Friday was our first day in Indian Wells. The sun shone hot and all the stars were out: Federer, Djokovic, Nadal and Murray all played doubles with their nearests and dearests – though Nole partnered with D.C. buddy Viktor Troicki, instead of his sometime partner/always little brother Marko. (Lucky us: all four super-star anchored teams progressed to the next round.)
Clijsters, Jankovic, Ivanovic and Sharapova made appearances, on court or at practice (Kim, Jelena and Ana won their second round matches in straights, Maria plays Medina Garrigues tomorrow). Jo Wilfried Tsonga was behind the Corona bar at one point, taking orders photos. Besides a portable air conditioner and a pass to the players’ lounge, what more could a couple tennis fan desert rats ask for?
In the midst of day job craziness, Fritters and I pledged to make this a more relaxing tournament than the usual. We did not skulk around the tennis courts like private investigators with a score to settle or shiver through the evening desert wind to catch the last strokes of Ivanovic vs. Date-Krumm. We didn’t comb through the order of play like military strategists or try to be anywhere at any designated time.
Instead, we took a leisurely lunchtime stroll through the the Tennis Garden’s practice courts (mad dogs and tennis fans go out in the midday sun) and managed to catch Nole and Federer practicing with their respective doubles partners, Troicki and Wawrinka. Nice!
It was also a little trippy for a Fed fan to see two of Roger’s milestone coaches, Peter Lundgren and Paul Annacone hanging out with him on the court at the same time. We also caught David Ferrer and Tommy Robredo chatting en espagnol as they practiced their volleys on a small side court, a wilting Maria Sharapova pounding her stoic practice partner and cool customer Bernie Tomic rallying in some hipster shades. Basically, we didn’t have to try too hard to be star struck.
I love the tennis players, but I’m gaga for tournament director Larry Ellison. Though the tourny has become more popular and therefore more “securitized” over the years, the new tournament director has managed to create an even more fan friendly environment. It’s gone from great to even better this year, with some major capital improvements to its already ridiculously fan friendly practice court set up. Want to watch Rafa and Roger practice without being trampled by packs of lustful fan-cougars? How about ample courtside seating along the most popular practice courts? Wish you knew what time Andy Roddick was hitting? You’re in luck: the tournament has taken the progressive step of actually posting the day’s practice schedule on an electronic signboard. (Seriously, I’ve never seen this before.) Want to chill out with David and Tommy? Then take a seat under a shade canopy between the smaller practice courts. Thanks, Larry, for these truly progressive improvements to the fan experience, as well as for the satisfying and just addition of Hawkeye review on every match court.
Simply put: game on, US Open! You don’t need a roof over Arthur Ashe, you need to trim the damn hedges around the practice courts.
A few more thoughts/observations after a long, tiring and satisfying day of tennis at the BNP Paribas Open:
Milos Raonic played in front of a packed house of cheering fans today on Stadium 2. (He defeated Ilhan of Turkey, 6-2, 7-6 in his first round singles.) Sure, Palm Springs has its share of Snowbirds, but this guy’s already beloved beyond the hearts of our neighbors to the north. What makes watching this guy so exciting, besides that monstrous serve and his boyish charm, is the opportunity he gives us to witness tennis’s future becoming the present, and to feel like we’re watching a hot prospect transform into a tennis superstar before our very eyes. I don’t remember ever seeing a player launched so quickly into the upper echelons of tennis fame so quickly, especially one who is not American and who hasn’t won a major yet. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga cs. 2008 came close, but he had to make an Aussie Open final, first. So is it too early for the accolades and attention or does this Raonic kid have staying power? Personally, I think he’s set to be a Major Champ. But even if he doesn’t make it that far, I’m going to enjoy this ride with him as long as it lasts.
Speaking of fan favorites, Francesca Schiavone continues to build her fan club. I camped out for her match against Hantuchova, Jr., Zuzana Onxdzko, this afternoon and absolutely relished hearing the people around me marvel at her awesomeness. Simply put, she’s the most pleasingly unique female tennis player at the top of the game (Bartoli is unique, but very much an acquired taste.) When this diminutive woman slashes at her opponent with her backhand, huge topspin forehand and fearless instincts at net, the crowd gets a thrill that’s usually absent during, say, a routine WTA second round match. Even when she’s winning 6-2, 6-0, as she did on Friday, Francesca showcases the danger and valor that can exist in tennis.
Okay, time to get some rest. We have a full day tomorrow, and it’s hard work trying to relax at a tennis tournament!
Enjoy the matches, everyone.