Fernando Gonzalez Rallies Tennis for Chilean Earthquake Relief
4/03/2010 11:26 PM ET
By Greg Couch
MIAMI -- Fernando Gonzalez has done all the right things from his heart. He left the tennis tour for a week and went to Chile to visit his family, see the ruins in his country following the earthquake.
He toured different towns, stopped in a fishing village and hit tennis balls with kids.
And on Saturday at the Sony Ericsson Open, he ran a charity doubles event to raise money for the victims. The night raised $125,000 in an event set up just two weeks ago. Roughly 4,000 people were there.
"You three guys are really great champions inside the court and outside the court," he said to Andy Roddick, Jim Courier and Gustavo Kuerten, who played with him. "Thank you so much. My country will never forget this."
Tennis got one right Saturday.
The game tried a charity Hit for Haiti in Indian Wells a couple weeks ago, and while it did raise $1 million, it also embarrassed the sport, playing up the stereotype of self-absorbed, entitled athletes. In that one, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi put their petty feud above the cause, thought the night was about them, and actually chose that setting to start bickering over their microphones.
Not this time. Instead, Gonzalez has continued to use his position and fame to help. Roddick, who will play in the tournament finals on Sunday, interrupted his late preparations to help.
Kuerten came in from Brazil, and Courier from New York.
"Tennis is one big family," Courier said. "And we're good about supporting each other. Initiatives like this, in a time of crisis like this, we're lucky, tennis is lucky, we have a platform to raise money and raise awareness.
"When you have someone like Fernando taking the lead and making the calls, we're going to say yes to him."
The night was fun, with no embarrassing comments over the mics. Roddick and Courier beat Gonzalez and Kuerten 7-5, 3-6, and then 10-6 in a deciding super tiebreaker.
The event wasn't particularly competitive, though it was nice to see Guga's backhand again.
Roddick hit the shot of the night when he ran down a lob, then hit back through his legs, splitting Gonzalez and Kuerten for a winner. On one point, Roddick and Courier were dinking, lobbing and angling, running Gonzalez all over the place. During the point, Kuerten, who had just been standing there watching, walked to the other side of the net. They played three-on-one for a few shots, with Gonzalez's endless scrambling, until Courier went to Gonzo's side.
When the point was over, Gonzalez dropped flat on his back and Kuerten ran over to give CPR.
Once, Roddick hit a ball into the stands, and then everyone in the lower deck started waving at him to hit a ball to them.
He smiled and waved back.
That was the tone.
But clearly, Gonzalez has turned this into a personal mission. Shortly after the earthquake, he spent several hours in Mexico, where he has just played a tournament, nervously trying to reach family members.
Then, he went back and played in Chile's victory over Israel in the Davis Cup. He withdrew from Indian Wells in March to stay behind for a humanitarian effort with Hogar de Cristo, a Chilean charity he has worked with. He went to other players asking for donations for an auction. With the help of the charity, he set up a chance to socialize with him, selling tickets for $1,000 apiece.
So I asked him what he saw in Chile.
"Exactly the same that you see on TV," he said. "I spent almost three days over there. I went to between 10 and 12 different locations. Just a lot of damage. There are a few small cities that really disappear.
"I mean, the people are scared ... Some people lose family. Most of the people lost houses, jobs, everything. They have nothing. So I went there in a signal to say my country is all together. We're going to go together.
"They need help. They need the first push. I think all the Chileans are trying to help."
Here's to hoping Sampras and Agassi saw how it's done.
Gonzalez and tennis did their part.