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Indian and Pakistani players unite to reach U.S. Open final

By Whitney Hurst, CNN
Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi, left, and Rohan Bopanna, right, hold the 2nd place trophy at the U.S. Open.
Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi, left, and Rohan Bopanna, right, hold the 2nd place trophy at the U.S. Open.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Indian Rohan Bopanna, Pakistani Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi are the Indo-Pak Express
  • They'll play in the men's doubles finals at the U.S. Open on Friday afternoon
  • They want to ease tensions between their countries with message of peace through sport
  • The players say they hope their chemistry rubs off on others
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(CNN) -- India and Pakistan have finally found something they can agree on.

Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi, an Indian and Pakistani doubles team, made it to the men's doubles finals in the U.S. Open. On Friday afternoon, the 16th-seeded pair lost to the top-seeded Mike and Bob Bryan, an American team of identical twins.

This unlikely pair, dubbed the Indo-Pak Express, has become a symbol of pride for both nations.

Qureshi, from Pakistan, says he can see it in the fans who come to watch.

"It was great to see all the Indian supporters, most of them wearing Pakistani flags on their faces, holding Pakistani flags and cheering for the same team," he said. "That's a moment I will never forget in my life, meeting so many Indians supporting us."

India and Pakistan have been bitter foes since their creation in 1947, fighting three wars over the disputed territory of Kashmir and routinely exchanging fire over the border. Bopanna and Qureshi hope they can ease these tense relations with their message of peace through sport.

At Wimbledon this year, the team sported T-shirts and jackets with the message "Stop War, Start Tennis." The pair has even proposed playing a match at the Wagah border crossing between India and Pakistan.

Video: India and Pakistan team up for tennis
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"And just looking at the bigger picture, I just feel if me, as a Pakistani, and him, as an Indian, can do so well on the court and be friends off the court, there's no other reason why those Indians and Pakistanis can't be friends," Qureshi said in an interview with CNN.

Friends say they also carry this spirit of peace and cooperation with them off the court.

"They understand each other, speak the same language, their games complement each other," said Fazal Syed, a former Davis Cup player.

They have chemistry, key to winning doubles matches, Syed said.

In the audience at Wednesday's match was another unlikely pair: the United Nations ambassadors from India and Pakistan, cheering on the Indo-Pak Express -- together. This is the type of cooperation and progress that Bopanna and Qureshi hope to encourage.

This chemistry has allowed Bopanna and Qureshi to upset several teams during the tournament.

In round 3 of the U.S. Open, the pair beat No. 2-seeded Daniel Nestor of Canada and Nenad Zimonjic of Serbia. Bopanna and Qureshi went on in the quarterfinals to beat 10th-seeded Wesley Moodie of South Africa and Dick Norman of Belgium. And on Wednesday, the pair beat unseeded Eduardo Schwank and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina.

Bopanna hopes they can get their message to their home nations by playing well at the tournament.

"I think it's really about practicing well and then working as a team together, and I think that's the main key, just believing in each other," he said.

The run to the finals in New York is sure to generate publicity at home. But the pair won't be talking politics.

"You can't mix politics, religion or culture with sports," Qureshi said. "That's the beauty about it."

There's only one thing that the two players don't agree on, and it has little to do with cross-border differences. Bopanna likes spicy food; Qureshi most certainly doesn't.