For once, the exploits of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Venus Williams weren't the story at the US Open. Instead, the spotlight at Flushing Meadows was on the men's doubles duo — India's Rohan Bopanna and his Pakistani partner Aisam-Ul-Haq-Qureshi —who stunned everyone by reaching the men's doubles final in the year's last Grand Slam.
Know the players
Age : 30
Height: 6’3” (190 cm)
Weight: 83 kg
Turned Pro: 2003
Coach: Prahlad Srinath
Birthplace: Lahore, Pakistan
Height: 6’ (183 cm)
Weight: 78 kg
Plays: Right handed
Turned Pro: 1998
Coach: Robert Davis
As they overcame their Argentine opponents in the semi-final on Wednesday, the duo was cheered on by a gaggle of Indian and Pakistani supporters including India's Ambassador to the United Nations Hardeep Singh Puri and his Pakistani counterpart Abdullah Hussain Haroon.
The pair, who calls itself the Indo-Pak Express, did not disappoint their supporters, defeating their opponents, Argentines Eduardo Schwank and Horacio Zeballos, 7-6, 6-4 to reach their maiden Grand Slam final.
In an interview with this newspaper soon after, both Bopanna and Qureshi expressed their happiness that the ATP had invited Ambassadors Puri and Haroon to watch them play and win. Qureshi said, "We want to thank both Ambassadors for taking time out to come and see us play. You actually don't see Ambassadors to the UN from the two countries supporting the same cause that often. It was a great feeling."
Of course, Bopanna and Qureshi face a stiff challenge in their attempt to win their first ever Grand Slam crown as they face Mike and Bob Bryan, the top seeded pair from the United States, who have already won eight Grand Slam titles earlier.
But the Indo-Pak pair didn't appear to be overawed by the occasion or the competition, as Bopanna said during the interview. "We're taking all the positives from here. Hopefully we can continue to ride the momentum all the way through."
Qureshi said his "only motivation" was to give his homeland something to celebrate in the wake of devastating floods and the gloom caused by the spot-fixing controversy that has ruined the image of its national cricket team. Qureshi said, "Pakistan, right now, is going through very dark times and I'm just happy and proud I can send some positive news back home."
Bopanna said he felt "no pressure". He hopes to get some tips from multiple Grand Slam winning compatriots Paes and Bhupathi about dealing with a final in a major event: "It's always positive to talk to them and see what the feeling is like."
Qureshi pointed out that if Bopanna were to visit Lahore, he would certainly get a great reception because their photographs were always published together and the Indian had become very popular in Pakistan.
"I just hope this Indo-Pak Express keeps rolling," Qureshi said.
Gill hails pair for performance
Indian Sports Minister M.S. Gill on Thursday praised the India-Pakistan tennis duo of Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-ul-haq Qureshi for sailing into the men's doubles finals of the US Open.
"I have been following the Bopanna-Qureshi combination in world tennis doubles. They combine very well, have total understanding and are top double players in the world," said Gill in a statement.
"They are now in US Open finals and I pray for their win. I am confident they will achieve the sub-continent's dream finally. I have one question for everyone: if Bopanna-Qureshi can play together, why cannot India Pakistan?" he said. ians, new delhi
AP adds: They wear sweatshirts with slogans reading "Stop War, Start Tennis" as part of a campaign backed by a Monaco-based group called Peace and Sport. One idea circulating is to play a match with a court set up across the India-Pakistan border. Unthinkable? Well, some might say they never thought they'd see the day when ambassadors from the two countries were spending time together in New York taking in a tennis match.
"There's always the potential," Pakistani ambassador, Abdullah H. Haroon, said.