NEW YORK (Reuters) - Pakistan’s Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi only took up tennis to avoid doing homework, but now the doubles specialist is a household name back home with his exploits at the U.S. Open and his bid to broker peace.
The 30-year-old lost in the finals of the mixed doubles on Thursday but will get another shot at his first grand slam when he teams up with India’s Rohan Bopanna in the men’s doubles final against the top-seeded Bryan brothers Friday.
Qureshi and Bopanna have been trying to use their tennis partnership to promote more peaceful relations between India and Pakistan.
The pair wear sweatshirts emblazoned with the slogan “Stop War, Start Tennis” and there has been talk of a match being played across the India-Pakistan border.
“I’ve always said there’s no reason the Indians and Pakistanis can’t get along with each other,” said Qureshi.
“We always said sports can reach places where no religion or politics or politician can reach. If you can change a few people’s minds on the Indian or Pakistani side, I think it’s a great thing.”
Qureshi has already given the people of Pakistan something to cheer about amid catastrophic flooding in recent months which killed more than 1,700 people, displaced millions and caused an estimated $43 billion in damage.
“It’s been hard times for Pakistan especially in the last two months so to be able to help send some positive news back each day has been fantastic,” he said.
Pakistan has been also been crying out for some positive sporting news following the investigation into cricket trio Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir for their alleged involvement in a spot-fixing scandal.
“Pakistan is a cricket-mad country so tennis cannot compete, although I’ve been trying to make it compete for 14 years,” said Qureshi, himself a massive cricket fan.
Of the cricket scandal, he added: “The investigation is obviously still going on but watching the videos of what happened and hearing their voices, it looks like they were part of it. If it’s proved, it’s going to be a big setback.”
Whatever the result in Friday’s final, Qureshi can expect to receive the sort of adulation previously reserved for cricketers when he returns to Pakistan.
Big screens have been set up across Pakistan for spectators to watch his matches while Qureshi received a call from Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani ahead of this week’s finals.
“People recognized me a bit before now,” said Qureshi, who whipped Pakistan into a sporting frenzy last year after beating Roger Federer in a doubles match in Switzerland.
“When I beat Roger Federer, that was huge news for people back home, even people who didn’t know that much about tennis. But I think it might be crazy when I get back.”
Editing by Frank Pingue