The headlines about the recently completed U.S. Open tennis championship included that Rafael Nadal won, Roger Federer didn’t, and Kim Clijsters — a wife and mother — won on the women’s side. However, if these are the only headlines you’ve read, you’re missing out on the big story: An Indian and a Pakistani were doubles partners. Their countries are almost always at war, but these two men became friends, played tennis and touched hands after their final match in a very emotional end to the championship.
Neither Aisam-ul-haq Querehi of Pakistan nor Rohan Boprana of India played tennis together to make a political statement. They became partners simply because they each needed a partner, and they didn’t care what country he was from, or what religion he belonged to. In fact, in 2002, Querehi’s partner, Amir Hadad, was an Israeli.
Querehi has said, “Sports is above religion and politics,” but this year they couldn’t resist making a political statement. On the jackets they wore at Wimbledon, were the words, “Stop War, Start Tennis.”
That slogan may sound a bit simplistic and unrealistic. I mean, is it really possible for every soldier in the world to drop his or her rifle and pick up a tennis racket instead? Probably not. What the slogan really means is to pursue peaceful things instead of war. During the U.S. Open, some Vietnam vets asked if they could buy some of those “Stop War, Start Tennis” shirts. However, there weren’t any for sale.
As Querehi and Boprana continued to win their matches in the U.S. Open, larger and larger crowds of Indians and Pakistanis came to the tennis center in New York. In fact, towards the end of the tournament, these two players looked up in the stands and saw the Indian ambassador to the U.N. sitting next to the Pakistani ambassador to the U.N. There is no confirmation that these two men shared a box of popcorn, but maybe they’re taking this one step at a time.
There was a lot of excitement when Querehi and Boprana made it to the doubles championship against Americans Bob and Mike Bryan, the world champions. In a thrilling match, the Bryan brothers beat what is now nicknamed the Indo-Pak Express. However, the final point was not the end of all the on-court emotion.
When Querehi took the microphone on court, after thanking everyone, he said he wanted people to know that the common image of Muslims is not accurate. He added, “We do have terrorist groups. We do have extremists. But I feel like in every religion there are extremists. It doesn’t mean that the whole nation is terrorist or extremist. Pakistan is a very peace-loving country … and we want peace as much as you guys want it. May God love us all.”
At the post-match news conference, the Pakistani ambassador gave the Bryan brothers ceremonial shawls to thank them for donating some of their prize money to Pakistani flood relief. They had done so with no particular fanfare.
To Querehi and Boprana, the most amazing thing was to have seen some Pakistanis cheering an Indian, and some Indians cheering a Pakistani. Some might also think it was amazing that some of the Americans in the crowd cheered a Hindu and a Muslim. And they cheered the Americans, too.
It was an exuberant moment in sports. Here, in the city where the towers fell and where there is so much Muslim-related controversy right now, New Yorkers gave all four men a standing ovation. I’m not so naive as to think that a tennis match changed everyone’s opinion of other religions and nationalities. Probably by the time they got home, most of the fans reverted to whatever their old feelings had been. Most of the fans, but maybe not all of them.
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from “Sesame Street” to “Family Ties” to “Home Improvement” to “Frasier.” He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his website at lloydgarver.com and his podcasts on iTunes.