World No1 Roger Federer returns to the court to defend his Indian Wells title this week, fresh off the back of a doubles knock-up with Microsoft founder and billionaire Bill Gates.
The Swiss partnered the American business magnate and philanthropist in Monday night’s Match for Africa 5 exhibition in San Jose, which raised $2.5 million for the Roger Federer Foundation.
In an evening of entertainment in front of a 15,000-strong SAP Center crowd, Federer and Gates joined forces – in a repeat of their charity match in Seattle in 2017 – and faced World No10 Jack Sock and NBC Today Show host Savannah Guthrie in a celebrity encounter to raise funds for children’s education in Africa.
After that, the 20-time Grand Slam winner took on Sock in a light-hearted best-of-three sets singles clash, with the 36-year-old triumphing 7-6 (9) 6-4.
Federer has 1,000 points to defend at the BNP Paribas Open and needs to reach the semi-finals in California to ensure he stays atop of the rankings.
If he fails to do so, Rafael Nadal will reclaim the No1 spot for the fifth time in his career on March 19 ahead of the Miami Open – another tournament in which Federer is reigning champion – in just over two weeks’ time.
Federer is the favourite to win both titles and claim the American swing ‘Sunshine Double’ yet again – and is helped by the fact Nadal is ruled out of both events with a hip injury, joining the likes of Stan Wawrinka, David Goffin, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray on the sidelines.
That leaves second seed Marin Cilic, Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov and young gun Alexander Zverev as Federer’s main challengers whilst Juan Martin del Potro and Kevin Anderson also pose a big threat on the fast hard courts.
Top seed Federer, who has received a first-round bye, will bid for a 98th career title when he gets his campaign under way this week.
Roger Federer returns to the court stateside on Monday night, as the Swiss faces American Jack Sock in Match for Africa 5.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion is in Silicon Valley to raise charitable funds for the Roger Federer Foundation and will face the World No.10 under lights in a three-set exhibition at the SAP Center in San Jose.
Federer will also partner Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates in a unique doubles match against Sock and Savannah Guthrie, co-host of the NBC Today Show.
It is the fifth event Federer and his team have laid on to support children’s education in Africa, and it follows last year’s successful charity match in Seattle.
Before taking to the court, the 36-year-old revealed a new set of Air Max 95s. Pretty swish!
The match will be streamed live on Federer’s Facebook page, with proceedings set to get underway at 7am UAE time on Tuesday morning.
Having reclaimed the World No1 ranking last month, Federer is due in action in Indian Wells this week.
The 36-year-old became the most decorated person in the awards’ history as he beat fellow nominees Nadal, Cristiano Ronaldo and British trio Chris Froome, Mo Farah and Lewis Hamilton to claim the sportsman of the year prize.
The Swiss recovered from back and knee problems in 2016 to win the Australian Open and Wimbledon titles the following year, with Nadal, five years younger than Federer, battling back from his own injury issues to claim the other two Grand Slams.
Upon receiving his sportsman of the year award from Martina Navratilova, an emotional Federer said: “To my rival Rafa, I wanted to just give a shout-out to him.
“He had an unbelievable year himself. We had a great battle and it’s because of a guy like him, I feel like I’ve become a better player as well.
“He could very well be here as well and standing here with this award. He’s an incredible player, incredible friend, an incredible athlete.”
Federer expanded on his relationship with Nadal at a press conference after the event, adding: “All the matches that you’ve played against one another, they sort of connect you to some extent.
“When you lose against a guy 9-7 in the fifth (set) or you win 9-7 in the fifth, it leaves something special there for everyone.
“Whenever you walk past a guy, you know there was a match that really shaped your character maybe as well.”
— #Laureus18 (@LaureusSport) February 27, 2018
The Swiss, who at one point was asked to “confess a flaw” to prove he was not perfect, did concede surprise at the level he has been able to return to.
However, the 20-time grand slam champion also revealed the constant questions he has faced about possible retirement for nearly a decade have driven him on.
“It’s like a hammer banging at the door, eventually you feel like it’s going to break through,” he added.
“You have to hold back the door and just not let that come to you. I think it’s made me extremely resilient and strong, having to answer all these questions.
“I think this has been a big challenge for me, just not letting that get to my head and truly listening to myself and my team. Can I actually still win? As long as I believe truly I can still win, then I believe it was worth it to come back. That’s the feeling I had. I feel like I never really let that (negativity) come to me.
“It’s been wonderful – not to prove people wrong, but just to prove myself and my team right.”
Fellow tennis star Serena Williams won her fifth statuette by being named the sportswoman of the year, while Formula One team Mercedes, Sergio Garcia, Francesco Totti, JJ Watt and Edwin Moses also picked up prizes.
– The Laureus World Sports Awards highlight sporting excellence and recognise those who use sport to change lives for the better. For more information, head to www.laureus.com/awards