After seven years, the Indo-Pak Express is again on the circuit. And as soon as again, Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi, the pair that championed the ‘Stop War, Start Tennis’ slogan, are spreading the message of peace and interesting for the decoupling of sports activities and politics.
Early on Wednesday, the eve of their first-round match on the ATP 500 Mexico Open in Acapulco, in an Idea Exchange with The Indian Express, they spoke about their reunion and the joy amongst their followers on either side of the border.
Qureshi lamented the snapping of sporting ties between India and Pakistan. “It is disappointing that for political reasons, these things are not happening and sports are getting affected. Sports and arts, that’s the beauty about it that we don’t rate people because of the culture or religion or which country they belong from. And it should be left like that,” he says.
“For me, it’s disappointing that Indians can’t come to Pakistan to play, or Pakistanis can’t go to India to play either.”
Bopanna, 41, recollects a pleasing incident he skilled when he had travelled throughout the border to attend Qureshi’s wedding ceremony.
“The function finished pretty late. I was heading back to the hotel when suddenly we were stopped at a check post. The cop recognised who I was and wanted to take selfies. And this was at 3 AM and they were ready to say ‘let’s sit down and have a cup of tea’,” he recollects.
“It’s always been such wonderful things.”
Sports and politics
Bilateral sporting ties between the 2 international locations have been suspended for some time. The final time the 2 international locations performed a bilateral cricket sequence was in January 2013 in India. Even the Davis Cup tie in 2019, for which the Indian staff was anticipated to journey to Islamabad, was shifted to impartial Kazakhstan by the International Tennis Federation (ITF). But simply because it has previously when the ‘Indo-Pak Express’ teamed up, the message of peace has began to resonate.
“We have to, as individuals, work towards peace in this world,” Qureshi mentioned, a day earlier than his forty first birthday. “I really believe that peace is the only way to move forward. Not just between India and Pakistan, but throughout the world.”
That message of peace had rung loud and clear again in 2010 as effectively, when the pair reached the US Open ultimate. Recalling these heady days of Indo-Pak bonhomie, Bopanna mentioned: “There were two ambassadors from our countries who came together to watch the semi-finals and then the finals. It was a big moment for everybody out there. For friends, families, the countries, to support one team was really huge.”
Reigniting outdated chemistry
But amidst the promotion of peace by means of the friendship of the 2 gamers born simply weeks aside in March 1980, is the ambition to proceed their pursuit of higher laurels on the tennis tour.
“We both wanted to play this week. I met Aisam in Australia, he came up to me and asked if I had a partner,” Bopanna explains their newest reunion. “I’ve done well with Aisam in the past, it’s not a new partnership we have to figure out. And this made things much easier. We weren’t thinking about anything else.”
The duo, each of whom have been prime 10 doubles stars, are anticipated to compete for simply this one week collectively earlier than their rankings (Bopanna on 42 and Qureshi on 48) pressure them to search higher-ranked companions to enter different competitions. But this newest reunion comes at a time when their respective international locations have skilled a thaw in political tensions.
A ceasefire firstly of the month has offered hope for peace. Yet Qureshi asserts that the border points would by no means have influenced his choice to pair up with the big-serving Indian.
“God forbid, even if things are not good between India and Pakistan, I have said no to my country (before),” says Qureshi. “I have had political pressure before as well when I’ve played with Bops and when I played with a Jewish guy (Amir Hadad of Israel). But I still carried on playing with my friends. And I would have done the same this time around as well.”