For our sixth annual Heroes Issue, we’ve selected passages from the last 50 years of Tennis Magazine and TENNIS.com—starting in 1969 and ending in 2018—to highlight 50 worthy heroes. Each passage acknowledges the person as they were then; each subsequent story catches up with the person, or highlights their impact, as they are now. It is best summed up with a quote from the great Arthur Ashe, that was featured on the cover of the November/December issue of this magazine in 2015: “True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”
The Indian-Pakistani doubles team of Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi were given the Grand Prix of Peace & Sports award. The pair from the two rival nations has begun to use the slogan “Stop War, Start Tennis.”– Matthew Cronin / March 2010
Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi may be remembered as Pakistan’s best tennis player, a doubles stalwart for two decades. But the 38-year-old will also be remembered as someone who used tennis—and the opportunities for cooperation doubles offers—as a way to build bridges that few others have been willing to build, and as someone who never shied away from controversy in his quest for peace.
A child of a Muslim family, Qureshi made news as a 22-year-old in 2002, when he teamed with Amir Hadad of Israel at Wimbledon and the US Open. He made even more news, and had even more success, when he teamed with India’s Rohan Bopanna and reached the final of the 2010 US Open. The “Indo-Pak Express” showed what could happen when their two countries, which have been adversaries since they were split apart in 1947, came together in a common cause.
“This whole two weeks,” said Qureshi, who received a call from Pakistan’s prime minister before the US Open final, “was for the peace, and for spreading out the message.”
Ever since, Qureshi has spread that message far beyond the pro tour, and far beyond Pakistan and India. With Bopanna, he founded the Stop War Start Tennis foundation to promote peace through tennis in countries that have been devastated by armed conflicts.
Stop War Start Tennis targets people who have been affected by wars or natural disasters,” Qureshi said. “We provide specific tennis wheelchairs and tennis equipment to people who have lost their limbs and can’t walk again. Tennis has given me everything. I feel like it’s my obligation and my responsibility to give something back.”
As Qureshi’s doubles career continues, his commitment to the foundation has only grown. In 2017, he made a six-day trip through Uganda and Rwanda, two African countries ravaged by war, to get a ground-level view of what needs to be done. According to the ATP’s website, Qureshi met with “barefoot kids and amputee adults, kids with special needs and displaced refugees, orphans diagnosed with AIDS, and able-bodied adults looking to rise above the poverty line by teaching tennis to upper class expatriates.”
The partnership between Qureshi and Bopanna has taken them farther than they could have imagined, but one goal remains to be achieved: to play a tennis match across the India-Pakistan border. Judging by what they’ve achieved already, even that barrier may one day be broken.