Bopanna-Qureshi bridging cross-border divide through tennis

Bopanna, raised in the coffee-growing Coorg region, near the southern Indian city of Bangalore and Qureshi, born in Lahore, are tennis' most intriguing doubles pairing, coming from countries that share a turbulent past. The relations between the two neighbours India and Pakistan have become more frostier post-2008 Mumbai terror attack but Bopanna and Qureshi have been embraced as a welcome change.

Bopanna, who with Qureshi reached their maiden Grand Slam final at the US Open Wednesday, defeating Argentina's Eduardo Schwank and Horacio Zaballos 7-6(5), 6-4 in the US Open tennis men's doubles semi-finals, said they are trying to promote peace through tennis.

"I think there's a lot more than just us playing together. We're just trying to promote peace through sports. We are not looking into any political part or anything. We're just trying to see if people can change their minds. If we both can get along, why can't others as well," Bopanna said.

Their friendship of more than 10 years has weathered the political storm and the two 30-year-olds admit facing problems in the beginning of their partnership.
"Initially we did have a few problems, because a Pakistani was partnering an Indian at major tournaments, but people appreciate the fact that we're sticking together and have done well. "There isn't too much prejudice now, but I would be naive to say there wasn't any grievance."It is only later the two realised the interest their unique partnership evoked in the public eye.

"It was just a case of finding somebody to play with on the tour. We spoke similar languages. I speak in Hindi and Aisam speaks Urdu. We didn’t think about the national divide, until the media were alerted by our success," Bopanna was quoted as saying in the ATP website.

Qureshi, the reticent of the two, and first Pakistan player to be in top 50 in doubles, has lived the prejudice of being a Muslim post 9/11 attack when often he had to wait for his visas. But the two stuck on. The partnership which began in the middle of 2007 flourished with each passing tournament.

Qureshi hopes his success with Bopanna would bring change in the Western perception of Muslims and relief to the people back in Pakistan torn by floods and corruption.  
"The beauty of sport is that it brings together different cultures and religions. It is free from all the conflicts," Qureshi said.

"I feel like the western world and America, they have a very wrong perception about Muslims and Pakistan. We do have terrorist groups, we do have extremists, but I feel like every religion there are extremists there. You know, it doesn't mean that the whole nation is terrorist or extremist.

"Pakistan is a very peace loving country. Everybody loves sports. I think everybody wants peace, as well. The only reason we are actually getting so many terrorist attacks is because we are allies with America and the western world in fighting this cause. I just hope that I get this opportunity also tomorrow to address to the people. I can let them know also that their perception of Pakistanis being a terrorist country is definitely very, very wrong," he said.

"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. I'm just very happy and proud that I can send positive news back home for people to cheer about," said Qureshi, who also reached the final of the mixed doubles with Czech Kveta Peschke.

Seen as ambassadors of peace, the two are considering wearing T-shirts with the slogan 'Stop War, Start Tennis, Love India/Love Pakistan' to promote tennis and better relations between the two nations.

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