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Players enjoy light relief before Australian Open

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - A charity match to raise money for the victims of the Haiti earthquake provided Roger Federer, Serena Williams and handful of the world’s top players some light relief on the eve of the Australian Open.

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The two world number ones abandoned their normal training routines to team up with the likes of Rafa Nadal, Kim Clijsters, Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Roddick and Novak Djokovic for a fundraising exhibition.

“I was following it on TV and saw the devastation and I thought we should do something,” said Federer, the brainchild of the idea.

“It was a lot of fun. It’s a great thing and I’m happy the players were also in such good spirits.”

The hastily-arranged match at a packed Rod Laver Arena raised more than A$200,000 (US$184,700) in aid for the victims.

There were more wisecracks than aces as the players all joined in the irreverent mood of the mixed doubles match, hamming it up for the packed crowd at the Rod Laver Arena center court.

When a line judge called Roddick for a foot-fault, the American could not resist a verbal volley: “I can’t believe you called me in a charity match, you do realize Serena’s playing.”

Normal service will resume on Monday when the first grand slam of 2010 gets underway at Melbourne Park.

Maria Sharapova, who made a personal donation of $10,000 to the relief fund, will open proceedings on center court against fellow Russian Maria Kirilenko.

Sharapova won the Australian Open in 2008 but injury prevented her from defending her title last year and her return has added another twist to a tournament that promises to be one of the most open grand slams in years.

Clijsters, who won last year’s U.S. Open after coming out of retirement, will follow Sharapova on the center court to face Canada’s Valerie Tetreault before Briton Andy Murray tackles South African qualifier Kevin Anderson.

Nadal, the defending men’s champion, will headline the first night session while Federer and Williams launch their campaigns on Tuesday.

Editing by Patrick Johnston