Tennis stars take to pitch for Japan quake relief

Miami: Novak Djokovic pronounced a South Florida fund-raising football match in aid of disaster-stricken Japan a huge success and promised more of the same in the coming months.

The Australian Open champion was just one of the global tennis stars in town for the Miami ATP Masters 1000 who turned in his racquet for football boots.

Djokovic, ranked second in the world, was the originator of the event which pitted a side of ATP All-Stars against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the second-rung North American Soccer League.

The Strikers won 4-2, with Andy Murray and Marcos Baghdatis scoring for the tennis side. The match was followed by a gala dinner with proceeds from both to go to the American Red Cross toward relief efforts in Japan.

"This gives us ideas over the next couple of months to organize another game somewhere in Europe, maybe with some big team," said Djokovic, the hottest racquet on the ATP with an 18-0 record and three titles in 2011.

"I`m not going to say where and when," he added, "but we have something in our minds.

"But we`ll have to work, definitely. We`ll have to practise. Hopefully we can make that happen, because most of the players we love playing football. You could see that."

Djokovic said that among the tennis players -- including Rafael Nadal among the reserves -- constructing a team was a difficult challenge.

"Every single one of them wanted to be on attack. So that was a big issue before the match, how to put up a team of players who can play some defense."

In the end, Djokovic took on part of that burden but said his football skills need much more work.

Roger Federer, a former youth footballer and long dedicated to off-court charity, was unable to attend due to other commitments, while Nadal did not set foot on the pitch.

"It was more of an adrenaline rush that we had of just being there," added Djokovic. "Nobody expected this event to be that successful, it was incredible."

Japan`s Kei Nishikori was among the tennis players who took part in the benefit, and he was touched by the concern his ATP colleagues had shown for his homeland.

"I want to thank Novak a lot (for) doing that and helping Japan," said Nishikori, who returned to the tennis court on Thursday and beat France`s Jeremy Chardy in a first-round match.

"I want to thank all the players for helping Japan like that. I`m very proud -- and I had fun yesterday."

The toll from the monster quake and tsunami on March 11 includes more than 9,800 so far confirmed dead and more than 17,000 listed as missing by national police.

In addition, the natural disaster damaged the Fukushima No 1 nuclear plant, spawning an atomic crisis.

Bureau Report