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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, January 17, 2010

Tennis: Federer and Co. stage fundraiser for Haiti victims


JOCELYN GECKER
Associated Press Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Roger Federer of Switzerland, left, and Serena Williams of the United States celebrate a point during an exhibition tennis match in Melbourne, Australia. A series of exhibition games were set up by Federer ahead of the Australian Open to raise funds for the victims of the Haiti earthquake. The world No. 1 recruited a number of stars, including Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams, to play doubles matches today at Melbourne Park.

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MELBOURNE, Australia Roger Federer played the role of master of ceremonies. Andy Roddick doubled as a stand-up comic. Serena Williams was laughing all the way.

The fundraiser for earthquake victims on Sunday a brainchild of Federer and dubbed "Hit for Haiti" came on the eve of the Australian Open and raised more than $185,000, an amount that organizers expected would increase.

Federer, who has won a record 15 Grand Slam titles, teamed up with reigning Australian Open champion Williams and Australia's Lleyton Hewitt and Samantha Stosur. Their opponents were 2009 winner Rafael Nadal, 2008 winner Novak Djokovic, Roddick and U.S. Open champion Kim Clijsters.

The players wore microphones on the court, adding to the entertainment of a mixed-doubles match featuring player substitutions. Commenting as they lunged, lobbed and smashed, they displayed their athleticism and personalities.

There was the eloquent and debonair Federer as master of ceremonies for the match he conceived and helped organize a day earlier. There was the good-natured Clijsters cracking jokes, the playful Nadal with his sideways grin and the wisecracking Roddick.

To the delight of the crowd, Roddick mocked Williams' infamous meltdown at the U.S. Open, when a line judge called her for a foot fault during a crucial point in her semifinal loss to Clijsters.

"Did you really call a foot fault on me in a charity match?" Roddick reprimanded a line judge. "You realize Serena's over there, right?"

The camera panned to Williams sitting on the sidelines shaking her head and laughing, as the packed 15,000-seat stadium roared in laughter. Williams has been touchy on that subject since her arrival in Australia last week the profanity-laced, finger-pointing tirade cost her a record fine of $82,500.

Federer tried three times to show off the shot from his U.S. Open victory against Djokovic that he has described as the greatest of his life: a between-the-legs, back-to-the-net winner from the baseline. On Sunday, it worked once and hit the net twice.

Djokovic displayed his powerful serve, acing Williams on one point and prompting her to comment: "You look really good acing girls."

Later, Nadal smashed a winner at Williams' feet, evoking a piercing shriek from the world's No. 1 women's player.

"Don't scare me like that Rafa," she said, drawing support from teammate Federer who assured her, "I'll get him back."

At one game break, Clijsters massaged Nadal's sore thigh. She did not interact with ex-fiance Hewitt both are now married with children.

In the end, Federer's so-called Red Team beat the rival Blue Team 7-6 in their one-set match that lasted an hour and a half. The teams were named for the colors of Haiti's flag.

"It was a fun afternoon for all of us. But most important is that we can help Haiti," Federer told the center court crowd after the match.

Some players made separate contributions, organizers said, including 2008 Australian Open winner Maria Sharapova ($10,000), American John Isner ($5,000) after he won the Auckland tournament and Marcos Baghadits ($5,000) after he won in Sydney.

Seats cost about $9.25 a fraction of the normal price for a Grand Slam match and fans lined up from early morning, waiting hours to get tickets for the afternoon exhibition.

"It was electric in there," said Melbourne resident Helen Forrest. "This was just really fun and a really good way to see the other side of the players."

Zaggy Dean, a real estate photographer from Melbourne, called it a worthy cause.

"I'm devastated about this tragedy. It's one of the poorest countries in the world," he said. "This was a great opportunity."