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Green Devils rely on pleasant surprise

By RODNEY PAGE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 14, 2002

Imagine the self-discipline St. Petersburg tennis coach Alan Turnquist needed when Alamgir Wali approached him about the possibility of playing on the team. Wali, a transfer student from Pakistan, was ranked 286th in the world and had already won several junior tournaments since arriving in the country eight months ago.

Of course he could play on the team, Turnquist thought. But first he had to do some research.

"He told me he was ranked 286th and I looked it up and sure enough he was," Turnquist said. "We could find a place for him."

Wali, a junior, moved right into the Green Devils' No. 1 spot and never looked back. He is undefeated through the regular season and has his eyes on a Class 4A individual state championship.

In fact, Wali is so focused on a high school title that he decided to play in the district tournament instead of in a junior tournament in Canada this week.

"There will be other (junior tournaments)," Wali said. "If I don't play in the districts then I can't play in the state tournament. I want to win a state championship."

The reason Wali is playing in the United States is because Pakistan is not known for its tennis. Wali was an accomplished cricket player in Pakistan, which is the country's most popular sport. He played on his high school club team and briefly thought about one day becoming a professional.

Squash and field hockey are also popular in Pakistan, but it was tennis that held Wali's interest. His father, Sabih, packed up his family of five last summer and moved to Florida in search of competitive tennis.

"I could've played cricket, but I also liked tennis," Wali said. "Once I got here, it was all tennis. There's really not much cricket here."

The search ended in St. Petersburg. The Walis joined the Racquet Club of St. Petersburg and Alamgir and his younger brother, Sheharyar, began working with club professional John Haggar.

"(Alamgir) is phenomenal, phenomenal," Haggar said. "He is so talented. It's a treat just to watch him play. I would be very disappointed if he didn't win a state championship."

Wali describes his style as an aggressive baseliner. He has a thunderous serve and can rip shots past opponents.

Aside from singles, Wali will try to win a state doubles championship with teammate Sheen Cesare. And St. Petersburg could go far as a team with players such as No. 2 Zach Ferguson, No. 3 Mike Brady, Cesare and No. 5 Zack Schirm.

Although Wali has never played in a high school state tournament, Wali said he is ready for the competition.

"I've seen some of the other (state) players in junior tournaments," Wali said. "I'm ready to go."

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