Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Indo-Pak Express

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I was hoping to tell the tale of a fourth Indian Grand Slam champion. Unfortunately, Rohan Bopanna and his Pakistani partner, Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi succumbed to the Bryan twins – Bob and Mike – in the final of the U.S. Open Men’s Doubles yesterday. But the pair, nicknamed the Indo-Pak express, as the final score (7-6, 7-6) suggests, did fine justice to its undeniable talent.

It was a testament to the quality of the two teams on show that there wasn’t a single break of service throughout the match, especially considering the blustery conditions. That Bopanna and Qureshi were excellent is also exemplified by Bob Bryan’s post-match comments: “This has been the best match we ever played. These guys played incredible. We had to step up and match their energy.”

The Indo-Pak duo remained aggressive right through the match, serving purposefully and volleying adroitly, with √©lan. Adopting the I-formation on both their first and second serves, they stayed true to their game plan, attacking the Bryans on every conceivable opportunity. If anything, it was their inability to play the big points well that turned the tide in the Americans’ favour, as evinced by the fact that they failed to convert any of the four break points that they had fashioned. Even in the tie-breaks, the Asians had surged ahead only to let nerves get their better at crucial junctures.

The victory marks the Bryans’ ninth Grand Slam triumph and they are now only two short of the Todd Woodbridge-Mark Woodforde axis. The win also means that Bob Bryan is only the fourth player to hold the Men’s and the Mixed Doubles at the U.S. Open simultaneously. But for all the feats of the Bryans, the match and perhaps the year as far as doubles tennis is concerned has belonged to the Indo-Pak duo who came together to play under the banner ‘Stop War, Start Tennis’, an initiative of Peace and Sport (an international organisation that seeks “to promote sustainable peace by raising awareness about and educating youth about peace using the structuring values of sport”).

These statements – whether viewed as political or otherwise – is however, aside from the remarkable season that the pair has enjoyed. The year has seen them lift the title at Johannesburg and reach the finals at Casablanca, New Haven, Nice and Napoli. In Washington, they had defeated the Bryans in the quarter-finals, only to fall to the twins in the semi-finals at the event at Los Angeles that preceded the U.S. Open.

There is no doubting that both Qureshi and Bopanna are commendable doubles players. Their respective games dovetail beautifully – the Indian possesses the more powerful serve and is better from the baseline, while the Pakistani has quick hands at the net and is able to vary the angles on his volleys with aplomb. They are no doubt late bloomers, (both are aged 30) but if they manage to stay united, they could well make more than a mere political mark at the world stage.

With the interest in doubles tennis having regressed over the last decade, the Bopanna-Qureshi combine could well reinvigorate the format. In paying tribute to the Bopanna-Qureshi pair, Mike Bryan said: “What they're doing to bring India and Pakistan together is pretty special. A sport can bring people together. These guys are going to be great for the game for a long time. Hopefully they stick together, and I think they will.” And brother Bob added, “They’re going to be around for a long time, I think, if they stick together. They do too many things well, big serving; they've got all the doubles skills. It’s going be good to have just another high marquee team, high profile team out there. It’s really going to help doubles.”

1 comment:

Norman Canter said...

Thanks for a great story about two boys on a mission. We appreciate people like yourself