Two of the biggest names in Tennis – Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal came together for a special cause as they played an exhibition event in the Cape Town Stadium on Friday. The matchup between Federer and Nadal attracted a record-breaking crowd and going by the word of organisers – the encounter set a new world record for a tennis match. The organisers said an audited attendance of 51,954 beat the 42,517 who watched Federer play Alexander Zverev of Germany in Mexico City last November.
Promoted as ‘Match for Africa, the contest was a conscious effort to raise money for the Roger Federer Foundation, which provides education and athletic training to children in Africa. In a homecoming of sorts for the 20-time Grand Slam champion, Federer got the better of his long-time rival and ‘good friend’ Nadal in a gripping three-setter 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.
Federer, who was accompanied by his South African mother, Lynette, said his first appearance in South Africa was a special occasion. The Swiss great also called South Africa as his second home. “The first time here in Cape Town, in South Africa, means so much more than just tennis,” he said.
The soccer stadium which was converted into a Tennis arena was packed with a capacity crowd who sang, clapped and did the wave throughout the match.
The organisers announced that the ‘Match in Africa’ raised USD 3.5-million for the Roger Federer Foundation. “To have 51,954 people in attendance at a tennis match, I never thought I’d be apart of something like that,” said the 38-year-old Swiss maestro.
“It was a magical evening,” said Federer, who came to South Africa regularly on childhood vacations with his family but hadn’t been to Cape Town in 20 years.
There was a notable moment for the home crowd before the start of play when South Africa Rugby captain and World Cup winner – Siya Kolisi presented Federer with a Springboks jersey. He was asked who he was supporting.
“Definitely Team Roger,” Kolisi said. “Sorry, Nadal, I love you, too.”
Earlier in the day, Federer and his doubles partner billionaire Bill Gates beat Nadal and South-African born comedian Trevor Noah in a match with more flexible rules.
The ceremonial coin toss was performed by Springbok rugby captain Kolisi. The coin used was a commemorative 20 Swiss Francs piece minted with Federer’s face.