NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former world number one Jimmy Connors delighted fans at the U.S. Open this week when he appeared unannounced on a small makeshift stage to sign autographs, take selfies and collect cash for victims of Hurricane Harvey.
The 65-year-old Connors, who won eight majors including five U.S. Opens before retiring in 1996, was all smiles as a crowd of stunned fans yelled his name and reached into their wallets for money to stuff in a large collection bin.
The response was remarkable, with Connors collecting $2,000 in 50 minutes, money the United States Tennis Association (USTA)said it will match and then send to the Red Cross.
Connors’ appearance was part of a broader effort by the U.S. tennis governing body to help response efforts in the wake of the powerful storm, which has killed more than 60 people and caused billions of dollars in damage.
On Monday, the USTA announced it would donate $500,000 as part of initial relief efforts and would match whatever Connors, who has vowed to continue collecting cash this week, could raise.
Once the waters recede, the USTA will donate additional money to restore storm-affected tennis facilities as it has in the past following tragedies like 2005’s devastating Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
American players John Isner, Madison Keys and Sam Querrey are also appealing to fans for donations in taped segments playing on screens around Flushing Meadows this week.
“Everyone in Houston affected by Hurricane Harvey is in the hearts and minds of the tennis world in New York,” said USTA CEO Katrina Adams.
“Our support has to be both immediate and ongoing, and we encourage everyone to contribute to the efforts to help Houston and assist those whose lives were affected by the storm.”
Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Ken Ferris