September 15, 2010
It’s an unprecedented partnership, one that has captured the hearts and imaginations of millions of Indians and Pakistanis. The ‘Indo-Pak Express’, as the tennis doubles team of Pakistan’s Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi and India’s Rohan Bopanna has come to be known, is on a winning trajectory.
First they earned a spot at their maiden grand slam final in Flushing Meadows, N.Y. They then cruised on to the U.S. Open, defeating top seed players to reach the finals. This is truly historic, and not just because it is the first time that a Pakistani has reached the finals in a grand slam tournament. It is historic also because this is the first time that a Pakistani and an Indian have done this together.
This is why Qureshi and Boppanna are winners for millions of Indians and Pakistanis, despite losing – narrowly — to the top seeded Bryan brothers at the US finals. They proved to the sporting community and to the world at large that Pakistan and India can work as a team.
Qureshi is Pakistan’s most successful tennis player. He has earned Pakistan 46 Davis Cup ties in singles and in doubles events. He has received the Pride of Performance Award and has been recommended for the Sitara-i-Imtiaz.
This is not the first time Qureshi has forged a sporting alliance where politics has failed. In 2002, he teamed up with the Israeli player Amir Hadad for doubles tennis during Wimbledon and the US Open. This partnership won the duo the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award of the year — but also earned Qureshi the ire of some of his countrymen. He was barred from the Davis Cup as a result.
Undeterred, Qureshi continued his tennis. In 2007 he teamed up with Rohan Bopanna and the ‘Indo-Pak Express’ was born. On the courts, the duo complement each other perfectly – and off it too, they share a great friendship. Bopanna is more aggressive, his comfort zone is the hard court and he plays from the baseline. Qureshi was raised on grass courts, he comes from old tennis stock and plays a serve-and-volley style.
As Bopanna and Qureshi made strides on the courts, they started creating waves off the courts with their ‘Stop War, Start Tennis’ towels and t-shirts. They have also expressed an interest in playing a game of tennis across Wagah border, with the Line of Control as a net.
The message is clear: Sports can transcend political boundaries. And Pakistan and India work much better when they come together. “We have always said sports can reach places where no religion or politics can reach,” says Qureshi.
This was evident at the U.S. open finals where they played incredibly well, cheered on by their countrymen, indistinguishable from each other, rallying for the same team.
So here’s a salute to Aisam and Rohan, the spirit of Aman ki Asha.
– Laleh Habib
Wednesday, September 15, 2010