Re: Aisma Ul Haq Qureshi thread
Aisam and Bopanna spark India-Pakistan tennis diplomacy
Saturday, May 31, 2008
PARIS: Pakistan’s Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi and Rohan Bopanna of India are determined to prove that a little tennis diplomacy can help thaw relations between their two rival nations.
The duo, who are close friends and have played together in a host of mostly low-key tournaments since 2002, made their Grand Slam debut in the men’s doubles at the French Open on Thursday.
Unfortunately the pair had the misfortune to come up against the world’s top pair, Mike and Bob Bryan of the United States, and crashed to a 6-1, 6-4 defeat.
But they believe they have a wider role to play outside the narrow confines of the world’s tennis courts.
“Everyone is happy to see that we are at this level. Rohan and I won five Challengers in 2007, reached three finals as well as a main tour final,” said Qureshi, who is 28, like his partner.
“People in Pakistan know Rohan well and root for both of us. He is my best friend on the tour.”
Lahore-based Qureshi hasn’t always had it so easy.
In 2002, his controversial decision to play doubles at Wimbledon with Israel’s Amir Hadad was denounced by the Pakistan Tennis Federation who promptly threatened to ban him from the Davis Cup team.
“I had a lot of problems with the federation back then,” recalled Qureshi.
“But everyone got the message that you can’t mix politics, religion and culture into sport and they learned a lot from it. My federation is happy with the results that Rohan and I have had playing together.”
Both men believe that the sporting thaw, which has already seen the two countries’ much-respected cricket teams undertake recipricol tours, will continue with them aiming to do their bit by playing at Wimbledon next month.
“We have bilateral ties in tennis. India will come to Pakistan and then we go there at the end of the year,” he said.
“Look at the Indian Premier League. There are many Pakistanis and Indians in the same team. It’s great. If cricketers can play together, there should be no problem for us.”
Bopanna believes both the India and Pakistan public have responded positively to the partnership which was boosted when they finished runners-up at the main tour event in Mumbai in September last year.
“People are pleased that the two different countries are playing together. We played in India and made the final,” he said.
“We just get along so well.”
Bopanna is in good company when it comes to potentially volatile partnerships; his Indian compatriot Sania Mirza courted controversy at Wimbledon in 2007 when she played women’s doubles with Israel’s Shahar Peer.