Tennis stars stage charity for Queensland flood relief


Melbourne: World tennis stars led by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal put on a show at the Rod Laver Arena, raising more than 1.5 million dollars and counting for flood relief in Queensland Sunday, a day before the start of the Australian Open.

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Federer and Nadal were among 14 players who donated time and talent to the benefit in front of a sold-out 15,000 crowd at the Rod Laver Arena.

The teams were split into the Australian colours of Green and Gold, with Green led by former tennis hero Patrick Rafter, a Queenslander. Lleyton Hewitt led gold and even brought his 2-year-old son Cruz out on court with a racquet only to see the overwhelmed youngster break down in tears.

He was picked up and comforted by women’s number one Carolina Wozniacki, who carried him off stage to his mother Bec and big sister Mia.

Playing for the Rafter team in the good-natured hit-and-giggle with free substitutions, a running scoreline and up to five players on court at any given time, were Andy Roddick, Andy Murray, Victoria Azarenka, Vera Zvonareva, Nadal and Kim Clijsters.

Hewitt’s squad comprised Novak Djokovic, Ana Ivanovic, Justine Henin, Wozniacki, Federer and Queenslander Samantha Stosur.

At one point Djokovic sat in the middle of the court, a paper cup of water in one hand and his racquet in the other, batting at balls coming his way. Federer and Nadal later took to the court on their own for a few minutes for a VIP hit-up before being joined in the free-for-all by other team members.

“For me it was just great to see the support that it gets and the recognition,” said Australian Davis Cup captain Rafter. “Everyone’s out there, the guys and the girls, supporting it.

“It’s a big thrill to see everyone out there, understanding the enormity of what’s going on not just in Brisbane but in the whole of Queensland. It’s just nice to see that support.”

World number six Stosur, like Rafter a Queenslander, was moved by the experience.

“We’re lucky to do what we do, we love what we do. But there are far greater things going on in the world. So if we can all come together and support something like these floods, I think it’s great.

“For all of us, for a couple of hours the day before a Grand Slam, to go out there and have some fun, try and raise as much money as we can, I think it shows the spirit of the tennis world. Everyone cares about everyone, whether you’re involved in tennis or not.”

Former great Rod Laver — born in Rockhampton, Queensland, which was hit by the floods — sent a video message from his California home.

The International Tennis Federation promised a 25,000-dollar donation to help in rebuilding tennis facilities and is also in touch with the Brazilian Tennis Federation “to determine what assistance we can give Brazil to rebuild tennis facilities following the terrible flooding that has also affected that country this week.

“This century has been marked by terrible ecological disasters including the tsunami in 2004, the earthquake in Haiti last year and the flooding in both Australia and Brazil this year,” said ITF president Francesco Ricci Bitti.

“We want to commend the players and others in the tennis family who have made important contributions to helping those in need and we want to do our part by helping to rebuild tennis facilities in both Australia and Brazil.”

Play on Day one of the Open begins Monday, with former champion Maria Sharapova kicking off against Thai Tamarine Tanasugarn. Top seed Caroline Wozniacki starts with Argentine Gisela Dulko while Federer takes to the court against Slovak Lukas Lacko.

Djokovic, the 2008 champion, plays a Spaniard while American eighth seed Andy Roddick faces Czech Jan Hajek.

Venus Williams plays a regulation match for the first time since the US Open, with a first-round test against Italian Sara Errani.