singles and Doubles with no discrimination whatsoever.  

With all my tennis players at Air Weapons complex where I played from 2004-2006

In National Defense University, I had my set of friends I played with. I used to go to the courts with My friend Sarah, her brother Ali and her father Dr. Amjad. We went in their Lilac coloured open air jeep with blaring rock music. If someone would ask/talk to each other, we had to literally scream our heads off so the other person could hear it as the music volume would not be lowered. I guess it was against the culture of that jeep. Papa used to play too but he used to come home late from office so he wasn’t very regular. The General sahab of NDU also used to play and whenever he would come, his partner was there to get a huge dose of insult. He was hilariously funny with his rude remarks on why his partner missed the shot. Whoever would be his partner would be blushing with embarrassment as General sahab was ruthless and didn’t care about how loud his abuse was. Whenever papa and I would come back home, we would mimic what happened at the courts and replay the whole scene. Mama and the sisters would have a good laugh. 

I have played on all courts – Clay, hard, synthetic and grass but my favourite has been clay. I prefer clay as I got the time to complete my whole stroke and it made the game so much more beautiful when each stroke was played fully in due time. My second favourite medium is hard court where I play these days. I have played in countless Tennis courts all over Pakistan and a few in London and Slough.

Unfortunately after 2008, my life went through a big roller coaster and I was unable to play Tennis for about 2-3 years. After that I played for about an hour after about 3 months on average. In Tennis, regularity is the key. I was busy day and night with work trying to make ends meet. Also in cooking, cleaning and the daily grind of living in London. It came with a very heavy price of me having to give up something I loved so much in those peak years of my life. It left a hole in my heart and I kept dreaming about baseline shots and Aces even while I was wide awake at work. 5 years in London and then 3 years in Islamabad, despite trying my best, I couldn’t be regular in the tennis courts for almost ten years. During this time, when I was going through hardships in my life, the techniques I had learned in Tennis helped me cope with real-life, most difficult games. Using the practices from Tennis, I was able to implement them in the courts of life. Determination, tenacity, fitness and fighting back are all lessons that Tennis taught me in the best way possible. 

Now finally after such a long break, I can’t explain my ecstasy as I am back in the Tennis courts with a bang. I couldn’t be happier when my darling hubby and my sweet mom-in-law suggested we get membership in nearby Sports club. I have been playing it regularly for many months now. I’m extremely happy to be back in form and I can’t believe it when I still win in Singles straight sets against men. All thanks to Allah as Tennis requires excellent shape. Now we have a Whatsapp Tennis group. I first play Singles with Rabi (knocking and then a set) and then Saad and Hamza join us in half or one hour. Then we play approx two sets of Doubles everyday. It is an excellent club 5 minute drive from our place open 7 days a week. 

DHA sports complex, Lahore 2016
Tennis has been a major contributor to my self confidence. I cannot even explain the level of ecstasy and accomplishment, when I serve an Ace to a muscular male player, or that perfect passing shot which his racket refuses to touch. Most of all that baseline shot which just touches the inside of that line. Its a great feeling when I make a guy run all over the court struggling to return the shots and then the excitement of that volley drop shot which he cannot reach. All my life I have believed in women’s empowerment and tried to speak up for their rights. Tennis, I feel is my area where I feel really liberated. Where I prove to men that women are not weak. I show them that a woman can be as powerful, if not more, than a man. When I beat a guy in straight sets, its my way of showing the world that we have strength, power and the mindset to do anything we want. Also the fact that a girl is capable of anything she puts her mind into. I have almost always been the only girl in any Tennis court I’ve played in, but I have been very confident and loyal to the game. I don’t need any other girl to be there just so I can be myself. I cannot stand our culture’s degradation of women. The concept that they can’t go a certain place just because they don’t have a male figure with them. I think its very wrong to think that way. Yes we need to be careful and need to dress according to the place but doesn’t mean we can’t go where we want to. Confidence is all you need to go where you have to and do what you have to.


Lums championship, Lahore 2005


Not only Tennis, I have been an allrounder and have enjoyed playing Cricket, Basketball, Badminton, Baseball, Table tennis, Volleyball and football in different phases of my life. I have been injured countless times in my life. I have broken my left hand ring finger at least 12 times so far. So much that the doctors knew my mom asking ‘are you the one who’s daughter keeps breaking her fingers?’. Once during Tennis and the rest of all times during Basketball. I have broken my left knee ligaments while fielding in cricket. Thanks to Tennis, my right hand is pretty much grazed all the time due to the pressure from grip. But not once have I regretted playing as it has given me a purpose of life. I would suggest all parents to encourage their children (daughters and sons) for sports. Find out what sport they’re interested in and always support them and make an effort for them to learn and play. It will help your children grow up to be much healthier, happier and more confident individuals. 



Tennis for me has not only been a sport. It has been a way of life. It has been my lifeline. It shows me that I have just that strength I need to overcome any fear or mishap in life. It has reaffirmed the fact that we are stronger than we think. If any guy says to me that you look so feeble and fragile. My answer is ‘Meet me in the Tennis courts and I’ll show you what I really am!’. 

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Nadiya Najib

Nadiya Najib