Tennis star gets hero’s welcome in Pakistan

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Tennis star gets hero’s welcome in Pakistan


Rohan Bopanna of India, right, returns the ball as Pakistan’s Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi looks on in the U.S. Open men’s doubles final in New York Sept. 10. [AP/YONHAP]

LAHORE, Pakistan - Fans, relatives and tennis officials gave Pakistan’s first Grand Slam finalist a hero’s homecoming on Wednesday, hailing him a peacemaker and a role model. Government and Pakistan Tennis Federation (PTF) officials draped Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi with garlands as fans chanted “long live Aisam” and “our new hero.”

Qureshi, 30, fell short of winning Pakistan’s first Grand Slam title but his unusual pairing with India’s Rohan Bopanna in the men’s doubles was praised against a backdrop of struggling peace efforts between Islamabad and New Delhi. It also came as Pakistan cricket struggles to fight off damaging allegations of corruption.

Qureshi and his Czech partner Kveta Peschke went down to Americans Liezel Huber and Bob Bryan in the mixed doubles final of the U.S. Open on Sept. 10, before Qureshi and Bopanna lost to Bob and Mike Bryan in the men’s doubles final.

“I am pleased that I have been able to bring some joy to my countrymen,” said Qureshi.

“I didn’t win the titles but I am sure I will do that in the years to come,” added Qureshi, who plans to play exhibition matches with Bopanna soon.

Qureshi became the first Pakistani to reach the finals of a Grand Slam event, news welcomed by President Asif Ali Zardari and millions of Pakistani fans. PTF president Dilawar Abbas said the Qureshi-Bopanna partnership would help to promote peace between the two arch nuclear rivals.

“Qureshi’s success will not only go long way in promoting tennis in Pakistan, but his partnership with Bopanna has already been praised in international media and will help to promote peace between India and Pakistan,” he said.

Qureshi’s parents spoke of their pride.

“We are proud of his achievement and by reaching the finals of the U.S. Open he has made the nation proud,” his father Ehtesham said. “His partnership with Bopanna has already been praised by Indian and Pakistani media, and throughout the U.S. Open the Qureshi-Bopanna pair got more praise because they come from rival nations.”

Added his mother and former tennis player Nausheen Qureshi: “I was always confident that my son will do it and write a new chapter in the history of Pakistan’s sports and will bring a Grand Slam title soon.”

“He has become a role model for the youth,” she said.

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