The world’s biggest names in men’s tennis today, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, faced-off on African soil for the first time at a celebrity charity match also attended by Bill Gates. FORBES AFRICA was witness.
This is the story of how on a balmy summer day in February, a billionaire, a late-night talk show host and two sporting legends came together for the mother of all tennis matches in The Mother City.
In the coastal city of Cape Town in South Africa, a sea of admirers at Cape Town Stadium on February 7 waited with bated breath for the men with racquets they had booked tickets months in advance to see. And this for an exhibition match titled, ‘The Match In Africa’, which drew a record crowd of 51,945, all for a good cause.
Security was tight. And the crowds were building up. And in they walked, for the practice session first. Roger Federer appeared from the players’ tunnel, wearing his Uniqlo black shirt and shorts, a white headband and white Nike shoes bearing the ‘RF’ logo.
Next to the 20-time Grand Slam men’s singles champion was his mother, Lynette Federer, in a distinct green top and black pants.
Shortly, Rafael Nadal, the ‘Spanish Bull’, the world number two in men’s singles tennis, made his grand entry on to the hard court sporting pink and white Nike shoes with the word ‘Rafa’ written on them, a pink Nike shirt, and a white Nike baseball cap with his trademark ‘bull’ logo.
And the two players gave the crowd a taste of what they would see later on in the day: world-class tennis.
Earlier, Lynette, who hails from Kempton Park, a small town in the East Rand of Gauteng in South Africa, had spoken to FORBES AFRICA about the legacy she thinks Federer and Nadal are leaving for the next generation, in particular those in South Africa.
“I really do hope that it leaves a certain message because South Africans are known to be passionate sportsmen. I do hope that tennis can pick up once again as it has been – South Africa was once upon a time a big tennis nation – and that it maybe does inspire more children to play the sport and that would be marvelous because that’s one part of the message we would like to leave. But the main message is that we’re also here to help the children of southern Africa.”
Lynette is on the board of the Roger Federer Foundation that has managed to uplift the lives of over a million children in southern Africa.
In June 2019, tennis fans in South Africa couldn’t contain their excitement when Federer had disclosed in Vogue’s highly-popular video feature, 73 Questions, that his greatest rival, the 19-time Grand Slam champion Nadal, was going to help him again for the Roger Federer Foundation.
“We’re going to try to break the record for most attendance, in Cape Town, South Africa, for my foundation… I’m so looking forward to it, so thank you Rafa,” Federer had said.
This was the sixth edition of the match, but the first to be played on African soil.
The previous day, Federer had taken to Instagram, posting a video saying “hello everybody, I’m in Cape Town, I just got to the tennis court or football stadium, have a look, it’s amazing,” as he panned the camera for a full view of the stadium. “And we have got the orange color for Rafa so he feels like he’s on clay but it’s hard court.”
Federer was referring to Nadal being dubbed the ‘king of clay’ for winning 12 of his 19 Grand Slam titles on the orange clay courts of Roland Garros (French Open) in Paris.
The media stood on the courtside as the champions displayed some of their famous moves. Federer’s dad, Robert, was also present.
The mood in the stadium was beginning to get ecstatic.
The ‘Swiss Maestro’ and ‘Spanish Bull’ are undoubtedly the biggest rivals the sport has ever seen.
Yet, despite their fierce on-court rivalry, the two have managed to form a close friendship off-court.
More importantly, they have managed to inspire fans from all walks of life in different parts of the world.
And South Africa was no exception.
In the audience, a middle-aged woman named Sylna, dressed like Federer, gushed: “The moment is just too big because you don’t know what to expect and you have all these images that [Federer and Nadal] are going to shake your hands and you’re going to pass out.”
Theresa, another woman dressed as Nadal, sporting the player’s signature pink headband, enthused: “It’s actually long overdue that we’ve had some nice international tennis players in South Africa and it’s for a good cause as well.”
Jim, a 63-year-old tennis fanatic from Stellenbosch, originally from Zimbabwe, said he paid a fortune to witness this moment. “The fact that [Federer and Nadal] have been able to maintain their stature, physicality and competitiveness is absolutely amazing. You can have a good day but they have had a good 20 years of playing tennis. It’s just their spirit… Tonight is a good night to forget about all the bad things and concentrate on the good things because there’s a lot of good things in South Africa.”
One of the most rapturous moments on that packed night was when the ‘Mexican Wave’ was achieved in a metachronal rhythm by fans, and captured by thousands on their phones.
And then the world’s second richest man staged an entry.
Bill Gates appeared from the players’ tunnel with his doubles partner Federer, in matching outfits. Federer now swapped his Uniqlo black shirt and shorts for a white shirt and green shorts. He also decided to exchange the white headband for a green one. Gates opted not to wear the headband but had his glasses on.
Shortly afterwards, Nadal and South Africa’s very own Trevor Noah too appeared from the players’ tunnel in matching outfits to screaming fans and a thunderous applause. They wore pink Nike jackets featuring Nadal’s bull logo, pink shirts, pink and white shoes, and white shorts. Noah walked on to the court with the confidence of a multiple Grand Slam winner.
“I feel incredibly excited. So happy! I spent a lot of my childhood here. It’s been 20 years since my last time to Cape Town. It was worth the wait. I didn’t expect this kind of a welcome,” said Federer to SuperSport even as fans held up signs that said ‘welcome home Roger’.
He said some of the best things he experienced coming back to South Africa were the food and lifestyle. “It’s a beautiful country. It’s so scenic. The safaris, and you name it. The people at the end of the day have the warmest hearts. It’s a wonderful place.”
On playing Noah for the first time, he said: “I have never seen him play tennis in my life so that’s a good advantage for him but I’m not sure how good he is. But he’s got the best partner he could find in Rafa so it’s going to be very special. Trevor is a great guy, great person, so funny as well, and I think that could throw us off a little bit. And Rafa, obviously the legend he is, we know how great he is.”
“Play aggressive and very well, that’s the most clear way to success.– Rafael Nadal
The Swiss maestro then went on to tell the crowd: “I hope you all have a blast. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you!”
Gates had previously played in a doubles team for two ‘The Match For Africa’ tournaments prior to ‘The Match In Africa’ finale. Together with Federer, they called themselves ‘Gateserer’, and were unbeaten.
On teaming up with Federer for the third time, Gates said: “We’ve had a lot of fun. The events have been a blast to do. And they’ve raised great resources for his foundation so it’s a thrill to be here; the biggest crowd ever!”
And Nadal, on being back on South African soil, said: “It’s amazing. I’ve never played and felt like this… Just thank you everybody for supporting this.”
The crowds cheered louder.
“It’s very very special. We’re here supporting Roger’s foundation event. It makes me super happy.”
Noah nodded profusely.
“We’re going to create good team work for sure. No doubt,” said Nadal. “I said to Trevor the strategy is clear. Play aggressive and very well, that’s the most clear way to have success.”
Ten years ago, who would have thought that a young man from Soweto, a township in South Africa, would be playing tennis with two of the world’s greatest male tennis players, and also tech-billionaire and Microsoft founder Gates?
“We’ve got a strong strategy. I think Roger’s at a disadvantage. We’re both half Swiss, half South African, so I’m in his head. I know what he’s going to do. I won’t use it too much against him. I’ve got one of the greatest players that the world has ever seen next to me so we’re going to make it a good match. It’s going to be a really good match,” said Noah.
He said playing alongside Nadal was a great combination because “the World Cup 2010 was in South Africa. Spain won that World Cup. So we’ve got a special connection right here. We’re bringing that magic back today.”
Noah brought his trademark humor to the court but that wasn’t enough to pull an upset despite having Nadal on his team. Team ‘Gateserer’ beat Team ‘N-Squared’ 6-3 to hold onto their unbeaten streak. Federer said on Noah’s tennis game: “I couldn’t even see the feet, they were so fast.”
Before the players headed back into the locker rooms, Gates spoke about the work the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is doing in Africa. “A lot of the work we do in South Africa is to help fight HIV and tuberculosis. And so, going and meeting the doctors, seeing the patients and understanding the drugs; how we can make them better. It’s inspiring to see the people who do the work in the field. Things have improved in those areas but there’s a lot more to do.”
Preluding the main match of the night, the Ndlovu Youth Choir, a South African singing group that recently appeared on America’s Got Talent, performed Shakira’s foot-tapping Waka Waka song.
The atmosphere was reminiscent of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The players once again appeared from the players’ tunnel, returning to court and a frenzied crowd.
Spotted in the front-row were South African billionaire Patrice Motsepe and his fashion entrepreneur wife Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe, as also the country’s rugby legend Brian Habana.
Federer spoke about Nadal trailing behind him for the record of the most Grand Slam wins.
“The good thing about tonight is that he cannot catch me. Tonight, I’m relaxed.” Federer further said he wouldn’t mind if Nadal caught up with him, however, he would like to win one more Wimbledon title.
Siya Kolisi, the first black captain of the South African rugby team, which won the Rugby World Cup late last year, also made a special appearance. He came on court bearing a gift for the rugby team’s special fan, Federer. From one champion to another, Kolisi handed over a Number 8 green Springboks jersey with Federer’s surname written on it to symbolize his South African roots.
Federer wore it and the two champions hugged.
“Thank you to all of you beautiful people of South Africa. We appreciate everything you do. Roger has been telling me how amazing it’s been since he’s come back here. It just shows how many great things we can achieve as a country; for these two gentlemen to come out here and want to play in South Africa is really an awesome thing. And I hope it inspires a lot of people to come here and do this because we’ve got beautiful facilities like these and we can fill up the stadium which is amazing,” said Kolisi to SuperSport.
In the end, tennis fans were treated to a thrilling match that saw Federer hitting his famous backhand, a shot that has been instrumental in his career. He won the first set by 6-4. Nadal didn’t hold back either. He unleashed his lethal curling forehand shot on Federer as if it was one of the many ‘Fedal’ Grand Slam final classics that tennis fans have witnessed over the years. Nadal managed to scoop the second set 6-3. In the final set, he made some errors that ushered Federer’s victory, as he won the match by 6-4 3-6 6-3. The two hugged it out by the net.
‘The Match In Africa’ raised $3.5 million, the highest amount the Roger Federer Foundation has ever netted from a single exhibition match. The proceeds will help support children’s education in Africa as the exhibition is all about empowering children, in particular, in the area of early childhood education. The event also set a world record for the most attendees at a single tennis match.
So the numbers beg the question: is South Africa ready for a tennis Grand Slam, or at the very least, ready to be added on to the calendars of the ATP and WTA tours?
At least on this night, it was clear South Africans love sport. Maybe the game has only just begun.
What Federer Thought Nadal Must Do In South Africa
“I think Rafa has to go to Table Mountain, and then also of course to the Cape of Good Hope, maybe some of the vineyards, and Bo-Kaap – I went there this morning… I think [this trip] is going to make him want to come back to have a proper time with his wife and maybe his kids, in the future, and really travel South Africa and Africa extensively. He came here for the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals when Spain played at Soccer City in Johannesburg so he’s got a little taste here already and I think this one is definitely going to motivate him for many more returns,” said Federer to FORBES AFRICA.
The South African Who Wants To Be The Fastest Man In The World
Recovering from a knee injury, Wayde van Niekerk was all set to defend his title at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. In lockdown in South Africa, the Mo Salah and Liverpool fan is instead working on his endurance and finding positivity in chaos.
A good sportsman can never be locked down.
Just ask Cape Town-born Wayde van Niekerk, who made history at the 2016 Rio Olympics with a record-breaking performance as a track and field athlete.
In a way, the lockdown in South Africa has been an extension of Van Niekerk’s own time away from the limelight, when he was already living and training indoors, building on his physical and mental strength, after a serious knee injury in 2017.
The injury that kept him away from the track had meant “hibernation” of a different kind when he was steering himself for the next big competition in returning to the field again in 2020.
This was also going to be the year he was going to defend his 400m world record at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
“I came out of an injury, and it led to me entering a hibernation period of my life where a lot happened, internally, indoors, away from the TV screens,” says Van Niekerk in a Zoom interview with FORBES AFRICA from his home in Bloemfontein in South Africa’s Free State province, a day after the country lifted its stringent five-week lockdown with Level 4 restrictions.
“As this year started, I had shifted my mentality to becoming an athlete again, and getting ready for the next major competition, and then Covid-19 started, and that led to me taking a step back and shift back to the hibernation stage of training and strengthening myself.
“I am blessed and privileged to have equipment around me and a gym setup at home. So I was well-prepared even before the pandemic… but you do miss the track, but this pandemic is something we all have to face together.”
The 28-year-old, who showed promise from an early age, and who was also listed as one of FORBES AFRICA’s 30 Under 30 achievers in 2019, says he has been using the time to find peace in chaos.
“What I have learned is to try and find that peace, that positivity and calm in this storm. It’s a mentality shift I had to meditate on, that I build a positive foundation, that I reap every strength and positivity invested in me, that once I come out of the injury, I come out stronger. Now, I am making sure my physical and mental strength can complement each other.”
From 200-meter events as a junior athlete, to becoming a 400-meter specialist later, Van Niekerk is among the most versatile sprinters in the history of the sport.
For now, he says he also taken the time away from the track to commit to the less fortunate around him.
“I find it difficult to focus on just me… I am very passionate about helping those around me. I am not a fan of wanting to do things that become a media event.”
The transition from indoor fitness to outdoor training, once the lockdown regulations fully lift, is not going to be easy. “There are a lot of technical things in terms of getting 100% race-fit for an international stage and trying to do some competitions; to just shake off that rust and get the legs going and the body moving and the blood flowing again. There will be a whole few months before we get to be at the level and shape where we can improve ourselves as athletes,” he says.
The ardent Mo Salah and Liverpool fan has also been engaging with his network of sports stars around the world. Jamaican former sprinter Usain Bolt is a good friend.
“I communicate with most, but Usain is more about the banter. He’s always teasing me about the Premier League not going to finish, so they keep trying to tap into that nerve of mine as I am a passionate Liverpool supporter. So I am trying not to entertain that side of them,” laughs Van Niekerk.
As a child, Van Niekerk dreamed of becoming the fastest man in the world. It’s a dream that still keeps the speedster going.
“It is what I have been investing in ever since I was young, and what I want to achieve. With the barriers I broke came confidence, and why not believe in what I can achieve? I am invested 110% to want to improve the 100m, 200m and up to 400m. I am more hungry and determined than ever!”
Staying Flexible: With The Postponement Of The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, This Gymnast’s Goal Hasn’t Changed
The 19-year-old South African gymnast was all set for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in July, for which she had qualified. With the event’s postponement, her goal hasn’t changed, she says, only the timeline has.
At just 19 years old, Caitlin Rooskrantz is South Africa’s gold medal-winning international gymnast.
From Florida, a small suburb in Roodepoort in Johannesburg, and currently in lockdown in the country, if the Covid-19 pandemic hadn’t happened, Rooskrantz would have now been intensely training for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in July, for which she had qualified.
“I qualified for the 2020 Games being the first woman in South Africa’s gymnastics history to have achieved an outright qualification at the world championships,” she told an audience of female powerhouses at the 2020 FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Leading Women Summit in Durban on March 6.
Even as a child, when she first took to gymnastics, she had been set on making it to the Olympics one day.
The news of the Games’ postponement has been quite upsetting, but says Rooskrantz: “It is in the best interest of all the athletes because our health comes first, always!” Her favorite quote, in particular, comforts her at this time: “The goal hasn’t changed, just the timeline has, keep going!”
Her training has continued through the lockdown and it has kept her afternoons busy.
“We have set programs to keep up our strength, fitness and flexibility. To try and keep up my mental game, I watch videos daily of any past successful competitions. I analyse my training videos and try to mentally put myself in the video,” she says.
2019 had been “a spectacular year” for her.
“I managed to pass matric well with two distinctions and university entrance while training for my childhood dream. Not only did I bag South Africa’s first-ever gold medal on uneven bars on an international stage, but at just 18 years old, I made history,” she said at the summit, to an applauding audience.
In an interview with FORBES AFRICA, Rooskrantz reflects on the days when it all started, as a young child, when she was a bundle of energy and her parents knew early on that they had to redirect that energy to sport.
A teenager now, but if Rooskrantz has already seen much success, she has also experienced tragedy and hardship.
When she was just eight, her father, from whom she inherited her deep love for sport, passed away. He took his own life.
She had been training at a gymnastics center a few kilometers from home, but that had to stop because of the tragedy and transportation issues. But her former trainer took it upon herself to regularly drive her there.
“Everything started escalating and things took a turn. I dropped all my school sports because I didn’t have any time for them; I had to pick one, especially with the high demand of gym,” she says.
Rooskrantz was placed on a high-performance program and soon started traveling; training more than four hours a day six days a week at the age of 11. This was the intermediate level of her tumbling (a gymnastic feat including the execution of acrobatic feats) profession and the best was yet to come.
Her first overseas trip was to Australia for a training camp in 2012. A few months later, Rooskrantz competed in Serbia for her first international competition. It might have not been the best competition for her, but it was great exposure.
In 2014, South Africa hosted the African gymnastics championships with Rooskrantz the youngest member of the junior team.
“I did well, I don’t remember falling and I made it to the bar finals and that was the time I started to realize my potential on the asymmetric bar. I left that with a big boost to my confidence.”
The young student was progressing quickly, reaching new heights.
On her last year as a junior in the 2016 Junior Commonwealth Games in Namibia, she made three apparatus finals; asymmetric bar, vault and the balancing beam.
An injury kept her away from the Commonwealth Games in Australia in 2018, when she went in for surgery and was off the apparatus for months.
“I was in bed after my operation but back at gym a week after, still on crutches, working on my upper body. In a sport like gymnastics, when you are that injured, it is critical to do something because you lose strength, flexibility and fitness. I was also working on my mental state,” she says of those hard days. Her coach told her the surgery was either going to make or break her career. She was determined to return stronger. She did, and how.
All Home And No Play: Not Since World War II Has The Global Sports Industry Faced Such A Crippling Crisis
Not since World War II has the global sports industry faced such a crippling crisis, which is likely to cost billions of dollars in lost revenue and could yet see the permanent extinction of some teams and competitions.
The coronavirus pandemic that has spread across the world has the potential to change the face of sports forever, and Africa will not be spared, with one administrator suggesting the outbreak could set their game back 20 years.
The severity of the impact will be determined by how long it takes for society to live alongside the pandemic, but even if that were to happen in June, there has already been significant damage done.
Confederation of African Football (CAF) President Ahmad Ahmad has tried to provide a positive outlook, but knows the complexity of the situation on the continent is dire.
None of the 54 domestic leagues in Africa was still running in May, as Burundi was the last to close up shop the month before, but just when cross-border competitions such as the lucrative CAF Champions League, and qualifiers for the Africa Cup of Nations and World Cup, can resume, is anybody’s guess given travel restrictions are likely to be in place for some time, and vary from country to country.
“CAF is already focused on the conditions for relaunching our competitions and our events,” Ahmad said in comments supplied to FORBES AFRICA.
“Never has a crisis of such great magnitude crossed the world, never has world sport decreed so many postponements of its programs and never has such a tsunami struck the most basic sporting practice.
“We are now condemned to rebuild the basics, or at least to reinforce them, to energize them so that at the time of recovery, we will be the best structured and best disposed to conquer or re-conquer, the dry territories of sport and football.
It is Ahmad’s way of saying that any thought of returning to pre-coronavirus levels of engagement and sponsorship are fanciful in the short-term, or perhaps even medium-term.
His suggestion of having to “rebuild the basics” is a key admission and will be the same for many sports that face a sponsorship vacuum from some of the world’s leading brands.
When airlines, major sponsors of African sport, have been laying off staff and cut their schedules to next to nothing, can they justify pumping millions of dollars into sport?
The same for car manufactures, loss-making banks and oil companies hit by the drop in the price of crude.
The health conditions to allow play for many sports in Africa may return this year, but the question is whether there will be the financial support vital to being able to play the game.
Selwyn Nathan, commissioner of South Africa’s Sunshine Tour and a leading expert on global golf, suggests the pandemic may return the sport to the year 2000 in terms of financial capabilities.
“It could be like starting a business all over again, you can’t have an attitude that people [sponsors] will just come back,” Nathan says.
“It’s not something unique to Africa, or sport anywhere in the world, but we are going to have to change the way we do things.
“Players will have to accept that they are not going to be playing for the same money, and organizers must accept they will have to ask for less [money] and possibly do more just to retain sponsors.
“It is going to fundamentally change the way we operate and we have to adapt to that.”
Winners in some co-sanctioned Sunshine Tour and European Tour golf events can earn upwards of $1.5-million per tournament, but Nathan believes those numbers will be fanciful for the foreseeable future and it is likely to be a fraction of that.
The pandemic could be the death knell for ailing Super Rugby, the southern hemisphere club championship that has been hanging on for dear life, as it was, due to dwindling interest and its format that sees players criss-cross the globe between Argentina, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Japan.
In the case of world champion Springboks, that could actually work in their favor and see them looking north to Europe for club and country competitions, where the TV revenues are greater and load on players less, according to respected Stormers coach John Dobson.
“I believe there will be a restructuring of the game and that could be at Super Rugby’s expense,” Dobson says. “There could be stronger focus on domestic competitions with less travel and more tailored for television, because ultimately, that is where you get the revenue to run the game.
“It’s critical you have a product that is appealing to rugby fans, and after this period, maybe that will rather involve South African teams playing in the [European] Heineken Cup. I don’t know, but something has to change.”
Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard, who is chairman of the APO Group, a communication and business consultancy in Africa, says he has seen first-hand the toll the virus has taken on sports federations almost across the board.
“I think, unfortunately, it will have a devastating effect for many. First of all, athletes cannot train properly and when you are at the level of international competition, just a few percentage points off can compromise your body,” he says.
“Added to that, there is no competition and the longer this goes on, the longer it will take for athletes to return to peak performances, so in the near term, you will have a poorer product for television and sponsors.”
Pompigne-Mognard says cross-border competitions are vital in Africa and it is in these multi-national tournaments where many federations across different sports make most of their revenue.
“Each African nation is unlikely to return to full health at the same time, so, for example, the Basketball Africa League, which involves 12 teams from across the continent has to be put on hold until travel is possible.
“It will go ahead, but the question is when and what are the financial consequences of this? It is something that we cannot quantify now, so we live in this state of uncertainty and that is not good for anybody, sport or business.”
The postponement of the Tokyo Olympic Games to 2021 has brought much relief for many athletes, who had seen their training regimes brought to a halt, or at best conducted in the confines of their own home.
Olympic gold medalist swimmer Chad le Clos had had to make do with what he has at home while in lockdown in South Africa, one of thousands of elite athletes from across Africa in similar situations.
“It is what it is and I am happy with the decision (to move the Olympics) that has been made,” Le Clos says. “I have a small pool at home, so I attach a cord that allows me to stay stationary as I swim.”
“We cannot afford to take a break, even in lockdown. You cannot let yourself lose the months and months of work that you have put into your body.
“I don’t know where or when I will compete again, but you have to stay positive. You have to hope for the best, that is all we can do.”
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