NEW YORK: Pakistan's Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi and India's Rohan Bopanna lost the US Open men's doubles final to US top seeds Mike and Bob Bryan on Friday but were winners in their wider mission to inspire peace.
With United Nations ambassadors Hardeep Singh Puri of India and Abdullah Hussain Haroon of Pakistan sitting together cheering on the ‘Indo-Pak Express’, Qureshi and Bopanna were beaten by the top-ranked duo 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (7/4).
‘This has been the best match we ever played. These guys played incredible. We had to step up and match their energy,’ Bob Bryan said. ‘Maybe it's lifting their games they are playing for the world not just for India and Pakistan.’
Bopanna and Qureshi, who promote peace between their feuding homelands, raised their game on the eve of the ninth anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
As issues of a building a mosque near the 9/11 attack site in New York and possible burning of Qurans in Florida threaten to pull apart America and the Muslim world, Qureshi made an appeal for understanding.
‘I feel there's a very wrong perception of Pakistan as a terrorist country,’ Qureshi said. ‘We are a friendly, caring and peace-loving country and we want peace as much as you all.’
Qureshi drew a standing ovation from fans at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
‘It choked me up,’ Bob Bryan said. ‘He was quivering a little bit. Just to give that message to everyone was very heartfelt.
‘What they are doing is a lot more important than winning the US Open.’
Qureshi, who said he always has a long immigration wait before being allowed entry to the United States when he arrives at New York, admitted, ‘It was pretty heavy talking to so many people.
‘Since September 11, every time I come to the States or western countries, I feel people have the wrong impression of Pakistan as a terrorist nation.
‘We want peace in this world as much as Americans want and the rest of the world. We are all on the same side. There are extremists in every religion, but just because of them you can't judge the whole country as a terrorist nation.’
Bopanna, whose parents came from India to see him in the final, was pleased about the effort on the court and in helping bring India and Pakistan closer.
‘Being here and doing well is a great message to send across,’ he said. ‘It has been a great run. I'm really thankful Aisam is here playing with me.’
Qureshi dedicated his efforts to 21 million flood victims in Pakistan and apologized to his homeland for falling short twice in the finals.
‘My only motivation from all of the matches was to send some good news back home, which people really needed,’ Qureshi said. ‘I hope we gave them a reason to smile.’
Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani telephoned Qureshi before the match to wish him good luck.
‘In these dark times Pakistan was going through, it was a great gesture,’ Qureshi said.
The Bryans, who donated $5,000 to Pakistani flood relief, were given large scarves by the Pakistani ambassador in appreciation.
‘To have the ambassadors here, it shows it's bigger than just a tennis match,’ Mike Bryan said. ‘When it comes down to it, there are a lot of people in Pakistan who don't have homes and are out on the street.
‘What they're doing to bring India and Pakistan together is pretty special.’
The Bryans stretched their record ATP doubles title total to 65 with their third US Open crown and ninth Grand Slam title, two shy of the all-time record set by Australians Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde.
‘These guys just proved why they are number one in the world,’ Qureshi said. ‘It has been a great experience, something I'll remember the rest of my life.’
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