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The Net Post

The Indo‑Pak Express

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Yesterday afternoon, Indians and Pakistanis found cause to celebrate together in New York. The bi-national, men’s doubles team of Rohan Bopanna and Aisam Qureshi advanced to their first-ever Grand Slam doubles final at the US Open. One break was all it took to beat the Argentinean team of Eduardo Schwank and Horacio Zeballos, 7-6, 6-4, in just under an hour and a half.

The crowd was sparse at Louie Armstrong Stadium, but it included two unexpected dignitaries. It was a rare site that surprised even the players.

“We saw both ambassadors today sitting together,” said Qureshi. “They're ambassadors to the UN, Indian and Pakistan, and, you know, clapping for the same cause and wanting us to win, it was a beautiful thing to see. Obviously, it just feels like that us doing well, on the bigger circuit and the bigger level, is getting the message across throughout the world and among all the Pakistanis and Indians.

“I've always said there's no reason, 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.”

As strange as their pairing might seem to outside observers, to Qureshi -- the Pakistani half of the team -- it was never a stretch.

“I have been playing with Indians throughout my life,” says Qureshi. “For the past 14 years, there haven't been any Pakistanis on the tour, so playing with the Indian players has been the closest thing for me like playing with a Pakistani. I have been going to India ever since I was 16 years old.”

Bopanna and Qureshi first teamed-up in 2003 to play some challenger events. Last year they won over ten challenger titles. Now they’ve got their sights set on spreading the message to bigger and wider audiences.

“I'm just very, very happy and proud to be on the Indo‑Pak Express,” says Qureshi. “You know, it's really good we're getting all the wins, and we're somehow bringing the people of both nations together.”

The road to the final was not easy for Bopanna and Qureshi. For one thing, they had to get by the number 2 doubles team in the world, Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic, in the third-round of the tournament. Bopanna and Qureshi made the upset look easy, scoring a straight-sets win, 6-3, 6-4. Maybe it was the title they won in Johannesburg earlier this year or, perhaps, their quarterfinal run at Wimbledon in July that gave the pair the courage to break through here in New York. One thing is certain, their final match will be the toughest challenge so far.

This Friday, Bopanna and Qureshi will face Bob and Mike Bryan for the championship title. By now, most tennis fans are aware the world’s most famous tennis duo is going for their 65th career title. But Bopanna and Qureshi are under no illusions. They know what they’re up against.

“I mean, to win a Grand Slam you have to beat the best there is,” said Bopanna. “That's what Aisam and me keep telling. They are the best out there now. For us, we just have to go there, play our games. You know, we just beat them few weeks ago in Washington, D.C., so, you know, we are really looking forward to that Friday match, and we go in confident, playing and doing well there.”

In other tennis news, France flopped out of the US Open yesterday after the world's number 3 ranked player Novak Djokovic spanked 17th seed Gael Monfils in straight-sets to advance to the semifinals. The Serb beat the Frenchman, 7-6, 6-1, 6-2.

On the women’s side, number one seed Caroline Wozniacki moved through to the semis with her win over Dominika Cibulkova last night, 6-2, 7-5. Wozniacki will play Vera Zvonareva for a spot in the women’s final.