Videos and Photos: Nadal, Del Potro, Williams and Azarenka take over New York City

By Romi Cvitkovic

NEW YORK, NY (March 4, 2013) – Sunday night at Madison Square Garden was a night to remember as the BNP Paribas Showdown took over a packed venue with help from tennis players Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro, and countless entertaining on-court moments.

The BNP Paribas Showdown was a part of a global tennis participation effort termed “World Tennis Day,” and was held to promote 10-and-under tennis which tailors the game to its youngest players.

The evening at The Garden started with all the players being welcomed onto the court as they ran down the lower-level corridor, to a swarm of cheering and high-fiving fans.

Rafael Nadal running down the corridor upon arrival, high-fiving fans.

Nadal, Williams, Del Potro and Azarenka arriving to the court at Madison Square Garden.

The atmosphere was vibrant and the spectators ready – all 15,984 of them – as the No. 1 and 2 ranked-women Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka opened up the night with a serious yet humorous tone to their match. There were brilliant and aggressive plays, a few breaks of serve and even an appearance by Azarenka’s boyfriend RedFoo!

Williams handily took the first set 6-4, but what was more impressive was that they didn’t treat it like an exhibition. They put their energy and competitiveness on the line as if it were a regular season match at a tournament – not holding much back for this packed house. That kind of respect for not only the fans but for each other says a lot about their immense characters on the court.

Look further and glance at the stands, and you would find RedFoo in the corner with his Wilson “Juice” tennis racquet in hand, quietly supporting Azarenka. During nearly every changeover, the ever-popular musician kindly obliged to take photos and chat with fans while enjoying the evening.

RedFoo with one of his many fans during a changeover.

After Azarenka went up a quick 2-0 to open the second set, Williams evened it out. At 3-all, Azarenka did what Caroline Wozniacki did during last year’s BNP Paribas Showdown, as she brought up her boyfriend to play a few points against Williams. RedFoo may need to work on that serve a bit!

After all the fun, Williams cruised to a solid finish, closing it out 6-4 in the second set, but not before playing a few points using their left hands and drawing cheers and laughter from the audience.

In their joint post-match press conference, the two ladies were at ease with each other, showing just how close of friends they are off the court. Azarenka revealed that her and Williams are in the process of recording a karaoke duet together of Rihanna’s “Stay,” with Williams on vocals and Azarenka on piano. It sounds like an great way for tennis players to pass the time on Tour, and Azarenka even joked that they should debut their musical collaboration as a concert at Madison Square Garden.

Serena Williams enjoying the questions at the joint press conference with Azarenak

Next up on the tennis menu was the men’s singles match featuring Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal, who was taking to the hard courts for the first time since returning from his knee injury earlier this year.

Tennis exhibitions are known to not invoke full speed play from their competitors – but someone forgot to tell that to Nadal, who hustled for every volley, overhead and groundstroke. From the first point, the two players came out with a purpose – hitting winners all over the court in front of a highly-energized and cheering arena. The first set went the distance as del Potro pulled off the upset and won in a tiebreaker, 7-6(4), and followed it up with a 6-4 score in the second set to seal the win.

With most of the points seeing both players running down balls and displaying deft skills at net, a few splashes of humor added to the mix. Known as one of the most serious players on court, Nadal flashed his million dollar smile and jokes on several occasions, showing that he really does have fun on a tennis court no matter the setting.

There were points with exchanged ‘tweeners, ball head butts and plenty of fan interaction. At one point with Nadal about to serve, a woman ten rows up shouted that she loved him and he turned and threw her a ball. She then proceeded to send him air kisses for which he smiled and reciprocated the deed.

The moment of the night though occurred in the second set tied at 3-all, when, on the changeover, Nadal whispered something to del Potro and proceeded to pick out Ben Stiller from the crowd to join them on court for some doubles. With del Potro about to serve to Stiller and Nadal, he decided he needed his own partner and found a young girl from the audience to join him – and she easily stole the show. Check out the full clip below of one of the most entertaining and memorable moments in tennis history that I can remember.

In their own joint post-match press conference that started at 11:45pm, Nadal and del Potro were both relaxed with Nadal taking most of the questions regarding his knee, goals and schedule. Del Potro imparted his own thoughts on a few subjects with his own sweet charm, but otherwise silently enjoyed listening to his friend Nadal.

With the evening coming to a close to the tune of “New York, New York,” World Tennis Day witnessed four tennis greats coming together for an honorable cause, and also assured us that the return of Rafael Nadal to the hard courts was a VERY good thing.

Nadal and Del Potro signing autographs after their match.