TENNIS – WHY INDIAN WELLS IS HIGH ON MY SPORTS BUCKET LIST
Many sports fans are satisfied with simply attending their favorite team’s games during their lifetimes.
For others like me who want to indulge my love for all sports, witnessing the greatest sporting events in the world is a mission.
I don’t just have the biggest contests on my agenda like the Kentucky Derby, Wimbledon, Super Bowl, Olympics, Daytona 500, and The Masters.
I want to visit smaller yet significant venues too like the Pebble Beach Pro-Am Golf Tournament, a Manchester United fixture at Old Trafford, a thoroughbred horse race at Santa Anita and experience the BNP Paribas Open (a/k/a “Indian Wells” tennis tournament).
Amongst this second-tier list, Indian Wells is what I want to see most.
There’s the legendary beauty of that southern California desert community with palm trees all over the grounds, 360-degree mountain views, luxury resorts and spas in town, and endless sunshine.
More importantly, Indian Wells offers the highest level of tennis talent in the world outside of the majors. Almost all of the top 25 WTA & ATP players annually attend.
It’s no wonder that players consistently select it as one of their “favorite tournament destinations” during the calendar year.
For fans, it is special that daily grounds passes for non-final days are affordable and enable the ability to see the players up close and personal outside of the show courts.
Indian Wells is also one of only two tour events other than the Slams in which main draw play extends beyond eight days. And, since matches here are best of 3 sets for men (not 5 like at the slams), it allows for more matches to be witnessed.
This year (2017), those who are lucky enough to be there in person will get to see some fascinating storylines develop before their eyes like:
- Roger Federer won the first tournament he played back after 6 months away from the Tour due to knee surgery. Incidentally, that was the season’s first Grand Slam (Australian Open). There are so many positives to take away from this, but most significantly, he defeated four top-10 seeds to get the win including Rafael Nadal who was 9-2 against him in Grand Slams. It was also Federer’s 18th major (the most all time), he was the 2nd oldest man to ever win a Slam (age 35), and it had been 5 years since his last major win (2012 Wimbledon). At this tournament, it will be fascinating to see if Federer survives what is being referred to as the “toughest draw in history”. Coming in as the 9th seed and Nadal the 5th seed, they both sit in the bottom quarter of Novak Djokovic’s draw. That means Fed will have to get through those heavies and possibly the dangerous Argentine Juan Martin del Potro, the surging youngster Alexander Zverev and/or the temperamental prodigy Nick Kyrgios. Still, Federer has a 52-11 record here and won the event four times. Can he do what he did in Australia and get to the finals?
- Rafa Nadal is on the rise back up the rankings after a disappointing 2016 and his own injury woes. Last season was the first time since 2004 that he did not reach a Grand Slam QF (Australian Open – Out in 1R; French Open – W/D; Wimbledon – DNP; US Open – Out in 4R). But, Nadal started this season with former player Carlos Moya as his full-time coach and improved health. Already this year, Nadal is playing consistently well and was considered the favorite to win this tournament before his nasty draw was released. Also noteworthy is that in Nadal’s portion of the draw lurks fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco who took out Nadal in the 2016 Australian Open in the 1R.
- Andy Murray scratched and clawed his way to the #1 world ranking late last year and recently said he is motivated to hang on to it. He’s in luck for the next couple of events, at least, as both Indian Wells and the Miami Open each dish out only 1000 points for the winner. Murray currently tops the rankings with 12,040 points. Next in line is Djokovic with 9,825 followed by Stan Wawrinka (5,195) and Milos Raonic (5,080). So even if any of the other top 3 win both the upcoming tournaments, Murray will still have the points lead and remain #1. As for Murray’s draw, he lucked out again since the best players seemed to have floated to the bottom. He should be able to cruise to the quarter-finals where he could face Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Stan Wawrinka in the semi-finals. I’m sure he’s happy to let the top players duke it out while he has a relaxing first week. He’s never won this event, so the rest will likely do him good if he wants this feather in his cap.
- Novak Djokovic knows the feeling of victory at Indian Wells. He already has a record 5 wins here and is the defending champion. But, beyond winning against Andy Murray in Qatar to start 2017, he has continued to struggle after freefalling during the second half of last season. In fact, 17th ranked Nick Kyrgios beat him in the quarters at Mexico last week. Apparently, Djokovic was so frustrated by the loss that just 18 seconds into the press conference after the match he mumbled, “He has a big serve, he deserved to win, congrats” and left. But, the comfort of Indian Wells should help him relax and feel more confident. It could be a real boost to the rest of the year for him if he were again victorious here. Yet, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him go down early again this tournament, particularly with that gnarly draw.
- Serena Williams withdrew from this tournament just days ago due to a knee injury. It should open the women’s draw significantly, having the world’s best player out of the lineup. In her place, the favorites to me become Karolina Pliskova, the 3rd ranked woman in the world from the Czech Republic, world #2 Angelique Kerber and the American on the rise, Coco Vandeweghe. Coco is one of my favorite players to watch and I hope this late-bloomer continues to play well now. She lost to Venus Williams in the semis of the Aussie Open, but proved she is good on the hard courts and has the firepower, assertiveness and grit to beat the higher ranked ladies.
TV SCHEDULE FOR BNP PARIBAS OPEN: COVERAGE BEGINS MARCH 8 THROUGH MARCH 19 on ESPN, ESPN2 AND THE TENNIS CHANNEL . OR FIND THE SCHEDULE AT THIS LINK: http://www.bnpparibasopen.com/en/event-info/tv-schedule.
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