By P.T. Bopanna

As India’s Rohan Bopanna is all set to play his 50th and final Davis Cup tie later this weekend, it is time to recall his greatest match which had Pakistanis cheering for him.

Bopanna overcame the trust deficit between warring neighbours India and Pakistan to reach the US Open men’s doubles tennis championship with his Pakistani team-mate Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi (in picture) in 2010.

Perhaps for the first time in the troubled history of the two South Asian neighbours, Bopanna, hailing from Coorg (Kodagu) in Karnataka and his Pakistani doubles partner showed to the world that there was hope for peace if only the two nations began trusting each other and buried their turbulent past.

Nicknamed the “The Indo-Pak Express”, the duo reached the US Open in 2010 where they ended runners-up to the legendary Mike and Bob Bryan of the United States.

The US Open final was a historic occasion as a lot of Pakistanis and Indians in the crowd cheered for the team. There was no way of telling who was Pakistani and who was Indian as the crowds from the two nations joined together to support the same team.

Though Bopanna and Qureshi, 16th seeds, were playing their first ever Grand Slam final, they made the world number one pair work hard for points and played enthralling tennis for more than one-and-a-half hours.

Commenting on the match, Stephen Cohen, an expert on South Asian politics at The Brookings Institute, a non-profit public policy organization based in Washington, D.C., said: “It’s pretty much a cold war relationship and these guys are breaking through it. Just trying to be normal people with abnormal governmental relations and I give them a lot of credit for it. They want to ignore politics for human relationships.”

The first time Bopanna and Qureshi realized their potential for change was in 2007, at a tournament in Mumbai. The pair had advanced to the final, but before it started, they watched India and Pakistan play in the cricket World Cup from the players’ lounge.

Qureshi and his father watched the match in which Pakistan lost the match. Qureshi recalled that his disappointment faded when he stepped onto the court and came across hundreds of fans with India’s flag painted on one cheek and Pakistan’s on the other.

 “It’s something I’ll never forget. I never expected that we would be able to create such a high”, Qureshi was quoted as saying after the match.
The duo met in India more than a decade ago as youngsters on the ITF Junior circuit and became friends. In 2003, they began playing as a team, and have since won an ATP World Tour title, along with advancing to four other finals in the last few years.

While Bopanna’s tall, lanky frame provides the blistering serves for which he has earned nickname ‘Bofors Bopanna’, Qureshi, a more accomplished singles player, sets up the points.

Source: Coorg Role Models, by P.T. Bopanna, Rolling Stone Publications, 2021. Paperback copy of the book available on Amazon:

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