Amid an Australian summer defined by confronting images of unprecedented bushfire devastation, a much-needed heart-warming story has been the response of the ‘tennis family’.
Beginning with Nick Kyrgios’ pledge to donate $200 for every ace he sent down this summer, increasing numbers of players, tennis bodies and fans have jumped on board with fundraising efforts.
And the amount raised for bushfire relief soared on Wednesday night following the successful staging of AO Rally for Relief.
A sold-out crowd packed into Rod Laver Arena to see the superstars of the game come together for a night of entertainment, and to continue the fundraising efforts that will span the Australian summer of tennis, including throughout next fortnight’s Australian Open. All proceeds from ticket sales to the event went to the Victorian Bushfire Appeal.
Before the stars emerged, there was an emotional opening to the evening. Video footage of the flames, smoke and eerie red skies enveloping rural communities. A touching rendition of Throw Your Arms Around Me, performed by Mark Seymour and accompanied by Vika and Linda Bull. A standing ovation for the firefighters in attendance, gratitude for their extraordinarily brave, and ongoing, efforts.
The crowd then roared as team captains Caroline Wozniacki and Serena Williams were announced onto court, and this roar continued as the two champions were joined by their teammates – Coco Gauff, Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Naomi Osaka on Team Wozniacki; Dominic Thiem, Petra Kvitova, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal for Team Williams.
Target practice ensued, as the teams attempted to strike the letters A and O at the opposite end of the court with powerful groundstrokes. And then came the doubles, and rotations of wonderful combinations the world has yet to see in a competitive setting.
Williams paired with Novak to face Wozniacki and Tsitsipas. Then it was Nadal teaming with Kvitova to take on Naomi Osaka and Alexander Zverev.
The crowd loved it, as did Tennis Twitter, which blew up at the sight of the sport’s royalty co-mingling on one of the game’s great stages.
At one stage 15-year-old Gauff found herself simultaneously facing Thiem, Zverev and Kvitova on the other side of the net. Then Djokovic and Nadal teamed up to take on Zverev and Tsitsipas.
“See these Next gen guys, how slow they are? Unbelievable,” Djokovic joked to Nadal. “We’re 60+ years down here!”
As the doubles concluded, captains Wozniacki and Williams announced their selections for an exhibition singles set – and the crowd roared some more as Nick Kyrgios and Roger Federer strode onto Rod Laver Arena to join the star-studded cast.
But before they commenced playing, another surprise; Nadal took the microphone and announced he and Federer would commit another $250,000 to bushfire relief.
His ‘throw back’ to Channel 9 hosts James Bracey and Rebecca Madden was a highlight of the night.
A group photo followed, then the singles, which Federer, as he often does, snatched in a tiebreak over Kyrgios.
But this was not about the result. It was about the fundraising effort – which had bolstered the cumulative Aces for Bushfire Relief total to almost $5 million by the end of the night.
“I’m just so happy we had some of the greats to get behind (tonight’s event),” Kyrgios said.
“Everyone around the world at the moment, the awareness has grown, and I think we’re doing everything we possibly can to overcome this (terrible situation) together.”