U.S. Open: 'Indo-Pak Express' Set Inspiring Example
Swept by strong, hot winds all tournament long and extended an extra day by a rain delay into last Monday, the United States Open Tennis Championships produced no surprising results.
Yet the Open had an unexpectedly heroic scene during the men's doubles final that served as an indication of how athletics can sometimes show the stupidity and uselessness of horrible international disagreements and religious wars.
The two top-ranked tennis players in the world won their respective titles, as expected, while Roger Federer no longer stands as the Colossus astride the world of tennis.
He has been replaced by Rafael Nadal of Spain as No. 1 in the tennis world for some time. But last Monday, Nadal became the new Colossus of the sport when he won the U.S. Open title for the first time and became, at age 24, only the seventh man to win a career Grand Slam of tennis. That is, Nadal has now won the Australian, French and U.S. Open titles plus Wimbledon at least once each. Federer was the sixth man to do this.
Nadal's four-set victory over Novak Djokovic of Serbia in the U.S. final gave the Spaniard his ninth Grand Slam championship and third in a row following his triumphs in the French Open and at Wimbledon earlier this season.
The left-handed, very fast and strong Nadal made his name as king of the clay courts, winning the French Open year after year before taking Grand Slam crowns on the grass of Wimbledon and the hard courts of the Australian and U.S. Opens. He is now recognized as king of all surfaces but is seven Grand Slam titles short of Federer's record of 16 such titles.
This completed a very successful year for Spain in major international sports competitions. Spain won the World Cup of soccer in South Africa and in July, Spain's Alberto Contador took the Tour de France bicycle endurance race for the third time.
Belgium's young mother, Kim Clijsters, ranked No. 1 in women's tennis, easily beat Vera Zvonareva of Russia, 6-2, 6-1, in just 59 minutes eight days ago to win the U.S. Women's Open title for the second year in a row and third time in her career.
But it was on a blustery Friday, nine days ago, during the U.S. Open Tennis Championships that two enemy, neighbor nations halfway around the world had to pause and take note of a pair of tennis players who represented peace instead of the hatred that has disrupted those lands for decades.
India and Pakistan have engaged in what are called three "major" wars, one "minor" war and constant skirmishes ever since India was partitioned 63 years ago to form Pakistan. The struggles are mostly over the disputed territory of Kashmir. But religious and national hatreds fuel the animosity between these two countries, one of which is currently besieged by one of the worst floods in Pakistan's history. Pakistan is also mistrusted by many Americans who fear that nation is harboring instead of hunting down al-Qaeda terrorists. Also, India and Pakistan have the atom bomb in their respective arsenals.
Hopefully more people in this country and in other Western nations were watching as Pakistan's Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi and India's Rohan Bopanna played together in the men's doubles final against the 32-year-old American identical twins Mike and Bob Bryan.
The Bryans won a magnificent struggle of rapid volleys and hard shots delivered like cannon salvoes. But the Indian and Pakistani stood their ground and gave just about as much as the Bryan brothers dished out. Eventually, the Bryans won in two sets, 7-6, 7-6, when each set went to a tie breaker.
In a grand departure from the usually dull and routine trophy presentations to the winner and the runner-up, Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi took the microphone before a packed house in Arthur Ashe Stadium and said, "I want to say something on behalf of all Pakistanis. It is the wrong perception that Pakistan is being a terrorist country. We are a loving, caring people and we want peace as much as you guys want it. May God love us all."
The New York crowd gave him a standing ovation that lasted for minutes.
Bob Bryan had to brush back tears and later admitted that when Qureshi spoke he choked up a bit.
Qureshi and Bopanna have known each other since they were teenagers growing up on the Asian tennis circuit. They have teamed together for about five years. Earlier this summer they defeated the Bryan brothers at a tournament in Washington, D.C. The Bryans are ranked No. 1 in the world of men's doubles and won their ninth Grand Slam doubles title last week.
The Qureshi-Bopanna duo, known as the "Indo-Pak Express," has never backed off making political statements for peace between their two nations and peace throughout the world. But it was at Wimbledon two months ago that the two tennis players really put out a message loud and clear when they started what they call a campaign to "Stop War, Start Tennis."
During that tournament the two players wore those four words on their warm-ups prior to each match and during practice sessions. They repeated that message at the U.S. Open and elsewhere on the tennis circuit this summer.
Qureshi came close to being forced out of professional tennis by his own country's tennis federation in 2002 when he paired up with Amir Hadad of Israel. The Pakistan Tennis Federation threatened Qureshi by saying it would no longer be funding his tennis and would not allow him to represent Pakistan in Davis Cup competition because he played with a Jew.
But Qureshi stood his ground, claiming sports have nothing to do with politics or religion. He played with Hadad at Wimbledon in 2002 and the pair was given a wild card entry into the U.S. Open later that summer. Because of their courage for standing up against those ugly religious and national hatreds involving Muslims vs. Jews, Hadad and Qureshi were given the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian of the Year award in 2002. Three years later Pakistan's Qureshi decided to team up with India's Bopanna.
This team has had its most successful run this year.
In a very important and public move of considerable significance to both Pakistan and India and the world, the Pakistan and Indian -ambassadors to the United Nations sat side by side in the players' box at Arthur Ashe Stadium during the final men's doubles match. TV cameras displayed those two men quite often as television reporters interviewed them during the match.
Nobody expects peace to result from this tennis doubles final, or the flood-ravaged area of Pakistan to -suddenly become livable and arable land once again because one Pakistan tennis player and one Indian tennis player get along well -together.
But such monumental changes are only made very slowly by baby steps. These two gallant tennis players are taking a few of those baby steps for their fellow countrymen and for the rest of the world.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is email@example.com.
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