Road Trip: Indian Wells

My thoughts on Indian Wells, the first weekend of the tournament.

The Venue

Indian Wells Tennis Garden is gorgeous.  Larry Ellison has poured a lot of his Oracle fortune into the venue, and it shows, between the landscaping, the Hawk Eye on all play courts, and the organization generally.

There’s not a huge amount of shade, being in the middle of the desert.  Sitting in Stadium 1 in direct sunlight (which the east side of the stadium gets for *hours*), the snow-capped mountains in the distance are a heartless taunt.  A hat is a must, as is sunscreen.  And bring at least two large bottles of water; even if it eventually warms, you’ll appreciate the water after being out in the sun and dry heat for several hours.  But don’t forget to bring a jacket for the evening matches, because the temperature drops once the sun goes down.

The scheduling people like to torture tennis fans, making them choose between things like the Djokovic/Troicki doubles and the Ferrer/Almagro doubles, or del Potro on Stadium 1 when Stosur is playing on Stadium 2. I hate seeing only part of a match.

I have very mixed feelings about the player’s warm up area. On one hand, it’s fun to watch them play soccer and warm up. On the other hand, I felt like a spectator at the zoo. That didn’t stop me from appreciating the soccer/football matches.

The venue was gorgeous. It is by far better than Flushing Meadows in terms of transportation, food court, activities, ease of movement, and fan-friendliness. There’s an electronic bulletin board in the middle of the practice courts that tell you when players will be practicing and where. There are bleachers and chairs set up for watching on some of the practice courts. (I nearly ran smack into Maria Kirilenko as she rounded a corner in the practice court area. She’s extremely pretty, and very polite.)  Those alone are worth the price of a general admission ticket, but add in the great matches available the first week on the "outer" courts, especially all the doubles being played by the higher-ranked singles players, and the ticket is a steal.  Players whose practice I caught in the span of an hour or two, before heading to watch matches:  Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Nicolas Almagro, Melanie Oudin, Caroline Wozniacki, Sam Stosur, Ana Ivanovic, Bryan Brothers, Victoria Azarenka, Rafa Nadal and Marc Lopez, Novak Djokovic and Victor Troicki.

The view from the west side of Stadium 2 as the sun begins to set, during the Djokovic/Troicki doubles match, 3/11.
The only area where Flushing Meadows is a little better than Indian Wells is the big screen: the screen set up in Corona Plaza was okay (not great), but the scoring was perpetually behind. It was disorienting to hear 30-15 be announced by the umpire but have the score on screen still be 0-0. Ashe’s screens and scoreboards are state of the art. Of course, lounging in the plaza on the grass in the Adirondack-like chairs was by far more pleasant than sitting on the pavement in front of Ashe or Armstrong.

The fans were incredibly knowledgeable, much more so than in New York in my experience. Which makes me wonder — is it because people are just attending a random sporting event in NY or is it a function of environment? It’s lot easier to play tennis and be a casual fan in So Cal than in NY, where the weather limits playing time. On the other hand, there were a lot of people wearing tennis gear, which cracked me up. Yes, there were some open practice courts usually after nightfall, but really, did they expect someone to suddenly need a hitting partner?

Even in the nosebleed seats of Stadium 1, which are pretty good in comparison to the nosebleed seats in Ashe, people were polite about not taking their seats except during changeovers. Of course, that may have changed as the week progressed and the crowd became more rowdy, as it appeared to do in the televised matches.

The Players

Rafa Nadal and Marc Lopez are painfully cute and utterly adorkable. They also *never* shut up. They talked the entire time between points.  Every point.  Usually, after meeting at the back of the court, one would walk backward while talking as the other walked forward to the service box. At one point, Rafa was busy talking at Marc during the change over, and he just kept talking even as Marc turned his head to dump water over himself. In their first match, Marc got mad at himself and threw his racquet down, and Rafa gave him a playful headslap as if to tell him to get over it. They seemed to be having a lot of fun with each other on court, too.  In terms of singles, Rafa’s serve was pretty bad, even during practice, so I was a pleasantly surprised that he made it to the final but not hugely surprised when he lost to Djokovic, who is just on fire.  (Photo by NadalNews.)
Schiavone/Stosur as a doubles team was by far the crowd favorite when they were playing Kirilenko/Azarenka, which was a little bit of a surprise. Okay, first, doubles. Second, women’s match. Both generally less well attended than singles or any men’s match. But the stadium was packed and the usher was doing one-in-one-out. And when the teams walked on court, S/S got a huge roar of approval. It kind of surprises me because while neither of them is bad-looking, they aren’t blonde and beautiful. And tennis is a sport in which looks count, as made obvious by Wimbledon’s treatment of Kuznetsova a couple of years ago and the whole Anna Kournikova phenomenon.
Also, Stosur’s arms are amazing. And Schiavone was just an unforced error machine during their match.

Tommy Robredo is ridiculously pretty. And balletic. It was a shame he had to withdraw, because he was on a roll, beating Donald Young (who bounced Andy Murray) and Sam Querrey (not a favorite of mine, tbh).

Oh, Daveeed. I only got to see the super tie break in doubles, which I knew would end badly 😦  Not because I’m all that tennis savvy, but because Ferrer hasn’t won a tie break since 2008, including two more at Indian Wells, at least one in Australia 2011, and two more at the USOpen last fall against Verdasco.

Juan Martin del Potro had a pretty good tournament. Walking down the roped off alley among the practice courts, he reminded me of my cousin Daniel (also a tall, lanky, quiet, extremely laidback young man). He had no entourage and was just carrying a couple of racquets out for practice.

Nuria Llagostera Vives is short.  Nearly an entire foot shorter than her doubles partner, Aranxta Parra Santonja.

Aleksandr Dolgopolov hit four let serves in a row in his match against Juan Martin del Potro. It cracked him up, and the crowd too.

Like Fernando Verdasco, Ana Ivanovic is one of those people whose photos look too pretty not to be touched up. But no. She’s just that gorgeous. And extremely tall.

Dinara Safina had a pretty good tournament, too. I caught her practicing a couple of times. Once she and her coach put sneakers in the corner of the deuce court as targets. One of the best moments of the day: she hit the shoe just so and the ball popped back over the net like a drop volley with huge spin, and while the crowd applauded, she giggled and told her coach that the shoe had hit the ball back. It was striking and sweet because her on-court demeanor often seems dour or defensive. Which is understandable, given the comparisons to her brother Marat and criticism of the #1 status without winning a major.

Caroline Wozniacki needs to have words with Stella McCartney, because the tennis kits she is stuck with as part of the McCartney/Adidas collaboration are heinous. This one wasn’t terrible from a distance, but up close you could see the ruffled/rosette mess of the neckline. Ick.


Ana Ivanovic getting some coaching from Darren Cahill.

Tennis gossip: I’m dying to know what’s up with Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez. They used to be semi-inseparable, vacationing together, serenading each other at parties (start at 0:38), playing doubles together. But Lopez played with Raonic and Verdasco played with Marrero, both teams losing early. To put it in perspective, while Marrero is a fellow Spaniard who has no set partner and plays with several other Spaniards, including Marc Lopez, Raonic is the young Canadian phenom who spanked Verdasco twice in a row earlier this season. Is the grand bromance over?

Other Personalities

Mohamed Lahyani (the chair umpire) is a rockstar. Seriously, he got applause from the crowd when he was announced as the umpire, and all the ball kids wanted their pictures taken with him after the matches. And I can’t tell you how many people I heard say that he is their favorite umpire. He paid a lot of attention to what the ball kids were doing, and helped them get where they needed to be. Because…

The ball kids were actually kids. There were some older kids, teenagers, but there were a bunch of *little* kids, like under 10. It was kind of sweet. Nicolas Almagro, who apparently will only take balls from his right side (if the ball kid on the right was out of balls, the kid on the left would have to pass them to the kid on the right, he would NOT take them from the left), was very kind to the ball kids, too, I could hear him complimenting one little girl saying that she was doing a wonderful job after she was confused when he wouldn’t take a ball from her (she was on the left).

The Trip

Ontario airport is extremely easy to maneuver. No problems getting in or out, or getting the rental car. The rental (Ford Focus) handled well enough, got good mileage, and had an iPod port, which made me happy. Gas via the rental company was $3.83, which was a bargain, since the cheapest I saw it on the road was $3.99. The billboards on I-10 left me a little bemused: I had no idea there were so many casinos in the area, or such a demand for performers like Frankie Valli and Michael Bolton and Jamie Foxx, etc.

The hotel was comfortable and clean, and offered free wireless internet, which I ended up not using, since I generally left by 9:00am and didn’t return until 10:00pm or later. It was an easy, ten-minute drive to Indian Wells.

The street names of Palm Desert cracked me up: Bob Hope, Dinah Shore, Frank Sinatra, etc., which says a lot about the modern settlement of the area.

The hotel had a pretty good complimentary breakfast (excellent fruit salad with supremed oranges and grapefruit), and I bought fruit, a bagel, trail mix, and bottles of water to take for lunch. I did try Babe’s Barbecue in Rancho Mirage, which had excellent food, especially the sweet corn bread, but extremely slow service. Actually, all of the service I got in So Cal was pleasant, even when it was slow. Maybe living in paradise makes you more tolerant and patient all around?

I was feeling pretty mellow by the end of my stay, even though it wasn’t exactly relaxing. It was FUN though, and I’m definitely going back next year. And I’m not cutting my trip short again, like I did this year for work.  And I’ll actually do something other than watch tennis…maybe.


Unless noted otherwise, the photos above were taken by me on my iPhone.  Not the greatest quality, I’m afraid.

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