SYDNEY (AFP) – Tennis and cricket stars spearheaded by Nick Kyrgios and Chris Lynn on Friday pledged support for victims of bushfires raging around Australia, donating cash for every ace or six they hit.
The blazes have claimed 18 lives and forced mass evacuations, with the country bracing for a weekend heatwave expected to fan the deadly infernos.
Tennis Australia also announced a “Rally for Relief” exhibition match at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne on January 15 ahead of the Australian Open, with “the world s top players” taking part.
It also made a Aus$1.0 million (US$690,000) donation to help communities repair and rebuild tennis facilities damaged or lost in the bushfires.
Kyrgios, a controversial figure with a bad boy reputation, has been at the forefront of building support and pledged Aus$200 for each ace he serves in the Australian summer of tennis, starting with the ATP Cup, which began Friday.
“I m kicking off the support for those affected by the fires. I ll be donating $200 per ace that I hit across all the events I play this summer,” tweeted the 24-year-old, who was handed a 16-week suspended ban in September after a series of outbursts.
His Australian teammate at the inaugural ATP Cup Alex de Minaur went one better.
“I like this, I will go $250 per ace, just because I don t think I ll be hitting as many aces as you mate,” he replied, with Australian veteran Samantha Stosur also pledging $200 per ace.
Kyrgios, who will also play the upcoming Kooyong Classic and the Australian Open, on Thursday issued a call for fundraisers for victims of the blazes, which have been a big talking point at the 24-team ATP Cup being staged in Brisbane, Perth and Sydney.
Tournament director Tom Larner announced that each ace served at the 10-day event would deliver Aus$100 to bushfire relief.
The initiative is forecast to raise around Aus$150,000, with more than 1,500 aces expected to be sent down over the duration of the January 3-12 tournament.
“Most of the players are already keen to score aces and win a quick point, and having the chance to raise money for the bushfire appeal will give them that extra bit of motivation,” he said.
Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley said he was working with the ATP and WTA to extend the move to all tournaments in Australia this month, including at Brisbane, Adelaide and Hobart.
“During the Australian Open we also plan to honour and recognise the incredible work of our firefighters, emergency services workers and volunteers who serve our communities so tirelessly,” he said.
“I know fans will turn out in force to the AO Rally for Relief to support this great cause, as well as get involved in all our other fundraising activities.”
There are fears that smoke haze from the fires could impact the ATP Cup in Sydney, with officials relying on on-site medical experts to monitor air quality, although there were no concerns on Friday.
The third cricket Test in Sydney between Australia and New Zealand is also monitoring for smoke, with players wearing black armbands Friday as a mark of respect for those who have died.
Two of the biggest hitters in the game, Lynn and Glenn Maxwell, said they would donate $250 for every six they smash during the ongoing Big Bash League Twenty20 tournament.
“Hey Guys, for every six I hit in this years Big Bash League I will donate $250 towards the Red Cross Bushfire Appeal,” tweeted Lynn.
“It is special to see so many athletes from various sports getting in behind the real heroes who are fighting to save lives and properties around our country.”
Maxwell, back in action after a short mental health sabbatical, replied: “Love it Lynny!! I ll match you on $250 per six I hit in this years BBL.”
D Arcy Short, who was last week added to Australia s squad for their upcoming one-day tour of India, also jumped on board with the same commitment.