MELBOURNE: Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki plays a shot between her legs during the Rally for Relief charity match in support of the victims of Australian bushfires on Wednesday, ahead of the Australian Open.—AFP
MELBOURNE: Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki plays a shot between her legs during the Rally for Relief charity match in support of the victims of Australian bushfires on Wednesday, ahead of the Australian Open.—AFP

MELBOURNE: A capacity crowd of more than 15,000 at Rod Laver Arena watched Roger Federer defeat Nick Kyrgios in a one-set finale to the Australian Open’s Rally for Relief to aid wildfire charities on Wednesday.

Tennis Australia said the night helped raise nearly five million Australian dollars ($3.5 million) for the victims of recent and ongoing fires in Australia that have killed 28 people and destroyed several thousand homes, most of them in New South Wales and Victoria states.

Other players who took part included Australian Open defending champion Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams, Caroline Wozniacki, Naomi Osaka, Petra Kvitova, Dominic Thiem, Coco Gauff, Nick Kyrgios, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev.

On several occasions, volunteer fire personnel were invited on the court to play against the tennis stars.

“Twenty years this has been my home and I’ve had so many great matches on this court and in this country,” said Serena, whose young daughter Alexis Olym­pia was thrilled to meet some firefighters this week. “And that’s we’re all here tonight to support and help out.”

The fund-raising efforts, which includes various amounts for aces served during the tournament and the sale of merchandise donated by players, will continue when the Australian Open begins on Monday.

“Hopefully that will keep inspiring the people to support this terrible disaster that were going through and helps to recover all the things that we need, Nadal said on court after an exhibition match.

Smoke haze from the continuing fires has played havoc with scheduling of the first two days of qualifying at Melbourne Park, delaying play by several hours and prompting complaints from players over the air quality.

A number of players complained, including Bernard Tomic, who sought medical treatment during his first-round loss when he struggled to breathe. Dalila Jakupovic feared she would pass out before retiring from her match when she collapsed to her knees with a coughing spell.

On Wednesday, Canadian qualifier Brayden Schnur said Federer and Nadal were “selfish” and more concerned about their legacies, saying it’s time the pair stepped up and protested against playing conditions during qualifying.

The 103rd-ranked player, who is seeded third in the qualifying tournament, was critical of officials after his first-round win over Sebastian Ofner, which took more than two hours in the hazy conditions that blanketed Melbourne Park.

He said it was incumbent upon the biggest names in the sport to be the voice for lesser-known players.

“It’s got to come from the top guys Roger and Rafa are a little bit selfish in thinking about themselves and their careers,” Schnur said. “Beca­use they’re near the end and all they’re thinking about is their legacy and they’re not thinking about the sport itself and trying to do what’s good for the sport. So those guys need to step up.”

France’s Nicolas Mahut posted a picture of himself wearing a mask over his mouth and nose with the caption: “Ready for my first round.” Canada’s Vasek Pospisil, a member of the ATP Player Council, tweeted: “It’s time for a players’ union. This is getting absurd.”

Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2020