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San Jose sees some tennis and some dancing in Roger Federer’s charity event

Roger Federer (above) hosted a charity doubles tennis match called Match For Africa in the SAP Center in San Jose. (REX SHUTTERSTOCK/Zuma Press/TNS)

SAN JOSE – Every time a song interlude plays between points, Jack Sock — currently ranked 10th in the world in men’s singles — dances — running man accompanies “Gangnam Style” (I guess he didn’t remember the original dance) and he smirks as he signals for Federer to phone him while Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” comes on. On the other side of the court, Federer laughs as he awkwardly tries out a couple of his own dance moves.

Yes, Monday night’s Match for Africa, a charity event made to raise money for the Roger Federer Foundation, was definitely not at the level of play of the Grand Slams we see on television. Federer’s intensity did not match that recently seen at the Australian Open, and I’m sure that Jack Sock usually doesn’t try and twerk during his regular matches.

“I don’t see it so much as practice, to be honest…I’m definitely putting my body at risk to some extent, but it doesn’t matter. It’s for a good cause,” Federer said. “This is about lighting it up for the crowd and making them leave the arena really happy.”

At the end of the night, Federer and the announcers were proud to declare that they had raised $2.5 million from the event. The proceeds are going to be donated to Federer’s foundation, which is aimed at improving childhood education programs in Zambia, Malawi, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa.

The event was fun, lighthearted and hilarious. The players had fun and the audience applauded, especially if Federer did just about anything.

The night started out with some entertainment. It might not have been the Super Bowl halftime show, but it was nice to see smaller groups (including some drum lines and a pop violinist) perform.

Then, the matches started. The starting line up (yes, wrong terminology, I know) was a doubles match, with Federer and Bill Gates on one side and Sock and Savannah Guthrie on the other. Guthrie is a news anchor at the NBC’s Today Show and Bill Gates is, well, Bill Gates.

Gates and Federer played together in last year’s Match for Africa 4 in Seattle, and seemed to know each other pretty well on and off the court. Federer has stated many times that he looks up to Gates, who continues to be one the world’s leading philanthropists.

Their strategy on the court was simple: “He knows numbers very well. He never makes mistakes on the scores,” Federer said, laughing. “I’ll do the running and Bill does the thinking.”

Gates added: “I think I’m good at picking partners.”

In actuality, Gates is not too shabby at tennis. His straight and low serve went like a laser pointer, putting the other team in difficulty a couple times. And he even contributed a couple volleys here and there.

The other side of the court, though, did not put up much of a fight. Guthrie, who seemed to be doing decently during warmups before the match, spent the first couple point simply missing the ball. And when I say missing, I mean it; her racket did not touch the tennis ball for the first couple minutes of gameplay. Apparently, Guthrie is an unabashed Federer enthusiast and the pressure of looking into those big brown eyes simply got to her. Can you blame her?

Still, the crowd went wild when the news anchor scored her first point, and went even wilder when the No. 1 men’s tennis player in the world played practically an entire point at the net on his knees. We all laughed (even in the press box) when Guthrie begged Federer to stop sending the ball her way.

The doubles match ended 6-3 in favor of reigning champions Gates and Federer, and on to the singles match the night went.

Sock, a good ol’ burly midwestern boy who grew up in Nebraska and Kansas, walked into the arena for the second time to the Indiana Jones theme song, wearing a San Jose Sharks jersey. A true American hero, if you may.

Federer played along, walking in with flashing green lights and the Darth Vader theme playing menacingly in the background. The crowd laughed and cheered — both players had won their hearts. 

The ensuing match was not supremely intense, but both players gave enough effort to make it fun. Sock especially put up a good fight, breaking Federer in the first game and then holding serve in the second. Sock has never won a set against Roger (as he is often affectionately called by fans) and the skid marks from Sock’s shoes around the baseline suggested that he might have been trying to change this trend.

But, as the night progressed, both players became less serious. Sock even let a ball girl play two points for him and she was pretty good. Maybe they should have had her play in Guthrie’s place. He also used his long legs to climb over the net at a certain point to chase Federer around his side of the court. 

Ultimately, the singles match ended 7-6 (9), 6-4 as Federer kept up his unbeaten record against the American superstar.

“I take a lot of pride that I can have an influence on all the children’s lives,” Federer stated. “I grew up in a city of 250,000 people and here I’m supporting way more than the city I grew up in. So it’s a little bit surreal that I’m in this privileged position. I feel like it’s important to do what I’m doing.”

“It’s not only about winning and losing and ATP points. It’s mostly about the other things in life, family and values and all these things,” he added.

Federer and Sock are both heading down to Southern California to play in the Indian Wells tournament. The tournament there holds just a bit more pressure than Monday night’s matches: Federer will be fighting to keep his No. 1 spot. Hopefully the momentum from all the good they did will bring good karma and some wins.

 

Contact Laura Sussman at laura111 ‘at’ stanford.edu

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