Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi, I read somewhere, has been writing a line in his diary every day of 2007. That line reads: "I will qualify for Wimbledon."
And this Pakistani tennis player did just that: played through the forgotten tennis backwaters that are the "qualies", and made it to the main draw of Wimbledon. Then on Tuesday, he won his first round match in the main draw, a straight-sets walk in the park against Lee Childs. His reward for that feat? A second-round match against the Russian tennis maestro and maverick, double grand-slam winner and once world #1, Marat Safin.
Whatever Qureshi does against Safin, he will be remembered. Though not for his first round win, nor for qualifying for Wimbledon. Nor even for his superb win two weeks ago at the grasscourt warmup tournament in Halle, against the up-and-coming Frenchman Richard Gasquet.
No, many who love this game remember Qureshi instead for what he did four years ago: he played doubles at that year's Wimbledon. His partner? Amir Hadad. From Israel.
Should it have been a surprise that this got Qureshi into plenty of trouble at home in Pakistan? The sports establishment there worked itself into a tizzy of harrumphing, flinging about words like "ban" and "this is wrong" and "he will not be allowed to play Davis Cup for Pakistan".
To his credit, Qureshi was entirely unfazed by all this. Here's some of what he said in reaction:
"I am surprised at the fuss being made over my partnership ... If we can change people's minds then that would be a good thing. ... If we win here then I would dedicate the victory to my family and to peace. It would be good for those doubters to see that even though we are from different religions it is possible for us to work together and have some fun. A Jew and a Muslim playing together is not the end of the world. We are all human beings. We have the same blood, the same skin."
Indeed. And I have to wonder, what if Qureshi teamed up with our own doubles maestro, Mahesh Bhupathi, to play the next Grand Slam and more? How much harrumphing would there be on two sides of a border?
Yet what kind of a signal would it send out on both sides of that border?
Good speed to you, Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi. You'll need it in your match against one of the tennis geniuses of our time, Safin. But really, I don't care what happens in that match. As they say: You're already a winner.