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Game, set, match, SA: Match in Africa breaks tennis spectator record

There were smiles that only shone brighter as the evening progressed, while the cheers grew louder by the minute. This was Cape Town and South Africa in a happy place for a change.

More than 51 000 people attended Friday's Match in Africa at Cape Town Stadium, and $3,5-million was raised for charity. Credit: AFP

The Match in Africa scoreline of 6-4 3-6 6-3 to Roger Federer was inconsequential. The numbers that were significant though, were 51 945 - a world record number of spectators watching a tennis match, and US$3,5-million – the amount of money raised last night for the Roger Federer Foundation.

The tennis was exhilarating, at times comical but always entertaining. Federer’s archrival Rafael Nadal with his muscular physique and robust shots was the perfect counter to Federer’s elegance and guile.

Joined by South Africa’s homegrown superstar Trevor Noah, and a man who’s work has probably impacted every person in the stadium, Bill Gates, the double match warmed the Cape Town Stadium as the chill began to settle in the air.

This was all for good cause, and the manner in which the crowd responded to their heroes was a joy to behold.

One man who knows how to make a nation smile is Springbok captain Siya Kolisi. When he took to the stage to hand Federer a Springbok jersey the stadium erupted – memories of November 2 in Japan still lingering in their minds. Federer is a man with a big and generous heart, that much was clear from the beginning, but after the event was over the emotions came flooding in to fill that void.

“There’s so many emotions and feelings for me. To have 51 945 people in attendance at a tennis match. I never thought I’d be a part of something like that to be honest. It’s something you dream about and then these things just all of a sudden happen, and that we were able to be a part of it, and I was able to be part of organising it, creating a dream like this in a place where I have my roots. I’m so glad I have my roots here in South Africa,” Federer said afterwards. “It’s special on so many levels. This record is one for the people.”

There was only one winner on Friday night – South Africa – who welcomes the two legends of the game with open arms and hundreds of requests for selfies. They came in droves, packed out the stadium and had a blast. Noah, a man who is seldom lost for words summed up the night in his inimitable way.

“I don’t even think this night is rankable. To be in South Africa, my home, the country that lifted me. To be playing with Bill Gates, a man who invented an operating system that changed my life and took me into the world. To play against two of the greatest tennis players not just in our lifetime, but possibly of all time, in one of the greatest cities in the world, is truly an experience I don’t even think I could fully comprehend and absorb right now,” Noah said.

“Events like these remind South Africans what we’re capable of. It reminds us of the magic we can achieve when we come together. I think we need to keep this energy as a nation, because this is where we need to move forward to. We need to keep excelling, we need to get better. We need to keep striving to be better,” he added.

There were smiles that only shone brighter as the evening progressed, while the cheers grew louder by the minute. This was Cape Town and South Africa in a happy place for a change, and it took a special night to make that happen.

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