Federer, Nadal lead stars swinging racquets for bushfire relief

Tennis superstars Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal jointly donated Aus$250,000 (US$172,000) for Australian bushfire relief at a charity fundraiser in smoggy Melbourne on Wednesday.

The two tennis legends, with 39 Grand Slam singles titles between them, were at the Rod Laver Arena in a bid to swell the vast sums already donated to help victims of the devastating disaster.

They were joined by a who’s who of the tennis world, including Serena Williams, Caroline Wozniacki, Novak Djokovic, Naomi Osaka, Petra Kvitova, Dominic Thiem, Coco Gauff, Nick Kyrgios, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev.

“Twenty years this has been my home and I’ve had so many great matches on this court and in this country,” said Williams, whose young daughter Alexis Olympia was thrilled to meet some firefighters this week.

“And that’s we’re all here tonight to support and help out.”

Tennis Australia said it expected the “Rally for Relief” to raise “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to add to the more than Aus$2.8 million (US$1.9 million) already stumped up by the global tennis community.

That has included personal pledges and Aus$100 for each ace hit during the Australian tennis swing. Some of the big names also donated merchandise for an online auction Wednesday.

Williams led a team in Fast4 doubles, a shortened version of the game, boosting Thiem and Kvitova, along with Nadal and Djokovic playing together on the same side of the net. 

They met Wozniacki’s side that featured Gauff, Osaka, Zverev and Tsitsipas.

But the evening’s star turn saw Federer play a set against Australian bad boy Kyrgios, who has been driving force behind the fundraising effort.

“It’s emotional stuff,” said Kyrgios. “I just want to have a little fun out here tonight and hopefully we can overcome this.”

The bushfires, unprecedented in their duration and intensity, have claimed 28 lives, destroyed almost 2,000 homes and razed vast tracts of land.

Toxic haze from the blazes has disrupted the build-up to next week’s Australian Open, with qualifying delayed over the past two days and some players taken ill.

A cool change bringing rain swept through on Wednesday afternoon, raising expectations of clearer air for Thursday.

Tennis chiefs have insisted any delays to the Grand Slam’s scheduled start on Monday were unlikely given Melbourne Park has three roofed stadiums and eight other indoor courts which could be used in an emergency.

The roof of the Rod Laver Arena was closed for the charity evening.