India-Pakistan Pairing at U.S. Open Shows Anything Is Possible

Once again, Queens proves to be the home for international reconciliation.

Thursday, Sep 9, 2010  |  Updated 6:42 AM EDT
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Rohan Bopanna, left, of India returns the ball as partner Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi of Pakistan looks on in the quarterfinal round of men's doubles play during the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York, Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2010.

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The best measure of what India's Rohan Bopanna and Pakistan's Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi accomplished at the U.S. Open could be found in the stands, not the scoreline.

The doubles team reached the U.S. Open final Wednesday, winning a match that brought the United Nations ambassadors from their long-at-odds countries to Flushing Meadows to watch the action together.

The idea of Pakistan and India on the same side of anything has long been considered far-flung. These neighboring countries have been through three wars since gaining independence from Britain in 1947 and spent most of the time between in a state of distrust and heightened military tension.

"This is sports, but it shows the great potential," India's ambassador, Hardeep Puri, told The Associated Press.

Their next match is against top-seeded Mike and Bob Bryan, the winningest doubles team in history.

Bopanna and Qureshi — the "Indo-Pak Express" they call themselves — came together more for convenience than for message-sending. There's very little top-level tennis in Pakistan, so to find a partner, Qureshi had to look to his neighboring country.

They started in 2003, played on and off since then. Their story gathered steam earlier this year when they started wearing sweat shirts 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 Indian-Pakistan border. Unthinkable? Well, some might say they never thought they'd see the day when ambassadors from the two countries were hanging out together in New York taking in a tennis match.

"There's always the potential," the Pakistani ambassador, Abdullah H. Haroon, said. "Hardeep and I are in the New York area and we're always looking for avenues to open and this is a magnificent one. The message going back to Pakistan is, here's a team seeded 16th, and they're in the finals for the first time at the U.S. Open. That's great news."

The 16th-seeded Bopanna-Qureshi team defeated Argentina's Eduardo Schwank and Horacio Zeballos, 7-6 (5), 6-4 to move one win away from the championship. It's their best showing in a Grand Slam after a quarterfinal appearance at Wimbledon earlier this year. Bopanna-Qureshi won last month against Bryan and Bryan, so they know anything is possible — a point being driven home on many levels by their tennis partnership

"Obviously, it feels like us doing well is getting the message across throughout the world and among all the Pakistanis and Indians," Qureshi said. "I've always said if me and Rohan can get along so well on and off the court, there's no reason the Indians and Pakistanis can't get along with each other."

Qureshi also is in the mixed doubles final, along with partner Kveta Peschke, giving him two chances to bring some very good news back to his home country, which has been hammered by floods, terrorist attacks and, yes, even a cricket scandal over the past few years.

In addition to spreading a little sunshine back home, Qureshi hopes to use his good run in New York to speak about his country and its majority religion of Islam.

"We do have terrorist groups, we do have extremists, but I feel like every religion there are extremists there," he said. "It doesn't mean the whole nation is terrorist or extremist. Pakistan is a peace-loving country. Everybody loves sports. I think everybody wants peace, as well."

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