Cape Town: Long term rivals and old friends Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal battled it out for charity in South Africa on Friday in matches designed to draw the biggest ever tennis crowd. The evening at the Cape Town Stadium drew around 50, 000 people.
The match is the sixth edition of the event organised by the Roger Federer Foundation and is the first to take place in Africa. The record for the biggest attended tennis match was set last year in November in Mexico City when Federer beat German Alexander Zverev in a bullring in front of 42 517 fans.
“There’s so much anticipation that goes into it that the match itself almost gets forgotten,” said Federer.
Federer has said he hoped to raise at least $1 million for the foundation, which promotes education for children in Southern Africa and Switzerland. Federer also paired up with American philanthropist Bill Gates and played a doubles match against Nadal and US-based South African comedian Trevor Noah.
Federer said his mother, Lyenette Federer, who is South African, is “very, very happy right now.”
“The time spent here as a kid was amazing,” Federer said. “You would go on the road and you never come back for some reason because you’ve gotta chase that little tennis ball and you’ve gotta chase your dreams.”
Tens of thousands of fans showed up early and were ecstatic when Nadal and Federer hit practice balls into the stands. One fan said she brought a wedding ring for Federer to propose to her. “I want to marry Roger,” she shouted.
Nadal, a 19-time grand slam champion, said his aim was to have fun. “I think its gonna be a great match and I just want everybody to have the best time.”
Earlier in the afternoon, Federer and Nadal played tennis with children from townships in Hout Bay. The children are part of an afterschool activity program with Zip Zap Circus which develops gross and fine motor skills.
While in South Africa, Federer also met up with Springbok captain Siya Kolisi. “His story is so powerful. He has an incredible opportunity to make change,” said Federer.