Rod Laver Arena was buzzing on Saturday when tennis royalty joined forces to put on a memorable exhibition at Kids Tennis Day 2013.
Roger Federer, Victoria Azarenka, Novak Djokovic, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Serena Williams and Ana Ivanovic took part in the Rod Laver Arena Spectacular – a star-studded line-up that gave kids the chance to get up close to their heroes.
Kids Tennis Day 2013 was the biggest of its kind at Melbourne Park and helped promote MLC Tennis Hot Shots (MLCTHS) – Tennis Australia’s junior development program.
The players were grouped in two teams of three – Team Dora (the Explorer) and Team SpongeBob – as the stars showcased an array of trick shots, jokes and their own running commentary, thrilling the crowd.
Djokovic – well known for his showman qualities – had the crowd roaring with laughter at his antics. The fans were entertained by his high-pitched and excessive grunting, his head-butting of the ball over the net and a brief performance of the Gangnam Style dance.
On the other side of the court, crowd favourite Federer was more than happy to put his racquet down and undertake ball boy responsibilities, while Tsonga showed off his ability to fire shots from deep in the court – through his legs.
But perhaps the play that drew the most enjoyment was the long rallies between all the players, which included smashes and lobs exchanged in true ping-pong style.
With Federer, Azarenka and Tsonga together well beyond the baseline, Djokovic, Williams and Ivanovic slowly crept forward to the net. Williams took over, returning every lob with brute strength, forcing her two Serbian teammates to walk off the court so the American could do what she does best – shine in the spotlight.
And with each smash defended the crowd grew louder, Federer gradually forced deep in the court until only centimetres away from tumbling over a sponsor banner.
But the entertainment didn’t stop there. Following the player exhibition, international pop star Guy Sebastian made a surprise appearance. Disguised as a chair umpire, there was plenty of excitement when he revealed his identity. With Carmen Smith, a contestant on last year’s The Voice, he performed three songs and the crowd was definitely on a high.
MLCTHS leader Craig Morris said he could not be happier with the day.
“We are thrilled with the response from the public,” Morris said. “To get Rod Laver Arena almost completely full certainly went well beyond our expectations, and to see families coming here to enjoy tennis and to get engaged in the sport was really exciting.
“As people were leaving Melboune Park, and hearing kids talk about how great it was to see Roger and listen to Guy Sebastian, we felt the schedule today really attracted a cross-section of people.
“There were a lot of smiling faces on kids going home saying what a great day it was, and we now hope people think of tennis as a great experience and hopefully go and tell their friends to pick up a racquet and start to play.”
Other Kids Tennis Day activities included live performances from Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants on stage in Garden Square, while the outside courts were brimming with youngsters having a hit under the watchful eye of MLC Tennis Hot Shots coaches. The Australian Open trophies were also on display, allowing fans to snap plenty of pictures.
Court 6 hosted a Celebrity Slam featuring former world No.1 and three-time Australian Open champion Martina Hingis, alongside Melbourne Storm captain Cameron Smith, facing a ball machine and hitting with MLCTHS youngsters.
For more information on MLCTHS, visit the website: hotshots.tennis.com.au
All the action in pictures: Kids Tennis Day 2013