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    India’s UN envoy Hardeep Singh Puri shakes hands with Qureshi as Bopanna (second from left) and Pakistan ambassador Abdullah Hussain Haroon look on in New York. Jay Mandal/ On Assignment

    Sept. 9: If there ever was a Grand Slam of political correctness, it will unfold tomorrow at Flushing Meadows.

    Before you say “Yuck!” and turn the page, consider the conspiracy of coincidences.

    • An Indian and a Pakistani will play in a Grand Slam final at the US Open on Friday.

    • Forgot to mention: they will play on the same side.

    • On the stands will be the Indian and Pakistani ambassadors to the UN. They were there on Wednesday night when the two stormed into the final.

    • Sania Mirza, whose marriage raised the question which cricket team will she support, and her husband Shoaib Malik can finally support the same team. And they play her game.

    • Finally, did you notice that the match is taking place on the eve of Id and Ganesh Chaturthi, which fall on the same day this year?

    Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi may or may not win the US Open men’s doubles final on Friday.

    But the 30-year-olds will add the taut thwack of the tennis racquet to the coliseum of sport diplomacy that so far has been echoing with the zing of the ping pong and the thud of the willow smacking leather.

    For the good souls who refuse to give up and religiously light candles on the Wagah border each year, Bopanna and Qureshi, dubbed the “Indo-Pak Express”, may seem like a made-to-order dream come true.

    Bopanna, who traces his roots to Coorg, and Qureshi, born in Lahore, first played together in 2003 but did not become devoted teammates until this year, when they played under the slogan “Stop War, Start Tennis”.

    Both acknowledge the burden of expectations they carry. “It’s a great feeling to know that you can make a difference,” Bopanna said. “Hopefully, this will encourage a healthier relationship between India and Pakistan.

    Qureshi concedes that the peace initiative has changed their lives. “I think what changed both our careers was when we became ambassadors of peace…. The first time we initiated our campaign about Stop War and Start Tennis, I think, was the main week everybody started to take notice of it,” Qureshi said.

    Peace and Sport, an organisation in Monaco which promotes reconciliation through sport, supplied them with T-shirts and sweatshirts with the slogan: “Stop War, Start Tennis.”

    Joë Bouzou, president and founder of Peace and Sport, said of the new Indo-Pakistan tennis alliance: “Their story of friendship through sport is a real inspiration for youngsters.”

    But don’t take the bilateral bond too far. The two do not profess to be similar.

    “We don’t have many things in common, to be honest,” Qureshi said. “He likes spicy food; I don’t. He likes to dance to slow songs; I don’t. He’s got a big game; I don’t.”

    The pair’s advance has come at a time Pakistan is going though crises on multiple fronts: the war on terror has bitterly divided the country, floodwaters are ravaging its hinterland and the lone shining beacon of cricket is now caught in a “spot-fixing” scandal.

    “I can’t thank Rohan enough for being my partner and playing with me. Pakistan has been going through a lot for the last two or three years from all the terrorist attacks and the flooding now for the last few months and the cricket scandal also,” Qureshi said.

    Bopanna pointed to one tangible accomplishment. “We are glad that our journey is bringing people together and also having a positive impact,” he said.

    Yes, they did make some twain meet. Among the spectators yesterday when Bopanna and Qureshi beat Eduardo Schwank and Horacio Zeballos to advance to their first Grand Slam final were the Indian and Pakistani ambassadors to the UN, Hardeep Singh Puri and Abdullah Hussain Haroon, respectively.

    It was the first time that any two diplomats from India and Pakistan had sat together to watch them play. “It was a beautiful thing to see,” Qureshi said

    Perhaps aware of the role chance as well as compulsions play in such pairings, Puri was somewhat circumspect. He merely chose to say that “this is sports, but it shows the great potential”. Haroon was more forthright: “Hardeep and I are in the New York area and we are always looking for avenues to open and this is a magnificent one.” 

    But both will be aware that sport diplomacy — which mesmerised people in 1971 when an American team played ping pong in China in what was immortalised as the “ping heard around the world” — has set up false dawns in the past in the subcontinent.

    The wily Zia-ul Haq twice scored brownie runs on the cricket pitch (see chart)but failed to pull India and Pakistan out of the rut of mistrust.

    The tennis truce has come at a time Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is spearheading a peace initiative with Pakistan. It may appear ironic that Singh’s decision not to attend the UN General Assembly this month and risk another fruitless meeting in New York with the Pakistani leadership may actually help his cause of peace with Islamabad.

    The high-decibel publicity for the Indo-Pak Express at the US Open this week appears to have resulted in an inevitability that the two countries must now make some progress towards tennis diplomacy to supplement their ongoing joint efforts for more people-to-people exchanges.

    Some tennis buffs may feel that it is just as well, therefore, that the Prime Minister is excusing himself from the General Assembly and, instead, sending external affairs minister S.M. Krishna in his place to New York. Tennis is as close to Krishna’s heart as politics.

    It may thus turn out that as it gets closer to another meeting between Krishna and foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, tennis may act as a guarantee against a fresh round of accusations of bad faith.

    Among Americans who are never lagging in offers of overt and covert help in taking forward the India-Pakistan peace process, there are already whispers about the Bopanna-Qureshi tango and the presence of their respective UN ambassadors eventually leading to a match with a court on their volatile border.

    But the Indians are acutely aware that like in almost everything else, in tennis too, it is not a relationship of equals between India and Pakistan. Pakistan simply does not have many top tennis players, so Qureshi turned to someone with whom he has subcontinental compatibility.

    Forget such nitpicking for a day and let Sania have the last word.

    Sania tweeted using Bopanna’s nickname Bofors (yes, the gun that helped beat back the Kargil invaders): “wooowwww!! U guys on fire:) well done bofors… Sports and love can bring ANYTHING together… who would have thought Indians and Pakistanis would be cheering for the same team to win!”

    WITH INPUTS FROM NYTNS, ARCHIS MOHAN AND OUR SPORTS BUREAU

    source: http://www.telegraphindia.com / Front page> Story / by K.P. Nayar / Friday Sep 10th, 2010

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    There was more than one ray of hope on the horizon but Indian tennis in 2003 continued to look upto the old Messiah for deliverence.

    Rohan Bopanna announced his arrival on the big stage with a courageous performance in the Davis Cup play-off; Prakash Amritraj, the son of the legendary Vijay Amritraj, left a blazing trail on his way to the top of Indian rankings; and Sania Mirza with her historic Wimbledon crown marked the changing face of women’s game in the country.

    Yet, the entire nation looked upto one man, the ‘Miracle Man’ of Indian tennis, to bring salvation. Leander Paes at 30 rejuvenated his own sagging career with two grand slam titles with Martina Navratilova but without his magical inspiration India stumbled for the fourth consecutive time at the play off stage of the Davis Cup.

    The brain cyst that laid him down in the middle of the season brought out those fighting qualities in the man who had time and again pulled off miraculous victories for the country in the past, overcoming a series of adversities in his colourful career.

    And the mass outpouring of love for Paes one saw when a billion voices prayed for his recovery was something unheard of in recent history of mankind.

    Paes did eventually come out of the hospital but his absence from the World Group qualifying tie proved to be a major handicap for India who lost 5-0 to the Netherlands.

    Nevertheless, India did unearth a hero in defeat at Zwolle. In one of the longest matches in Cup history since tie-break was introduced, Rohan Bopanna almost pulled the rug from under the feet of Martin Verkerk. Stretching a top-20 player to five sets was in itself an achievement.

    And, ranked in the 400s, had Bopanna pulled it off – he lost the decider 12/10 – it would have been a truly ‘Leanderian’ achievement.

    In a country of few sporting achievements, what Bopanna did that September evening was akin to a 15-year old Sachin Tendulkar taking Abdul Qadir to the cleaners. To be sure, the wiry 23-year old lad from Coorg, Karnataka, was not exactly playing in his maiden Davis Cup tie.

    When he entered the cauldron that was Eisselhallen, Bopanna had two wins under his belt, but those had come in a more friendly environment of grass surface at home. More importantly, he had looked a slaughtered lamb in his defeat against Australia when he made his debut in a similar play-off last season.

    In Zwolle, the Dutch had assembled their best team, and it was on fast hard courts away from home. But in the more than four hours he spent on court that Friday, Bopanna had won many a heart with his fighting performance.

    In the end, it did not matter that he did not win – none expected him to – but the bold manner in which he put his best foot forward and cut down the ego of the home team to size augured well for Indian tennis.

    After Bopanna’s marathon performance, Prakash Amritraj lost in straight sets to Sjeng Schalken and although Bhupathi and Bopanna started promisingly in the doubles rubber, the Indians were actually running for cover over the next two days.

    Amritraj did nothing earth-shattering that day but well before his first match in Indian colours, the 19-year old US-born had truly established himself as the number one Indian player on the circuit.

    “Having a famous surname does not help you win matches, does it,” Amritraj had said smiling after losing in a Challenger event in India in April. Behind that smile was hidden attributes that helped him zoom from the 1000s to top-300 in ATP rankings.

    Attributes handed down to him from his famous father – not the media savvyness but a strong work ethic and dedication to the game. He returned to the same dusty courts two months later for the Satellite circuit when he truly ‘came, saw and conquered’ the competition and the hearts.

    For a player whose bread and butter was serve and volley, Amritraj’s rapid rise was a fantastic achievement in every sense. If anything, it presented a pleasant contrast to the eyes weary of the baseline slugfests.

    And besides blowing away the myth that successful fathers don’t foster successful sons, it also assured the Indian fans that the sport had other talents to look up to besides the ageing Paes and Bhupathi.

    source: http://www.mid-day.com / 2003-12-24

     

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