Federer, Nadal light up SA in exhibition match

Tennis superstars Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal attracted what organisers said was a world record crowd for a tennis match when they played an exhibition event in the Cape Town Stadium on Friday.

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.

They also announced that the ‘Match in Africa’ raised $3.5-million for the Roger Federer Foundation, which supports educational and athletic programmes for children in Africa.

“To have 51 954 people in attendance at a tennis match, I never thought I’d be a part of something like that,” said Federer. “It’s not something you dream about.

Federer, who was accompanied by his South African mother, Lynette, said his first appearance in South Africa was a special occasion.

“The first time here in Cape Town, in South Africa, means so much more than just tennis,” he said.

Federer won 6-4 3-6 6-3 in a match in which the players had to contend with cool, windy conditions in the stadium that was built for the 2010 football World Cup.

Federer and Trevor Noah after the match

The arena was packed with eager fans who sang, clapped and did the wave throughout the match.

“It’s an amazing crowd, an amazing stadium,” said Nadal, who was making his first appearance in South Africa since playing in the country as a junior.

“It’s an unforgettable evening. We will probably never play again in an atmosphere such as this one,” said Nadal. “I can’t thank enough the people here in Cape Town. They came here and created an unforgettable atmosphere.”

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 World Cup-winning Springbok rugby captain Siya Kolisi, who presented Federer with a Springbok jersey.

The coin used was a commemorative 20 Swiss Francs piece minted with Federer’s face. He gave it to Kolisi.

The match is the sixth edition of the event organised by the Roger Federer Foundation and is the first to take place in Africa.

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.

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