In case you didn’t catch this at Down the Line a couple days ago, I’m re-posting my Indian Wells practice court report here. (Can you tell I’m missing hanging out in the desert – boo hoo!)
The highlight of my visit to Indian Wells (a.k.a. the BNP Paribas Open) this weekend was hanging out at the practice courts. Where else could a mere mortal like myself stand within arm’s length of Rafael Nadal while he soaked through his Nike t-shirt? And when Rafa, Roger or another one of my fave Top 5 players wasn’t hitting, I had fun cruising the rows of unobstructed practice courts in pursuit of quirky hitting partner combos, e.g., Simon/Isner, Safin/Tipsarevic and Haas/Stepanek.
Of course, the real thrill was catching Federer and Nadal’s practice sessions, which generated almost as much buzz as their matches. The two had vastly different routines – Rafa pounded balls for an hour or two while Roger barely got around to unzipping his RF warm up jacket – but both players attracted hoards of fans. We’re talking six-person deep crowds lining the court, kids climbing on top of trashcans for better views and hundreds of faces peering down from the upper reaches of the main stadium. The amateur sociologist in me enjoyed observing the true Rafanatics and Fedophiles in their natural habitats. Fed fans brought banners (“Federer is Better-er than Chocolate”) and Rafanatics brought their libidos (lots of décolletage and lip licking.) Both groups shun irony.
And then there was the grassy practice field, my favorite spot for witnessing chance encounters between the players. A typical scene: Nalbandian and del Potro horse around with an Australian rules football while Daniela Hantuchova does jumping jacks in the background. Gasquet saunters between the Argentines, and a game of monkey-in-the-middle ensues. Then Gisela Dulko jogs by in her short shorts, distracting David. I also caught Rafa exchanging (air) kisses with a mystery WTA blonde (reportedly Kaia Kanepi) and Tsonga switching places with his trainer to get a better view of Maria Kirilenko’s stretching routine. It was like watching the Real World: Tennis Tour (I guess Maria Sharapova feels the same way).
When I needed a break from the excitement of all this practicing, I lounged on the main lawn with a beer or browsed the tennis gear for sale in the retail tents. I even watched an actual tennis match or two. But after being within sniffing distance of Rafa’s back sweat and Roger’s deluxe hair care products, everything else kind of faded in comparison.