Roger Federer understands what’s important as he prepares for his 60th Grand Slam run at Australian Open 2014. Incredibly, though, it’s not simply about the record-breaking champion adding to his 17 major titles.
There’ll be a high of a different and more personal nature tonight, when the Swiss star hosts “A night with Roger Federer and friends”, the first-ever charity event of this nature, at Rod Laver Arena.
Benefiting his own charity foundation, which supports the development of educational opportunities in South Africa and other nations on that continent, the gala event coincides with two significant milestones for Federer: as well as being 10 years since he established the Roger Federer Foundation. It’s also 10 years since he won the first of his four Australian Open titles.
“I just thought you know, this could be a really nice way to celebrate that,” Federer said. “To help people in need, that’s really most important.”
For tennis purists, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see tennis royalty in the same setting. Along with a charity match between Federer and his good friend Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, there will also be appearances from Australian favourites Lleyton Hewitt, Pat Rafter and Tony Roche.
And while the exact nature of his involvement hasn’t yet been revealed, fans will be delighted to see the legendary Rod Laver step onto court with the modern day legend with whom he is so often compared.
Federer can hardly wait to share a stage with Laver. “The stadium is named after him after all,” he said. “I always like to get former legends and greats and icons back involved in the game, particularly Rod because he has achieved things that will never be achieved again. I think it’s nice. I really respect and appreciate that he’s willing to participate in our event.”
Fans will also relish another occasion featuring Federer and top Australian man Hewitt, who just faced in the Brisbane final. The match with Tsonga, too, will undoubtedly provide top entertainment for fans.
Federer won their memorable five-set quarterfinal at Australian Open 2013 but Tsonga got the better of his good friend with victory in the same stage of the French Open.
“With Jo, we are very close on the tour,” said Federer. “We’ve had some great matches on the court, we’ve always played very fair and I think we really like each other very much on and off the court because there’s always a fun factor to it.”
Combined with a performance by Australian singer Sylvie Paladin, as well as a spectacular sound and light show, it’s a night that tennis fans will remember for years to come.
For Federer, however, most special of all is the opportunity to add to a cause that’s extremely close to his heart – supporting educational opportunities in Africa. Having been touched through his personal experiences in his mother’s native South Africa as a child, Federer was determined to start his philanthropic efforts early – and keep adding to them.
“It’s very, very special to all of us and we have big goals moving ahead,” he said. “So far we have been able to support 80,000 plus kids in one year. The goal is by 2018 to hopefully be supporting one million.”
It might seem like a lofty ambition now, but considering the fans and fellow players supporting Federer tonight, there’ll be many friends helping him achieve it.