Tennis stars raise millions for bushfire victims

MELBOURNE, Australia — As rain forced the suspension of qualifying rounds on Melbourne Park’s outer courts on Wednesday afternoon, some of tennis’ biggest names gathered in Rod Laver Arena to raise funds for Australia’s ongoing bushfire crisis.

Raising nearly 5 million Australian dollars ($3.5 million), the Rally for Relief gave the capacity crowd of more than 15,000 fans the opportunity to see the lighter side of the world’s best players.

Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Caroline Wozniacki and a number of up-and-coming stars all volunteered their time for the cause. On several occasions, volunteer fire personnel took to the court to play against the tennis stars.

Australian star Nick Kyrgios played a role in kick-starting the wave of relief. His Twitter pledge of $200 per ace throughout the Australian summer inspired colleagues into action, prompting Tennis Australia to announce the Rally for Relief evening.

During the event, Roger Federer and Nadal announced they would contribute 250,000 Australian dollars to the cause.

Kyrgios said he “got goose bumps” when the figure was announced after his one-set match with Federer on the night.

“It’s been an emotional couple of weeks. I just wanted to send a message. … I was eating dinner and wrote a tweet … and it kind of exploded,” he said on court after the event. “When I was back home in Canberra, I couldn’t even go outside [due to the smoke].”

Federer said he and other players were only too happy to help out a nation in which he spends nearly one month of the year.

“It’s been hard to watch,” Federer said. “As you get it through the news, you don’t know how bad it is, but then you get here and speak to the people affected, it’s difficult. I’m always happy to help and lend my money and do my fair share.”

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