Nate Chura is senior tennis pro at the Heights Casino in Brooklyn and covers the U.S. Open for WNYC.
The U.S. national anthem brought Arthur Ashe Stadium to its feet a few minutes before noon today. Shortly thereafter, Rohan Bopanna and Aisam Qureshi walked out onto center court followed by the world’s No. 1 doubles team, Bob and Mike Bryan.
The crowd inside the stadium was respectable for the occasion. Doubles usually takes a back seat to singles, despite the fact that doubles is the most popular form of recreational tennis throughout the world. But today was an exception. As the players entered the arena, they received a partial standing ovation. “When we came out it was pretty full,” said Mike Bryan. “Usually they start filling in toward the end of the match, you know, waiting for the [singles] match. But they came out to see the doubles, which was really nice.”
It was the first-ever grand slam doubles final for Bopanna and Qureshi, the self-described “Indo-Pak Express.” The unlikely Indian-Pakistani pair were the heart-warming story of the tournament. They carried a message of peace and hope from their historically adversarial home nations.
Unfortunately, they met the force of the Bryans this afternoon. In two tight sets, the Californians derailed the Indo-Pak Express for the title and capped a monumental summer season with their third U.S. Open doubles title. The score was a tidy, 7-6(5), 7-6(4). “It's just been a crazy summer,” said Bob Bryan afterward. “To win Toronto, Cincinnati and the Open is a dream come true. We've played the best tennis we've ever played.”
The post-match press conference was unexpectedly interrupted by Pakistani and Indian Ambassadors Abdullah Hussein Haroon and Hardeep Singh Puri, who paraded into the press room. The Pakistani Ambassador wanted to thank the Bryans for their $5,000 donation to the flood relief fund. In front of a room full of cameras, Ambassador Haroon presented the Bryans with two traditional Pakistani scarves.
He draped one over Bob’s shoulders, then asked Ambassador Puri to do the same to Mike.
After the diplomats left the room, the Bryans spoke about the honor they just received. “To have the ambassador of Pakistan and India here,” said Mike Bryan, “it's a special occasion. It shows that it's bigger than just a tennis match. And these are cool. These are 5,000 years old. Who knows? I might make this into a couple of shirts. Yeah, this might bring us luck in the future. I want to wear this when we play those guys.”
Before the ultimate match, the Bryan brothers led Bopanna and Qureshi in their head-to-head tilts, 2-1. But Bopanna and Qureshi won the last encounter in Washington, D.C., earlier this summer.
The Bryans went into the match looking to settle the score. They got off to a good start. They won the coin toss and characteristically chose to serve. Bopanna and Qureshi gladly elected to return from the south side of center court. While the Americans unleashed their blistering service might and powerful volleying prowess to win the opening game of the showdown in just over a minute, Bopanna and Qureshi quickly proved to have an effective counter-attack. The Indo-Pak strategy largely centered around protecting Quershi’s service games. In that respect, Bopanna—son of a coffee plantation worker—led an effective campaign. While Quershi has the blood of a champion—his mother is a former Fed Cup player and was a 10-time Pakistan national tennis champion—he humbly jokes about Bopanna. “He's got a big game,” Qureshi said of his partner. "I don't."
Opportunities are rare at the height of any profession, but they’re doubly difficult against the Bryans. Nonetheless, Bopanna and Quershi stayed the course and played fine tactical tennis, halting all service-break assaults from the Americans. In both tiebreakers they had chances to extend the lead, but in the face of such adversity, the Bryans simply delivered some of the finest doubles ever seen.
“Obviously, we would love to win the match,” said Qureshi, “but to me, winning and losing is a different matter. I know I gave 100 percent, and Rohan gave 100 percent also. So we can easily have pleasant dreams tonight. We had opportunities. I think the Bryans played the big points really well, and they just proved why they are No. 1 in the world and definitely the best team in the history of tennis. I just see this Indo‑Pak Express winning a long way, and in the future gonna win a lot of titles, as well.”
It was a winning affair for both teams.
Other notable news of the day included the exiting of No. 1 women’s seed Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark and former world No. 1 Venus Williams, the last American singles player to flame out of the tournament. Wozniacki, a popular pick to win the tournament last Monday, fell to Vera Zvonareva, 6-4, 6-3.
Apparently Zvonareva didn’t buy the hype about her top-ranked opponent. “I always believe I can beat anyone on the other side of the net,” she said, “if I'm able to play my best tennis. There is nothing really changed for me, you know. I know I'm not gonna play perfect tennis all the time, like most of the players, but that's what we all trying to do. I know if I'm doing it, if I'm playing well, I can beat anyone.”
The match was undeniably disappointing for Wozniacki, a finalist here last year. In her post-match analysis, she chalked up the loss to a tough day at the office, unable to put her finger on any one failing. “It was just a day like this,” said Wozniacki. “I was really trying. I was really trying to move my legs even more, trying to get into this rhythm where I could lead in this game. But, you know, she was really strong today and she played really well.”
Williams crumbled under the weight of last year’s champ, the darling Belgian mother, Kim Clijsters. While Venus got off to quick start, taking the first set, she quickly found herself in a second-set tiebreaker. That’s when it all went south. Williams double-faulted twice and missed an easy overhead smash, which gave the Belgian life. Clijsters took the second set and then battled her nerves in the third to score, 4-6, 7-6, 6-4 win over the two-time U.S. Open champion.
“It means a lot to be in the final and to give myself a chance to defend my title from last year,” said Clijsters. “It's a great opportunity. Obviously beating Venus here last year and this year, it's a good feeling. I think today was probably one of the best matches that I've played throughout the tournament.”
As for Williams, while she leaves Flushing Meadows sooner than she would have wished, she made it clear she doesn’t believe she’s over the hill. “I definitely feel like I'll be back next year,” Williams said. “This is what I do, and I feel like I played great tennis even with minimal preparation. Yeah, obviously I would have liked to win this match and be playing tomorrow. You know, I may have lost the match, but that's just this match. There will be others.”
In the meantime, Clijsters and Zvonareva will square off for the title this Saturday after the men’s semifinals. Clijsters leads their head-to-head, 5-2.