Mon, Jun 29, 2009 - Page 18 News List

India-Pakistan duo create a fans frenzy

DELIRIOUS SCENES: Joy and emotion lit up one of the outside courts following a second-round win for India’s Prakash Amritraj and Pakistan’s Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi

REUTERS , LONDON

Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi of Pakistan, left, discusses tactics with partner Prakash Amritraj of India during their Wimbledon doubles match against Rameez Junaid of Australia and Philipp Marx of Germany in London on Friday.

PHOTO: AFP

If the joy and emotion that lit up one of Wimbledon’s outside courts late on Friday was stored in a battery, it would probably have had enough power to run the much-talked about Centre Court roof.

Courtesy of another epic five-set encounter, India-Pakistan duo Prakash Amritraj and Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi set up a third-round tie against fourth seeds Mahesh Bhupathi of India and Mark Knowles of the Bahamas, to be played on Court 14 today.

Cue scenes of delirium among the spectators on the outside court as drinks went flying and strangers hugged.

“Nobody cared about who was Pakistani and who was Indian,” said Qureshi, Pakistan’s leading player. “They were all just supporting one team. It felt so good. This is the first time there were so many people from Pakistan watching me live. Even my 18-month-old nephew was there. Though by the time it was finishing, he was sleeping.”

British youngsters, with barely any of their compatriots left to cheer, were so roused by the match that at the end they were scrambling for autographs and yelling: “You’re our favorite players now.”

They weren’t the only ones caught up in the frenzy.

So focused was the 25-year-old Amritraj at the conclusion that he forgot what happened at the end of the match.

“On all six match points they put in a good first serve,” he said, only to be corrected by Qureshi.

“No, the last one was a second serve. You hit a forehand down the line,” the 29-year-old said, playfully punching his partner’s arm.

Amritraj’s father Vijay, twice a Wimbledon quarter-finalist in 1973 and 1981 and who also featured in the James Bond film Octopussy, was court-side for the encounter and despite wearing a dark suit, the heat was not the only thing getting to him.

“He was pretty close to having a heart attack,” his son joked, making Qureshi burst out laughing. “He was getting a little tight. He had one five-setter two days ago and another one today.”

Vijay was just thankful his boy came out on top.

“Stressful game to watch, but a wonderful ending,” said the 55-year-old commentator for ESPN Star Sports.

Though the likes of Court 11 are a mere stone’s throw from the showpiece Centre and No. 1 courts, those that get drawn on them are worlds apart from the top players.

The India-Pakistan duo had to get through two qualifying matches and, after overcoming 16th seeds Ross Hutchins and Stephen Huss in round one, are now the only qualifiers left in the draw.

Yet Qureshi, ranked 85th in doubles, enjoys his lifestyle and the companionship among the less talked-about players.

“The funny thing is I know both of them so well,” he said of their second round opponents Philipp Marx of Germany and Rameez Junaid of Australia. “Two or three weeks ago, I was playing in Germany and we hung out in the evenings all the time. They also cheered for us during our qualifying matches and they were cheering for us on the first day. That’s the beauty about this sport.”

Amritraj and Qureshi are also familiar with today’s opponent Bhupathi and will need to be at their best to derail the 11-times Grand Slam doubles and mixed doubles champion.

“He’s a good player, but we’ve played with each other so much. I think we have a really good shot,” Amritraj said, backed up by Qureshi.

“We almost have nothing to lose. We can relax and they’ll have all the pressure,” Qureshi said.

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