A coterie of WTA stars took to the court -- the virtual court -- on Sunday, as Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova, Naomi Osaka, and Madison Keys participated in the #StayAtHomeSlam Mario Tennis Aces charity tournament for COVID-19 relief.
A one-million-dollar grand prize would be split by the winning pairing, and each participant received at least $25,000 for donation to their charities in the star-studded contest, which took place on Facebook Gaming.
“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.”
The players received a 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.
It was Keys who ended up with the bragging rights amongst the WTA players, as she partnered with Grammy Award-winning singer Seal to reach the final four before losing to the eventual champions, ATP player Taylor Fritz and TikTok star Addison Rae.
Fritz and Rae were the big winners on the day, and their one million dollar prize went to No Kid Hungry, which was the selected charity for each of them. Sharapova and Keys also played for No Kid Hungry.
Seal and Keys won their opening match by eliminating Serena Williams and her partner, model Gigi Hadid, 6-1.
“Obviously I played Super Mario Bros. growing up,” said 23-time Grand Slam-winning superstar Serena Williams, 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.”
Seven-time Grand Slam titlist Venus Williams, playing alongside NFL player DeAndre Hopkins, lost to Fritz and Rae 6-0. Osaka and Hailey Bieber were also blanked by ATP player Kei Nishikori and dance music artist Steve Aoki.
Sharapova and model Karlie Kloss stayed close against two-time Grand Slam finalist Kevin Anderson and NFL player Ryan Tannehill, but from 3-3, Anderson and Tannehill won the final three games to triumph 6-3.
Sharapova said that John McEnroe, who was commentating the matches, was her “biggest fear” of the day. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt so unprepared in front of John McEnroe!” exclaimed the five-time major titlist.