Rafael Nadal wins Eugene exhibition

Updated: March 9, 2011, 3:09 AM ET
Associated Press

EUGENE, Ore. -- Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer 7-5 in an exhibition match at the University of Oregon's new $227 million basketball arena Tuesday night.

Two days before the start of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., some of the biggest names in tennis were in this Pacific Northwest college town.

Joining Nadal, the No. 1 player in the world, and Federer, who is No. 2, at the Clash of the Champions were Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka, who also played a match.

All are Nike-sponsored athletes.

"I don't think anyone else could've gotten us here a matter of a few days before Indian Wells is starting," Sharapova said.

The foursome then played a set of mixed doubles.

"We've had many big battles over the years and also had some wonderful moments in exhibition play," Federer said of his many matches against Nadal. "We've played in some amazing places and this is obviously very special doing it for Nike in a place that means a lot to Phil. We're very happy to be here tonight."

John McEnroe was a surprise guest at the event.

The Matthew Knight Arena was built with the financial backing of Nike co-founder and Ducks booster Phil Knight.

Knight contributed $100 million to establish the University of Oregon Legacy Fund, which the school used to back the state bonds it needed to pay for construction of the arena, named after Knight's son who died in a scuba diving accident in El Salvador in 2004 at age 34.

"Obviously in the planning stages of the vision for this arena, it was not only expected to be a great home for the Ducks but that it would also attract unique events, exciting events for fans," Oregon athletic director Rob Mullins said. "The Nike Clash of Champions is exactly that. It's one of the most unique events we could ever dream of hosting here at Matthew Knight Arena."

Tickets for the event sold out in an hour the day they went on sale and Tuesday, 12,220 packed the arena and gave the players a rock star's welcome as they entered the arena floor under a spot light and to deafening applause.

"Walking down those stairs and hearing the crowd, you would think it is normal but it is not normal for us," said Federer, 29, who has 16 grand slam singles titles.

The crowd was given a surprise in return when McEnroe appeared to randomly walk out of a tunnel onto the court during pregame introductions.

"That guy Knight promised he'd never do a tennis event without me ... are you serious?" said McEnroe, 52, who is the longest tenured Nike athlete with a 33-year working relationship with the shoe and apparel company whose world headquarters are in Beaverton, Ore.

McEnroe took over the umpire's chair for the mixed doubles match, with former Oregon quarterbacks Joey Harrington and Dennis Dixon as guest sideline judges.

"I never thought I'd stoop this low," said McEnroe, who had many infamous disputes with chair umps throughout his storied career.

With Sharapova and Federer leading 5-3, McEnroe and Federer switched places and McEnroe joined Sharapova on the court and thrilled the crowd with some of his old magic, getting the team to match point before Federer came back to polish off a 6-3 victory with an ace.

Azarenka and Sharapova opened the night with an entertaining singles set that featured plenty of banter with courtside fans and each other before Azarenka won 5-4 (5-0) in a tiebreaker.

In the men's single's set, Nadal and Federer showed little of the intensity that typically when the two meet. Instead, they playfully worked their way through the set with trick shots and amusing commentary before Nadal won.

Serena Williams was originally scheduled to play in the exhibition but had to withdraw because of injury. She was replaced by Azarenka.

Williams, a 13-time Grand Slam champion, hasn't played an official match since winning Wimbledon last July because of a foot injury she sustained off the court. She had a further setback when she was diagnosed recently with a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot in her lungs. She also needed emergency treatment for a hematoma last week.


Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press