Tennis players Leander Paes and Aisam Qureshi have unwittingly served an ace for Indo-Pak relations. The two will play as a team at the ATP Kingfisher Open, which starts at the Cricket Club of India on Monday.
“Five months ago we were rivals at the same venue” Paes said in a press release, referring to the India-Pakistan Davis Cup tie in April. “So it’s nice to be on the same side of the court this time.”
Qureshi, the flagbearer of Pakistan tennis, was not available for comment. He was resting after his country’s loss against China in the Davis Cup in Beijing. But his father Ehtesham Qureshi said he was excited by the prospect.
“I am sure Leander and Aisam are not thinking about their pairing as anything more than a tennis partnership,” Qureshi Sr said from Beijing, where he is accompanying his son. “Nonetheless, the sporting arena often sends some positive, if indirect, messages. Now it’s for the masses to interpret them.”
Paes, 33, was short of a partner for the Mumbai tournament. Martin Damm of the Czech Republic, his regular ally, with whom he won the US Open title, was busy helping his country defeat the Netherlands in the Davis Cup.
“Martin played on indoor clay courts in the Netherlands. In Mumbai it’s hard courts and hot, humid weather. Unfortunately he couldn’t be here,” said Paes.
Paes and Qureshi share a good equation. In April, the two had epitomised mutual friendship at the draw ceremony for the Davis Cup at state governor SM Krishna’s residence. The organisers had wheeled in a cake to celebrate the birth of Paes’s daughter, Aiyana. Honours done, Paes called Qureshi up to the dais. As they fed each other cake, photographers had a field day.
“It’s great to be partnering Aisam, who’s an old friend,” Paes said. “We look forward to a great run in Mumbai.”