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The Indo-Pak (Tennis) Express

Wheee! Friends!

Last year, I blogged about Aisam ul-Haq Qureshi, a Pakistani tennis player who played at last year’s Wimbledon with an Indian partner, Prakash Armitraj. The pair didn’t go very far into the competition, but their partnership sparked headlines and media attention, with Dawn noting, “The pair believe their tennis doubles partnership shows sport can transcend the boundaries between people — and say the warm response to their joining forces shows how the situation has shifted in recent years.”

This year, at the U.S. Open, Qureshi has partnered with another Indian player – Rohan Bopanna – and the pair has been subsequently dubbed the “Indo-Pak Express.” The Star Ledger (via Sepia Mutiny) noted in its coverage,

Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi looked around the perimeter of the court Tuesday and saw what he’d hoped for. They were sitting together. Pakistanis and Indians, blurred along the bleachers, one just like the other. They were clapping for the same thing. Cheering in unison…“There was a lot of Pakistanis and Indians in the crowd cheering for us,” Qureshi said. “And you couldn’t tell the difference, who was Pakistani and who was Indian, they were all mixed together and supporting the same team.”

Bopanna and Qureshi also teamed up for this year’s Wimbledon warm-ups, declaring, “Stop War Start Tennis.” Qureshi told Sports Illustrated, “Obviously we have to look at the bigger picture. Nelson Mandela, Arthur Ashe, all those big legends: Definitely you can change people’s minds through sports. Football does that; there’s no reason tennis can’t do it. Our combination is very rare and we’re getting all this publicity and hype. And I feel like we can use it to change peoples’ minds. Minds are changing anyway. Every time Indians and Pakistanis come and support us, minds are changing.”

Qureshi is no stranger to tennis diplomacy. During the 2002 U.S. Open, he partnered with Amir Hadad, an Israeli tennis player. Although the partnership was denounced by the Pakistani tennis federation, who banned him from the Davis Cup, the pair were awarded the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian of the Year award for continuing to play together despite pressures from both communities. This year, the Indo-Pak Express has played extremely well and will play in the men’s doubles quarterfinals today. Qureshi has also advanced to the mixed doubles quarterfinal with partner Kveta Peschke of the Czech Republic, (update: he just reached the finals Tuesday, noted Dawn, the first Pakistani to qualify for the final of any Grand Slam competition!).

Pakistan’s cricket team – what with their spot-fixing, match-fixing, [insert-here]-fixing – have disappointed us time and time again. Qureshi, in comparison, is pretty damn refreshing and inspirational. And frankly, between the Qureshi-Bopanna partnership and the Sania Mirza-Shoaib Malik love story, I’d take the former any day. More tennis diplomacy, if you please.

(Shout-out to Ramez for the tip. Thanks!)

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