With match play now taking tentative steps to return to court following the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, fans attention has been locked on the virtual world where video games are fuelling players competitive instincts.
I was more nervous there than in any of my real matches. This was so much fun. Addison absolutely carried the team. Taylor Fritz
After Andy Murray and Kiki Bertens won the singles titles at the last weeks virtual Madrid Matual Open, Taylor Fritz and Tik Tok personality Addison Rae took the Stay At Home Slam Victory, seeing off a field of IMG clients that included Venus Williams, Serena Williams, and Madison Keyes and a host of other celebrities.
Social distancing has made it difficult for sports fans and athletes alike to find content to enjoy so esports competitions raising funds for charity are proving a hit with fans.
This latest example, the Mario Tennis Aces Stay At Home Slam, was played on Sunday using Nintendo Switch and streamed live on Facebook Gaming.
The winners of the one-day doubles event byTaylor and Rae brought home $1 million for No Kid Hungry, the charity that works to end child hunger in the United States, after defeating Kei Nishikori and Steve Aoki 6-4 in the final.
“I was more nervous there than in any of my real matches,” Fritz joked. “This was so much fun. Addison absolutely carried the team.”
Fritz & Rae broke Aoki in the opening game off four winners from Rae, and maintained their slight advantage the rest of the way.
Nishikori & Aoki held five break points with Fritz serving for the championship at 5-4, but the American erased all of them with aces and fired another ace to wrap up the match.
“I play a lot of video games and recently got back into it because there’s been a lot of virtual athlete tournaments,” Fritz said before the event. “I’ve never played Mario Tennis, but I want to win this really bad.”
Former World No 1 John McEnroe provided commentary for each match with popular YouTube personality iJustine (Justine Ezarik), and there was Ta surprise pep talk from WTA pioneer Billie Jean King at the start of the event.
“I know the players have been practicing hard this week, and it should be an entertaining competition,” said King.
Serena Williams teamed up with Gigi Hadid, Naomi Osaka partnered Hailey Bieber, Venus Williams and DeAndre Hopkins matched up, Maria Sharapova and Karlie Kloss were team-mates, Kei Nishikori and Steve Aoki partnered while Madison Keys teamed up with Seal.
Seal & Keys won their opening match by eliminating Serena & Hadid, 6-1.
“Obviously I played Super Mario Bros. growing up,” said Serena, who was playing for Compton Unified. “I grew up in the age where we would blow into the cartridges to make sure that they worked! I’m just excited that this is a lot easier.”
Sister Venus & Hopkins and Sharapova & Kloss also crashed out in their openers.
Osaka & Bieber, meanwhile, had to forfeit their first-round match due to model Bieber’s poor internet connection.
“It’s great to be able to come together and give over one million dollars to charity – such an amazing event,” two-time Grand Slam champion Osaka said, prior to the event.
“I’m playing for Hope for Haiti which is dear to my heart – they don’t have the resources to deal with a pandemic there so I want to help in any way I can.”
Kevin Anderson & Ryan Tannehill scored a 6-3 win in their opening match against Maria Sharapova & Karlie Kloss, while Nishikori & Aoki defeated Naomi Osaka & Hailey Bieber.
“I’m going to have to hang up my controller,” Anderson joked. “That was too good for us. I’ll guess we’ll have to train harder and come back next year.”
In the semi-finals, Nishikori & Aoki cruised past Anderson & Tannehill with a convincing 6-1 victory.
In Mario Tennis Aces for Nintendo Switch, Mario steps onto the court for matches against a variety of Mushroom Kingdom characters including Luigi, Peach, Donkey Kong and Bowser.
The final ran into technical difficulties as the match froze midway through the set, the delay filled by awkward banter between McEnroe and iJustine until the match restarted.
Despite the technical issues were brushed off by McEnroe as being ‘like a rain delay’.
Last week, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray headlined the Virtual Madrid Open, which was also plagued by some technical snafus.
“It has been a crazy time but we all need to have some fun and it is for a great cause,” said McEnroe.
Some 35,000 tennis fans watched on Sunday, content with virtual tournaments for now.
The coronavirus pandemic, which has infected over 3.4 million globally, killing at least 240,000 people, has played havoc with the world’s sporting calendar.
The Wimbledon Championships were cancelled for the first time since World War Two whilst the French Open, originally scheduled to begin in May, has been pushed back until September.
All ATP and WTA tour tournaments have been cancelled until at least 13 July.
As a result, Zoom has moved from solely the province of online professional meetings to an ever-expanding group of virtual social events, from happy hours to family reunions.
WTA players are now increasingly getting onto the platform to stun scores of their fans with online chats.
Last week, American Madison Keys and Serena Williams hopped on Zoom to sit in the middle of the now-familiar sight of a plethora of boxes, where they engaged with tennis enthusiasts from all over the world.
Keys jumped into a clutch of about 30 WTA fans on Thursday, where the World No 13 and 2017 US Open finalist took part in a tennis trivia contest during the conference.
23-time Grand Slam champion Williams also zipped into Zoom on Friday, surprising a stupendous number of her super-fans with an entertaining virtual happy hour appearance during the era of online hangouts.
According to her Instagram, long-time former World No 1 Williams is taking a number of online meetings, and her daughter Olympia is regularly in tow.
“Olympia is in EVERY meeting I have,” said the WTA legend. “It’s pretty awesome. My baby CEO.”