The Indo-Pak Express is running again
- Bopanna and Qureshi will renew their highly fruitful partnership - labelled popularly as the “Indo-Pak Express” - for the first time since 2014, signing up to play the ATP 500 Acapulco event beginning from March 15.
In the last couple of weeks, India’s Rohan Bopanna has done things he hasn’t in a long time: play a singles match on the ATP tour, and pair up with Pakistan’s Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi for doubles.
Bopanna and Qureshi will renew their highly fruitful partnership - labelled popularly as the “Indo-Pak Express” - for the first time since 2014, signing up to play the ATP 500 Acapulco event beginning from March 15. The combination, cutting across borders and political differences between the neighbours, created a buzz in the doubles circuit in the early part of the last decade. Bopanna and Qureshi finished runner-up at the 2010 US Open after making the quarter-finals of Wimbledon. The duo won its first ATP title in Johannesburg in 2010, adding three more in the following year before making the cut for the year-ending ATP Finals that season. The two last played together in 2014, parting ways after the ATP Shenzhen tournament in September.
Bopanna said talks to pair up again began in Australia, with both searching for partners ranked high enough to get into tournaments post the Australian Open. Bopanna, ranked 40th, and Qureshi, 49th, first applied for a wild card to play in Dubai - where they won their last title as a pair in 2014 - next week but when they didn’t receive a response till Monday night, they chose to get into Acapulco. “Right now, we’re playing just this tournament,” Bopanna said on Tuesday. “Both of us need to do well and try and make some points. But even getting to one event together is fantastic.”
The 40-year-old Indian is looking forward to reliving his on-court camaraderie with Qureshi, while also exchanging tactics in Hindu and Urdu. “The friendship has always remained for all these years,” Bopanna said. “And it helps. When we get on court, we know our strengths and weaknesses. We also speak a similar language. So when we play against our opponents, they know that it’s not a new team. This is a team that has played together and had success with each other.”
During their peak as a pair in 2010, the two had sported t-shirts carrying a "Stop War, Start Tennis" message for the two countries. And despite the political atmosphere and social media impact being a whole lot different at the turn of the decade, Bopanna said he didn’t have to think twice about combining with Qureshi again. “Because whenever we have played together it has always been positive. A lot of people have loved our partnership and loved to support us. It has been great,” Bopanna said.
“Where’s my partner?”
What was also great for Bopanna was playing singles last weekend at the ATP Singapore Open. Getting an unexpected alternate entry in the qualifying draw after a few withdrawals, Bopanna thought it would be fun to give singles another shot and get some extra game time and money instead of just waiting for his doubles draw to begin. Playing his first singles match since the 2016 Davis Cup tie against Korea - and a first after 2013 on the ATP Tour - Bopanna lost 3-6, 4-6 to Christopher Eubanks.
“The first thing I told the referee when I went for the toss was, ‘where’s my partner?’” Bopanna said, laughing. “Somebody is missing here on the side!”
Facing a tall, fast server in Eubanks, Bopanna was sure about one thing: “I was not going to sit at the back of the court and hit five balls and go left, right, left, right.”
That he didn’t have anybody else on his side of the court was also felt by the doubles specialist. “The biggest difference was in the movement. You’re not used to moving sideways in doubles; you’re used to making the return and then just covering your side of the court. At times in the match, even while I was on the run, I used to hit and go into the doubles alley. Because that is my natural instinct,” Bopanna said.
The natural doubles instincts often kicked in during the singles game. Bopanna chipped as many returns as he could, as rushed to the net as many times as he could. “That was anyway how I used to play before in singles too,” he said.
“But I surprised myself; I didn’t feel out of place at all. It was fun playing singles after a long time,” he added.