“Playing tennis for peace”. This is the name of this night organized in the largest arena of Melbourne Park in support of the Ukrainian people who have been suffering from the Russian occupation for almost a year. About 15,000 people came to Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday evening to attend this charity event. The stadium is full like last night.
Many Australians traveled to appreciate their favorite players and show their support for the people of Ukraine. And just like on finals night, the lights go out as the trophies are handed out. But the exception is not the white lights that illuminate the court and the present presenters, microphone in hand. The lanterns emit yellow and blue light in the colors of the occupied country. There are also many flags flying in the crowd. Usually, all the screens that show the score of the match are also assembled in the colors of Ukraine. A QR code has been set up so viewers can easily access the site to donate to UNICEF.
Elina Svitolina was the first to perform
She’s not the lady of ceremonies, but it seems that Elina Svitolina is the first to hit the screens. The Ukrainian player, who reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open twice (in 2018 and 2019), talks about the situation in his homeland and reminds why it is important to help whenever possible. It gives way to the choir, it is presented on the site. A small group of about ten performers in traditional clothes sings in Ukrainian. The crowd stands up, falls silent and meditates.
After a nice and long moment of communion, the lights are turned back on and tennis is resuming its rights at Rod Laver Arena. Sarah came with her two sons. He made the trip because he thought he could not come any other time: “I work during the day, I could not return. And then there’s the opportunity to take my kids to see Rafael Nadal! » They are not the only ones who appreciate the Spanish. The defending champion is greeted with a standing ovation when his entrance is announced.
Nadal, Tiafoe, Gauff, Zverev or even Murray
Rafael Nadal is quickly joined by other players of all nationalities: Ukrainians Diana Yastremska and Marta Kostyuk, Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, Australian Alex De Minaur, Greek Maria Sakkari are also in the game. The players are divided into two teams, blue and yellow, and engage in numerous activities with microphones fixed across their chins so that the public can participate in their exchanges. Game one: aim for the inflatable pool on the other side of the net with the tennis balls. One thousand dollars will be donated to UNICEF for every bullet that hits the target.
Despite 22 Grand Slam titles, it was Rafael Nadal who struggled the most in this exercise! And of course, his teammates didn’t miss out on an evening of fun. And then it comes to couples meetings. Then other world tennis stars joined the court: Americans Francis Tiafoe and Coco Gauff, German Alexander Zverev and five-time finalist Andy Murray in Melbourne. Again, it’s Nadal we’re mocking: “Rafa, when was the last time you played mixed doubles? 1996? » In the heart, the players and the audience laugh. And Nadal continues to entertain the gallery: he screams when the point from Jastremska’s goal goes completely out of bounds. “Yes! Easy! » And everyone laughs with him. For a moment, sport regains its rights. For an evening, the game allows you to help the people of Ukraine while having fun. For several hours, the war seems to have stopped.
Then the evening ends. The racquets are put away, the players sign a few autographs on the sidelines while a band is formed. Three singers and many musicians. They sing “Amazing Grace” and the audience goes completely silent when the dim lights come back on. In golden silence, the lights finally dim to make way for the classic white floodlights as the crowd leaves Rod Laver Arena. Melbourne Park’s largest pitch has successfully opened for 2023. The next night is Friday for the remake of the Wimbledon final. Nick Kyrgios and Novak Djokovic have decided to face each other for an exceptional exhibition match.