Roger Federer and other leading tennis players devoted the eve of the Australian Open to a fundraiser for Haiti earthquake victims in an exhibition match today that offered a rare glimpse at the camaraderie behind their on-court rivalries.
The event dubbed “Hit for Haiti” raised more than USD 185,000, an amount that organisers expected would increase.
Federer, who has won a record 15 Grand Slam titles, teamed up with reigning Australian Open champion Serena Williams and Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt and Samantha Stosur.
Their opponents were 2009 winner Rafael Nadal, 2008 winner Novak Djokovic, Andy Roddick and US Open champion Kim Clijsters.
The players wore microphones on court, adding to the entertainment of a mixed-doubles match featuring player substitutions. Commentating as they lunged, lobbed and smashed, they displayed their athleticism and personalities.
There was the eloquent and debonair Federer who played the role of master of ceremonies. It was Federer’s idea to hold the match, which he helped organize a day earlier. There was the good-natured Clijsters cracking jokes, playful Nadal with his sideways grin and wisecracking Roddick.
To the delight of the crowd, Roddick mocked Williams’ infamous meltdown at the US Open when a line judge called her for a foot fault during a crucial point in her semifinal loss to Clijsters.
“Did you really call a foot fault on me in a charity match?” Roddick asked and added, “You realise Serena’s over there, right?”
The camera panned to Williams sitting on the sidelines shaking her head and laughing, as the packed 15,000-seat stadium erupted in laughter. Williams has been touchy on that subject since her arrival in Australia last week - the profanity-laced, finger-pointing tirade cost her a record fine of USD 82,500.
Federer tried three times to show off the shot from his US Open victory against Djokovic that he has described as the greatest of his life: a between-the-legs, back-to-the-net winner from the baseline. Today, it worked once and sunk into the net twice.
Djokovic displayed his powerful serve, acing Williams on one point and prompting her to comment: “You look really good acing girls.”
Later, Nadal smashed a winner at Williams’ feet, evoking a piercing shriek from the world’s No. 1-ranked women’s player.
“Don’t scare me like that Rafa,” she said, drawing support from teammate Federer who assured her, “I’ll get him back.”
At one game break, Clijsters massaged Nadal’s sore thigh.
In the end, Federer’s so-called Red Team beat the rival Blue Team 7-6 in their one-set match that lasted an hour and a half. The teams were named for the colors of Haiti’s flag.
“It was a fun afternoon for all of us. But most important is that we can help Haiti,” Federer told the center court crowd after the match ended.
Some players made separate contributions, organisers said, including 2008 Australian Open winner Maria Sharapova (USD 10,000), American John Isner (USD 5,000) - after he won the Auckland tournament - and Marcos Baghdatis (USD 5,000) - after his win in Sydney.
Seats cost AD 10 - a fraction of the normal price for a Grand Slam match - and fans lined up from early morning, waiting hours to get tickets for the afternoon match.
“It was electric in there,” said Melbourne resident Helen Forrest, 63. “This was just really fun and a really good way to see the other side of the players.”
Zaggy Dean, a 40-year-old real estate photographer from Melbourne, called it a worthy cause.
“I’m devastated about this tragedy. It’s one of the poorest countries in the world,” he said. “This was a great opportunity.”