Tennis family rises to challenge with offers of aid to Covid-19-stricken victims

Federer, Nadal, Halep, Djokovic, Muguruza among stars rallying funds and support

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis
Roger Federer
Roger Federer (Photo: Marianne Bevis)

Tennis was one of the first sports to call a halt to its schedules across the board in the face of the ever-increasing effects of the coronavirus pandemic. And the most recent date of delay to the ATP and WTA tours, up to 7 June, will surely be extended further.

The French Open, the culmination of the now-abandoned clay swing, has moved to mid-September—uncomfortably close to the conclusion of the US Open in New York.

Meanwhile, the All England Club will next week take a decision about the playing of the Wimbledon Championships, having already stated that it will not be played ‘behind closed doors’. Realistically, it is hard to imagine any return to normality in time for Europe’s grass season.

Players, though, have been far from idle. Many have posted images of themselves training in their backyards, hitting against walls, working out in their living rooms. But to a man and woman, most have shown appreciation of their own good fortune amid the chaos of lockdowns across the globe.

And that appreciation has been finding practical outlets via financial aid and supportive messages.

One of the first, Roger Federer, broke cover not to update fans on recovery from his knee surgery in February but for two announcements, in English, German and French, on his donation in response to the coronavirus emergency.

“These are challenging times for everyone and nobody should be left behind. Mirka and I have personally decided to donate one million Swiss Francs for the most vulnerable families in Switzerland. Our contribution is just a start. We hope that others might join in supporting more families in need. Together we can overcome this crisis.”

He followed up the post with another about the co-ordinating charity in Switzerland, a country already approaching 300 deaths:

“We must help families in need quickly and unbureaucratically. Mirka and I have donated to a newly established emergency assistance fund for families in Switzerland. The fund is managed by “Winterhilfe”, a trusted partner of our Foundation and highly experienced to support vulnerable people for decades. From tomorrow, the ‘Fund for Families in Need’ will be functional and ready to make contributions such as vouchers for food and child care services where necessary.”

And Federer’s subsequent posts? Retweeting similar actions by his great rivals, No1 Novak Djokovic and No2 Rafael Nadal.

Djokovic and his wife Jelena announced a €1 million donation through the Novak Djokovic Foundation for the purchase of ventilators and medical equipment to support hospitals and other medical institutions in Serbia. He told his Foundation’s website:

“The fight is not easy, numbers are not pleasant, but I am convinced that we will manage to make it out of this stronger than before. It is important to remain united in this fight, to help each other, so we can defeat this virus faster and easier. We would like to use this opportunity to invite everyone else to join us and help numerous families and people who need help to survive and get healthy again.”

Nadal, from his home in Mallorca, reflected on the dire situation being faced by his home nation of Spain, which has already recorded close to 7,000 deaths—the second largest tally in the world thus far:

“We are going through a time that would have been unexplainable and unimaginable a few months ago. We’re suffering the impact of this pandemic which has changed all of our lives, particularly those people who are suffering first-hand and their relatives.

“These are sad times, being at home all day. The news is not very encouraging. There is nothing we can do other than be positive, strong and united in the fight to beat the virus. I have been at home for a few days and thinking about how I can help in this situation, which is completely new to everyone.”

He and NBA All-star Pau Gasol launched the #NuestraMejorVictoria [Our Best Victory] campaign in an attempt to encourage donations from Spanish sport. The initiative, which forms part of the #CruzRojaResponde [Red Cross Responds] project, aims to raise €11 million, and has already drawn support from Feliciano López, David Ferrer, Garbine Muguruza and Carla Suarez Navarro, along with other sports stars such as Fernando Alonso and Carlos Sainz.

Nadal added:

“You have always been on our side during happy times and difficult times. You have always been understanding… We athletes are what we are largely thanks to your support. Now is the time that we cannot let you down.”

The women’s world No2, Simona Halep, was also quick to lend her influence to the cause in homeland Romania. She announced on Facebook that she would donate money for medical equipment:

“Unfortunately, we all went through a very difficult period, with new tests that we could hardly have imagined a few months ago…

“While we are at home, doctors and medical personnel make huge efforts to treat and save each life by exposing themselves for the general good. Let us strictly follow the indications transmitted by the authorities and thus contribute, each of us, to solving this problem of nature that will dramatically affect the normal course of our lives.

“I decided to donate for the necessary equipment and materials, the amount that will be directed immediately to the medical authorities in Bucharest and Constanta. I encourage everyone who can support to contribute to the joint efforts to combat this virus. In the meantime, let us all take care of ourselves, be responsible and positive! God help us!”

Former world No1 Ana Ivanovic was part of a team that helped to secure 35 ventilators for her country, as well as personal protective equipment for health workers and medical kits for vulnerable families, all worth over half a million dollars.

UNICEF Serbia said:

“The first part of the delivery of personal protective equipment for healthcare professionals is expected this week, as is the first contingent of 1,700 hygiene kits for the most vulnerable families with children… Solidarity in difficult times is crucial in order to tackle the challenges we all face together.”

The donations keep coming—among them…

In Poland, former player and current coach Sandra Zaniewska has founded the ‘Rackets for Coronavirus’ initiative, which aims to raise half a million zloty by the end of March to provide health workers with personal protective equipment. Supported by fellow Polish players Magda Linette, Iga Swiatek, former Wimbledon finalist Agnieszka Radwanska and her sister Urszula, the funds will supply hospitals across Poland.

Juan Sebastian Cabal, No2 doubles player, has launched an initiative with his brother to help the most vulnerable people in his hometown of Cali, Colombia. Cabal is promoting a campaign on social media to raise funds for buying food in local markets and delivering it to families in need. The goal is to make it possible for everyone to stay home and adopt the necessary protective measures. Fellow Colombian Robert Farah joined the campaign on his own social media accounts.

Former US Open finalist Madison Keys is bringing athletes together to raise funds with an initiative called Kindness Wins. Keys will be donating $100 Visa gift cards to 20 people who are struggling financially as a result of the pandemic. People are encouraged to reach out, or nominate someone they know, and describe their situation and how the gift cards can help.

WTA Charities has also announced that it will be matching Keys’ donation, bringing the total of gift cards up to 40 for those in need. Kindness Wins has also launched an online auction of signed memorabilia to raise funds for organizations bringing relief in their communities.

US Open champion and world No6 Bianca Andreescu is one of many players to donate a signed racket to Athletes for Relief, where money raised by will go directly to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s COVID-19 Response Fund.

And on her 16th birthday, Coco Gauff used Facebook to announce she was fundraising to support UNICEF’s response:

“They’re on the front lines of this fight against the pandemic, and it would mean so much to me if you could donate.”

Italian Jannik Sinner, champion at the ATP’s NextGen showpiece last November in the stricken north Italian city of Milan, launched a different kind of challenge. He committed to donating €10 alongside his management company Starwing Sports for every photo he received of a pizza that resembled himself or any past or present Italian figure. The money raised will be used to fund vital medical supplies in Italy during the pandemic.

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