CVIndependent

Wed08052020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

In yesterday’s Daily Digest, I mentioned that I’d ask Riverside County officials about the alarmingly high COVID-19 positivity rate, as reported on the county’s latest weekly District 4 report. (District 4 consists of the Coachella Valley and extends over to Blythe.)

To repeat what I wrote yesterday: “The positivity rate is up to a disturbing 16 percent. However … if you divide the number of positives (345) by the number of tests (4,840), you get the positivity rate—and while the report explains that there’s a lag because tests results can take 3-5 days to come in, the difference between 345 divided by 4,840, or 7.1 percent, and 16 percent is so massive that it doesn’t seem possible for all these numbers to be correct; it’s also entirely possible I am misunderstanding something.”

Today, Jose Arballo Jr., the Riverside University Health System-Public Health’s information officer, responded to my query—and he confirmed that I am misunderstanding something: Arballo said he checked with the county’s epidemiologists, and they confirmed the 16 percent positivity rate was correct.

“They take their information based on the dates the tests are actually performed,” Arballo said.

Arballo asked if that made sense; I said it sort of did, but not really. He then kindly offered to have one of the experts call me; I thanked him, but said that wasn’t necessary.

The reason it wasn’t necessary: While I may be confused about how the positivity-rate number came to be, the larger point is crystal clear—the virus is here, and it’s spreading, and we all need to do what we can to slow the damn thing down.

COVID-19 hospitalizations have reached a new high in Riverside County. So, too, have Coachella Valley hospitalizations—up to 103, as of the latest numbers reported to the state.

Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Write the county Board of Supervisors and Gov. Newsom’s office to encourage them to make masks mandatory. Things are heading in the wrong direction—and lives are at stake. 

Today’s news:

• Well, Riverside County is officially on the state’s watch list due to “elevated disease transmission.” Read about what that means here.

• The big Coachella Valley news of the day: The downtown Palm Springs arena is officially on hold, thanks to the pandemic. The plan, apparently, is to get past COVID-19, and then figure things out from there.

• About 1,000 restaurants in Los Angeles County—or half of the restaurants the county health department visited last weekend—were not complying with rules aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, according to NBC4 Los Angeles.

Riverside County has created a mobile testing team. “The team, made up of nurses, emergency medical technicians and paramedics, set(s) up testing locations for one or two days as needed then quickly move(s) on to another site, said Kim Saruwatari, director of Riverside County Public Health.” Read more in the press release

• Tenet—the parent company of the Desert Care Network (aka Desert Regional, JFK Memorial and the Hi Desert Medical Center)—is being sued by four emergency-room nurses who were fired from a Detroit hospital. They claim they were fired because they spoke out about patient-safety matters during the COVID-19 crisis.

The Wall Street Journal yesterday did an interesting roundup of the latest science regarding COVID-19 transmission. Key quote: “The major culprit is close-up, person-to-person interactions for extended periods. Crowded events, poorly ventilated areas and places where people are talking loudly—or singing, in one famous case—maximize the risk.”

• If/when a vaccine does come, “vaccine nationalism”—a fight over which countries get the doses first and fastest—could be a real problem. A doctor, writing for The Conversation, explains.

This lede, from a CNN story, just made me sigh and want an adult beverage: “The federal government is stuck with 63 million doses of hydroxychloroquine now that the US Food and Drug Administration has revoked permission for the drug to be distributed to treat coronavirus patients.”

• There was talk at one point of moving the U.S. Open tennis tourney to Indian Wells. Well, that’s not gonna happen; instead, the plan for it is to stay in New Yorkand be played sans fans.

• ProPublica yesterday published an extensive piece on the death of Phillip Garcia, a 51-year-old in Riverside County Sheriff’s Department custody. The subheadline “Phillip Garcia was in psychiatric crisis. In jail and in the hospital, guards responded with force and restrained the 51-year-old inmate for almost 20 hours, until he died.” It’s a tough but important read.

• The CNBC headline: “Millions of Health Workers Are Exempt From Coronavirus Paid Sick Leave Law, Study Finds.” The problems: Not only does this create an enormous burden on workers; it means they’re more likely to come to work sick.

• From the Independent: We’re talking to three local protest organizers about their motivations; for the third piece, we talked to Areli Galvez, a member of the Young Justice Advocates who wowed the crowd with her speech at the group’s “Enough Is Enough” protest in Palm Springs. Key quote: “We go through the issues of racism and being racially profiled all the time. We got together, and we were like, ‘We’re tired of this; we need to change. We need to come together. We need to show that we are equal and deserve all the same rights as everyone else.’”

• Donald Trump and other conservative leaders keep talking about the dangers of ANTIFA causing problems during otherwise-peaceful protest. However, authorities say it’s actually a right-wing, white-supremacist movement that’s a threat, sometimes called the “boogaloo bois.” 

• Let’s end with a few tidbits of good news: The Boy Scouts of America are creating a “diversity and inclusion” badge that will be a requirement to reach Eagle Scout status.

• And finally, Facebook head honcho Mark Zuckerberg said users will be able to soon turn off political ads. Can we turn off the Russian bots, too?

That’s enough for today. If you value independent local journalism, and have the means to do so, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. We’re on print deadline here at Independent World Headquarters, so the Daily Digest may or may not be back tomorrow—but we’ll be back Friday for sure.

Published in Daily Digest

It was less than a week before the best tennis players in the world were to gather for the start of the 2020 BNP Paribas Open on Monday, March 9. I’d connected with Sheri Pierattoni, owner of Piero’s PizzaVino in Palm Desert, to hear about the challenges she and her team faced as they prepared, for the seventh year, to operate a satellite restaurant at Indian Wells Tennis Garden—alongside world-famous eateries like Spago’s and Nobu.

“People come from all over the world to watch this tennis tournament,” Pierattoni me excitedly. “It’s one of the biggest events in tennis in the world—and it’s a beautiful place with the best dining options anywhere. It’s what sets this event apart from all others. (Tourney owner Larry Ellison) has brought a ton of money into this valley, and everybody is grateful to him for that. A lot of local businesses are sustained by this event.”

Then came the pandemic, and the cancellation of the tournament on the eve of its start.

Pierattoni was stunned.

“At 7 p.m. (on Sunday, March 8), I got a call from Jeff Dunn,” the director of operations for Levy Restaurants at Indian Wells Tennis Garden, “to say they cancelled it. It was devastating—pretty devastating,” Pierattoni told me during a subsequent chat.

How did she handle this terrible turn of events? “Well, you go into shock,” Pierattoni said. “But I had planned a fun night for friends and neighbors to come over, and—because it was kind of a cool night, and I have a fire pit at my house—we drank nice wine and ate s’mores. We sat around talking about (the cancellation), and there was a collective agreement that this (coronavirus threat) is blown way out of proportion. So why everybody is panicking so much is just crazy. But that’s what people do. It’s going to cost the desert economy millions and millions and millions of dollars.”

According to a variety of sources, the cost to the local economy of the tennis-tournament cancellation alone could be more than $300 million. With the cancellation or postponement of Coachella, Stagecoach and all of the other festivals and events, the financial pain in our communities will be devastating. Local governments will lose significant taxes and fees, and small businesses like restaurants, taxi companies, ride-share vendors, local entertainment venues and personal-service providers will feel the devastation, too.

“The desert business owners make the bulk of their money in just four months out of the year,” Pierattoni said. “Then you have the shoulder season where you won’t lose money, and you might make a little money. But now is when you make the big money, and that’s what carries you through the summer. Now, with PizzaVino, I’m very lucky, because we have a great local following, so we don’t lose money in the summer. We don’t make money, but we don’t lose money. We’re going to be OK.”

Since the postponement, the Piero’s PizzaVino team has been focused on recovery and damage control.

“We can’t just turn the key and walk away,” Pierattoni said. “We’re in the process of getting all of our wine vendors out there. They’ve all been extremely gracious in this situation, and they’re taking back our wine and liquor. And the BNP has said that we can use the restaurant to store our frozen and refrigerated goods as long as we need to. We’ll assimilate gradually what (frozen-food items) we can use at our El Paseo restaurant. Also, we’ve been calling some of our friendly restaurateurs to see if they want to purchase some of the perishables from us, just to help out and cut down on the loss we could have.

“It’s been amazing how many people have come out of nowhere to give us support. And that part of it has been beautiful, just beautiful. People ask if I need help, and what they can do. These are restaurateurs and fellow valley people in general doing this.”

As of our post-cancellation chat, Pierattoni had not heard much from BNP Paribas Open staffers regarding any help they may provide to the disenfranchised vendors.

“It’s too early for them,” she said. “Look, they’re still licking their wounds, too. Trust me: They’re still in their decision-making process. When I got the phone call, they said I should send them an email with all my questions, and they’d get back to me as soon as they can.

“Everybody is overwhelmed, and honestly, everybody is still trying to wrap their heads around this and unwind, and hopefully, they’re thinking about how to make it right. Personally, I can’t imagine that we’re all going to take this hit. Maybe we won’t be reimbursed for everything we’ve lost, but hopefully something.

“My biggest heartache in all of this is the money that my employees are going to lose. They count on this money. It helps get them through their summer. We had people who came from outside the state and had taken time away from their regular employment to come here and work the tennis weeks. They do that because they love working for us; they love the tennis tournament, and they know they make good money. So, it’s worth it to them. Now they have to go home, and they won’t have their job until they get back on the schedule, because their position has been filled (temporarily). So I’m really hoping that there’s some compensation for my employees.”

Pierattoni emphasized that it’s her employees—her team, as she calls them—who have made this annual opportunity a reality for the local favorite.

“I’d like to emphasize that it’s a huge team effort,” she said. “I couldn’t do it without my staff, and I have an incredible staff. Here’s an example: Last year, we lost one of our main cooks who comes in (from out of town) just to work this event. He couldn’t make it because his daughter became seriously ill. But it was amazing that, within 24 hours, we had a solution, because the rest of the staff just pulled together and said, ‘We’re going to make it happen.’

“I don’t want to be cocky, but we’re in a class of our own,” Pierattoni added. “You know that we were the only all-girl team out there. We’re a mother-daughter team, and I did take a lot of satisfaction and pride from that.”

Pierattoni’s daughter, Lea Tubberville, is an integral part of the family business operations. Her husband, Piero, passed away less than two years ago.

“I run my restaurant with heart,” she said. “Even though I think we run a great business, the people I hire have heart, and everybody who works (with us) loves it.”

Before the tournament’s cancellation, Pierattoni expressed joy about her restaurant’s participation in the BNP Paribas Open.

“We serve like 10,000 people in the two weeks. It’s nuts!” Pierattoni said. “There’s a vibe out there that’s contagious. It’s exciting. It’s like being in a circus tent. I’ve never put on a circus, but I bet it’s kind of like the same thing, where everybody’s working together to make the show happen. I feel very honored and proud that we can be a part of it. We make good money out there, and not all places do. I think (the tournament) is happy to partner with us, and we’re happy to make it happen.”

Here’s hoping Pierattoni and her team are allowed to make it happen again next year.

Published in Local Issues

The “2020 BNP Paribas Open Will Not Be Held” declared the emailed press release that arrived in my inbox at 6:43 p.m. on Sunday, March 8.

It came after news that a local patient was “presumed positive” after being tested for COVID-19 (aka the novel coronavirus). The unidentified patient is being treated at the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage—just a few miles from the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, where the ATP and WTA tennis players’ favorite tournament in the world was to begin play today and run through Sunday, March 22.

The BNP Paribas Open’s cancellation came after the cancellations of South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, and the Ultra Music Festival in Miami. Both were cancelled on March 6 due to concerns about the potential spread of the COVID-19 virus among their hundreds of thousands of participants and attendees. Still, as of the next day—Saturday, March 7—the 2020 BNP Paribas Open, which drew 382,000 fans last year, was slated to go on.

In fact, the unofficial local kickoff of the tournament did take place, starting on Saturday morning: the traditional Kids’ Day free event, which happened simultaneously along with the Oracle Challenger Series semifinal matches for ATP and WTA pros at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. And on Sunday, the pro series continued, with the WTA final being captured by Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu, and the ATP finals win going to American pro Steve Johnson. Each earned a berth in the main draw of the tournament that is no longer going to take place—at least not this weekend.

The cancellation came after Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County’s public health officer, declared a local public health emergency on Sunday, March 8. Tournament director Tommy Haas seemed to leave the door open for the possibility of re-scheduling the tournament at some point in 2020.

“We are very disappointed that the tournament will not take place, but the health and safety of the local community, fans, players, volunteers, sponsors, employees, vendors, and everyone involved with the event is of paramount importance,” Haas said, according to the news release. “We are prepared to hold the tournament on another date and will explore options.”

All good intentions aside, it’s likely the tournament won’t return until March 2021. So, this year’s biggest winners of the 2020 BNP Paribas Open won’t be Novak Djokovic or Simona Halep. Instead, that distinction will go to the large contingent of kids of all ages who flocked into the Tennis Gardens on Saturday morning to enjoy a variety of fun activities. (Scroll down to view photos of the fun.)

The highlight of the day was the newly introduced tennis clinic held for local kids from Coachella Valley, sponsored and facilitated by the Indian Wells Tennis Garden and its partner, Universal Tennis. More than 140 local students from local schools took to the courts accompanied by coaches and a cadre of participating WTA and ATP pros. Big swings and even bigger smiles were the order of the day for the participants.

When asked what their favorite moments during the clinic had been, three young ladies from the George Washington Charter School in Palm Desert shared their thoughts with the Independent.

“Doing the high-5,” said Gianna.

“Playing with the pros,” Melia told us.

“Trying to beat the pros,” was Kaia’s favorite challenge of the day.

Published in Snapshot

When entering the painstakingly manicured 121-acre grounds of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden for Day 1 of the 2019 BNP Paribas Open, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the beauty offered up by both the Coachella Valley itself and the iconic sporting event that makes its home here.

The BNP Paribas Open was voted the Tournament of the Year in 2018 by both ATP men and WTA women for the fifth consecutive year, and one is immediately enveloped by the gorgeous vistas and the excitement spurred when all the best tennis players in the world converge here—but beyond the beautiful surroundings, this event is also defined by the many residents of our valley who fill all types of roles crucial to the success of this two-week tennis bacchanal.

From ball persons to security personnel, to groundskeepers and ushers, you’ll find CV residents present to welcome throngs of fans—totaling more than 450,000 last year. (To see photos of just a few of our involved neighbors, scroll down below.)

The on-court competition ramps up gradually from Days 1 and 2, when the qualifying matches for the main draw play out across the 29 courts. For the first time this year, the night of Day 2 featured the Eisenhower Cup event, a curious hybrid exhibition/competition featuring eight of the world’s best-known ATP players engaged in a form of high-speed tennis known as Tie-Break-Ten. Hosted in its inaugural appearance by perennial fan favorite Rafael Nadal, the world’s No. 2-ranked player, the players face off in four quarterfinal matches, followed by two semi-finals and then the championship, which was won by Milos Raonic.

While the uncharacteristically cold and wet winter weather showed up again as play was about to begin, it could not dampen the fun or attraction of the risk-taking tennis that entertained the crowd late into the night. All proceeds from ticket sales are to be donated to local charities—making this kickoff event a true celebration of the best the world of sports can deliver.

See images from the opening days of the BNP Paribas Open below.

Published in Snapshot

According to lore, pickleball was invented in 1965. Three friends who lived on Bainbridge Island, off the Seattle coastline, needed a new summer diversion for their children. The game, it’s said, got its name one of the friends’ family dogs, Pickles.

Once you get past the strange-sounding moniker, you will find that pickleball is a highly competitive sport that is growing by leaps and bounds—and with its arrival this year at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, the cross between ping pong and paddle ball has matured from a phenomenon into a serious revenue-generating sport.

“This venue that Desert Champions, LLC, has delivered for us is really legitimizing our sport,” said Indian Wells resident and pickleball pro Kim Jagd as we spoke onsite surrounded by this week’s championship competition.

In 2009, Jagd—pronounced “Jade”—retired as a coach with the UCLA women’s volleyball team and moved to Coachella Valley.

“It’s bringing a lot of attention to us that we would not have seen had we still been (playing) at a small RV resort,” she said.

Desert Champions, LLC, manages and operates a selection of sports and entertainment events and properties, the largest of which is the BNP Paribas Open, held every year at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Just prior to the start of this year’s Margaritaville USA Pickleball Championships, taking place through Sunday, Nov. 11, the operating partners announced a total purse of $75,000 would be awarded to winners of the professional draws at the Pickleball Championships.

“(That) makes it the largest purse of any pickleball tournament in the history of our sport,” Jagd said.

The sport is growing steadily in both in the U.S. and Canada, and is beginning to get a foothold in Europe as well.

“There’s now a Ryder Cup-style tournament taking place annually called the Bainbridge Cup where they play the Americans vs. the Europeans. It’s been held in Spain and Italy, and it’s going into its third year next year,” Jagd said. The 2019 version is tentatively slated to take place next July in Germany.

Other proof of international growth of the sport is reflected in the business expansion successes of Selkirk, the pickleball equipment company founded by brothers Rob and Mike Barnes, that fields the pro team on which Jagd plays. “They’re making inroads right now in a lot of countries like Japan, China and in Europe, too,” she said.

Just this week, after play in this year’s tourney had begun, ESPN announced it would be broadcasting coverage on ESPN3 channel from Nov. 8-11.

Will pickleball ever become a major spectator sport, or will it always just a fun, participant-focused game? Jagd thinks it will make the leap.

“It’s not like hockey. The average person is not a rec-hockey player. I’m not going to go put pads on, just because I watch the pros play,” she said. “But in pickleball, anybody can play this game at any level. You can have two knee replacements and a shoulder replacement, and you can still get out and play pickleball. So the game’s going to grow in terms of the number of people playing it and therefore understanding what’s (transpiring) on court.”

If you don’t want to relax at home and watch the matches, you can head over to the low-key, friendly, yet highly competitive scene unfolding daily at the Indian Wells Tennis Gardens. If you’re a veteran attendee of the BNP Paribas Open Tennis Championship, be prepared for fewer amenities, but a much more manageable crowd and parking realities. Today, you can watch Kim Jagd team with fellow Team Selkirk member Kaitlyn Christian (a 25-year-old tennis pro, currently ranked 50th in WTA doubles) as they battle in the 19-and-over women’s doubles open championship matches.

“Whether or not we win the open, we’re going to have a great time,” said Jagd with an enthusiastic smile.

For more information, visit usapickleballnationalchampionships.com.

Published in Snapshot

The competition will get serious on Wednesday, March 7, as the last-minute qualifiers to the 2018 BNP Paribas Open join the seeded players in both the men’s and women’s draws—with the goal of becoming the tourney champ, when play concludes Sunday, March 18.

Over the next two weeks, fans will flock to the beautiful Indian Wells Tennis Garden for match play. This year, the tourney’s “Full Bloom” marketing campaign is calling attention to “the world-class tennis players (who) participate in this event woven into the natural beauty of the desert landscape.”

The BNP Paribas Open has been voted the Tournament of the Year by both the women’s and men’s tours for the fourth consecutive year—and organizers are not resting on their laurels. Among the vibrant flowers and majestic palms added to the already impressive grounds, fans will be able to enjoy more concession options, including temporary desert outlets of famed eateries like Spago and high-end sushi franchise Nobu—as well as a newly added local roadshow from desert favorite Wally’s Desert Turtle, among other options.

Then there’s the amazing tennis, witnessed in an environment that brings fans closer to the players than most tournaments will allow. The field of top WTA female pros includes top 2018 performers Simona Halep, Caroline Wozniacki and Angelique Kerber, as well as perennial favorite Serena Williams, who is returning to the tournament after taking last year off due to the birth of her first child.

On the ATP side of the draw, top pros including former tourney champions Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Marin Cilic will join upstarts like Denis Shapovalov, Dominic Thiem and Mischa Zverev to battle through the desert’s warm days and long nights.

Here’s a brief gallery of snapshots from the first, free-admission days of this year’s event, which included the annual Kids’ Day event, player practice sessions and qualifying-round matches, which took place last weekend.

Published in Snapshot

It is the biggest local sports event of the year, bringing thousands of visitors and millions of dollars to the Coachella Valley—and the BNP Paribas Open will return to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden March 6-19.

The event is a Masters 1000 event—meaning it’s one of the nine most prestigious tourneys after the four Grand Slam events and the ATP World Tour Finals—on the men’s ATP Tour, and one of the esteemed premier tournaments on the women’s circuit. Those designations ensure that the top players in the world come—including Serena Williams, who returned in 2015 for the first time since a controversial exit in 2001. Total attendance could hit the 500,000 mark this year; only the four Grand Slam events have more visitors.

Last year, the event was again marred by controversy when then-tournament director Raymond Moore made what some considered to be disparaging remarks about female players during a press conference. Moore was forced to resign as tournament director, and in an unusual move, the tournament’s owner, billionaire tech guru Larry Ellison, last June selected Tommy Haas—an active German pro player who now lives in Los Angeles—as the new tournament director. Haas is currently getting ready to play in the Australian Open (taking place Jan. 16-29). This creates the intriguing and highly unusual possibility that Haas could play in a tournament that he’s directing come March.

“Tommy is definitely excited (about) joining the team, and it has been a nice transition to the other side of the game for him,” said Steve Birdwell, the chief operating officer of the BNP Paribas Open. “Tommy is focused on learning as much as he can. He will concentrate on strengthening existing relationships to create more meaningful interactions between players, sponsors and fans.”

There have been major renovations to the main stadium at the Tennis Garden, which first opened in 2000.

“We have upgraded concessions as well as all our luxury suites,” Birdwell said. “There are new restrooms as well. The walkways and concourse have been enclosed, freeing up over 100,000 square feet of space.”

Birdwell said that despite the worldwide appeal of the BNP Paribas Open, locals are important to the tourney organizers; in fact, locals receive discounts (along with seniors, students and military personnel), and Birdwell pointed out that admission is free on March 6 and 7, the first two days of the tournament.

While American men’s tennis has been in decline for a while, the BNP Paribas Open continues to grow—in part because it has become more of a festival-type event, with many ways to entertain tournament-goers both inside and outside of the main stadiums. Plans for a tennis museum are also in the works.

For more information on the BNP Paribas Open, visit www.bnpparibasopen.com.

Steve Kelly can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow him on Twitter @skellynj.

Published in Sports

On Saturday, March 19—after a spirited men’s semifinal match in which eventual 2016 PNB Paribas Open champion Novak Djokovic defeated longtime rival Rafael Nadal—two local Coachella Valley High School students joined Jean Yves-Fillion, CEO of BNP Paribas North America, on the Stadium 1 show court.

Brianda Beltran and Miguel Alvarez, winners of the inaugural BNP Paribas Annual College Scholarship Award, each received recognition for their accomplishments—both on the tennis courts playing for their Coachella Valley High School team, and in the classroom.

“We’ve been supporting this tournament since 2009,” Fillion told the Independent after the ceremony. “I myself have had the privilege to be here pretty much every year. I know it’s a wonderful tournament. You have superstars, but you get to know the people when you come eight years in a row. (At BNP Paribas), we felt, I felt, we are all part of a community. It’s one thing to say you want to be part of a community, but it’s another thing to do it. We felt this scholarship program supporting students was actually a very sincere and truthful way to do it and not to just say it.”

Each year starting this year, one male and one female senior student/tennis player will be selected from local valley high schools to receive a $15,000 scholarship to help support their college educations.

We asked Fillion if it was a rigorous selection process. “Very, very,” he replied. “When I went to the school yesterday (Coachella Valley High, in Thermal), what I told the students there was I was actually impressed and moved by many of these applications. But this being like life, you always have winners. Obviously, Brianda and Miguel happen to be excellent.

“Tennis was an important factor, and these two students are excellent tennis players who play in public schools, but it was also academic. It was maturity and leadership. When you look at what Miguel and Brianda have done beyond just being very good tennis players and (helping) the team, it’s very nice.”

Brianda said she embraced tennis with academics in mind.

“My friends told me, ‘Oh, you should join tennis, because you’re going to need this when you’re applying to college, and it looks good on your resume,’” she said. “I hadn’t done a sport in awhile, so I went to practice, and I stayed there, and I did it and did it. Eventually, it did help me, because I received the BNP Paribas scholarship. So I don’t think I could be anymore grateful.”

Miguel said he started playing tennis when he was a sophomore.

“I started because my coach, Larry Salas, who is also a counselor at my high school, mentioned the importance of academics in being at school and activities like being in clubs, extracurriculars, community service and volunteer work, too. Also … he said, ‘What sport are you planning on playing in high school?’ I honestly never considered myself an aggressive-enough person for most other sports. I considered golf and tennis. Since he was the tennis coach, he asked me to go practice one day with them—and I loved the sport. That two-hour practice on that one day was it for me.”

Both student-athletes said they don’t anticipate playing tennis seriously beyond high school—although the sport will remain part of their lives.

“Since I was introduced to the sport when I was already 15 or 16 years old, my hope is that my kids are able to start when they are little so they can be pros,” Brianda said. “I hope to play in my free time and when I come back home in the summer. Obviously, I want to help the incoming freshmen or meet up with the girls I’ve played tennis with.”

As for Miguel? “I’m really going to focus on getting the best education I can and getting the best out of school. But I will continue to play tennis recreationally. I guess if I could make the college tennis team, I wouldn’t deny that opportunity.”

How will the scholarship money impact their college aspirations? “Both my parents came here to look for a better job, so they didn’t finish college,” Brianda said. “So I really want to get my bachelor’s in psychology and minor in communications. Then I want to get my master’s, and my dad says he’d be really, really proud of me if I got my doctorate, which I’d be willing to do.”

Miguel shared a similar story.

“When my parents came to America, they always hoped for us to live the American Dream, where we would find success and where we would work hard to be somebody in this world,” he said. “Now I want to enter USC (where he’s been accepted) as a business major and attend their world-business program, where I would attend USC for two years, spend one year in Hong Kong, and a year in Milan.”

As things came to a close, Miguel had one last message: “Just for the record, I do have something I want to say. Where we live, in Coachella … it’s a little sad that in our entire city, the only courts that we have to play on are the ones at our school. I know that in other cities here in the valley, like La Quinta or Palm Desert, most of their parks have tennis courts here, there, everywhere. So if anyone really wanted to play tennis in our community, it’s very limited, considering that the only courts are at our school.”

Sounds like the young man thought of another community project worthy of the attention of PNB Paribas and the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

Published in Features

As the 2016 edition of the BNP Paribas Open got under way last week at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, two topics dominated the conversations of players, the media and fans alike: Maria Sharapova’s recent alleged doping infraction (leading to her absence) and the return of Venus Williams after a 15 year boycott of the tournament where she enjoyed some of her earliest career triumphs.

Two-time defending men’s champion Novak Djokovic told the media he was sympathetic regarding Sharapova’s situation. “I know that she has always been very responsible and aware toward herself, toward the sport—very disciplined, very … hard working, hard-working ethics, and (she) loves what she does.

“I thought she was very courageous, and it was very human, brave of her, to go out and take the responsibility and say what has happened. She did admit that she made a mistake with her team. But certainly if there was a mistake, and if she was caught to be positive on doping for a certain substance, then there should be certain kind of consequences for that.”

Consequences seemed to be on Venus Williams’ mind as she stepped back into the Tennis Garden surroundings.

“I think when (Serena) came back, it wasn't an easy decision. You never know what was going to happen,” Venus said regarding her sister’s return to Indian Wells last year. “But she had so much courage to do so. It made it so easy for me. I felt like when I came out here, I was able to focus on the tennis and not on, ‘Oh, my gosh, what’s gonna happen?’”

What did happen when she finally set foot on the Stadium 1 show court for her Friday, March 11, match? A standing ovation that lasted several minutes.

“Yeah, I did get emotional,” Venus Williams said. “When we were doing the coin toss, I got a little watery eyed. Your opponent—you don't want to give them any more encouragement. It was wonderful. I think I smiled the whole warm-up. I had to get my game face on. It was tough to do.”

Shortly after the start of her first match, against 89th-ranked Kurumi Nara of Japan, the wind kicked up, and a burst of rain rolled across the Tennis Gardens grounds, blowing objects around. The storm chased players off all the courts—and it’s possible the disruption contributed to Venus’ early exit from this year’s tournament: She would go on to be upset, 6-4, 6-3.

“The crowd rooted me on because it was a tough day and tough conditions and brutal out there,” a positive Venus Williams remarked in her post-match media conference. “It was wonderful to feel the love. You know, I would love to come on back.”

As the winds dissipate and the second week of play gets under way, all five of the top-seeded men are still alive (including No. 1 Djokovic, No. 2 Andy Murray, No. 3 Stan Wawrinka, No. 4 Rafael Nadal and No. 5 Kei Nishikori), while just three of the top 5 women (No. 1 Serena Williams, No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska and No. 5/defending champ Simona Halep) are moving ahead. 

Published in Snapshot

Wednesday, March 9, was a beautiful day in many ways at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

At 9 a.m., under brilliant blue skies, long-estranged Women’s Tennis Association champion Venus Williams made her first official appearance at the tournament since 2001. She took to Practice Court 1 to begin her preparations for her first match, which will take place on Friday, March 11. Before only a dozen onlookers—only members of the media and security guards—Venus worked on her game. She seemed anxious and a bit surly; while casting surreptitious gazes at the few strangers present, she maintained a serious expression.

At 10 a.m., as her workout entered its second hour, the gates to the grounds opened up for fans—and a crowd of spectators quickly formed around her court. She worked out in brief spurts, taking frequent breaks to rest in the shade, talk on her phone or grab sustenance from a Whole Foods shopping bag she brought with her. During one of those breaks, as the stands filled, she looked around and caught sight of a young girl holding a sign that read: “Welcome Back Venus!”

A smile broke across her face.

As she returned to the court for more work, a healthy round of applause spilled out from the gathered fans.

The tension had been broken. She laughed, and it was pretty clear she was starting feel comfortable at the site of some of her earliest career victories.

Later, when she left the practice court, she walked across the great green area where players regularly congregate for impromptu soccer matches, calisthenics or other activities. Dogged by the ever-present photographers (present company included), she seemed a bit guarded, but then veered off to a crowd of autograph-seekers behind the fence, where she spent a few minutes signing and chatting. Then she was off again.

The final surprise sighting of the newly returned Venus Williams came at the start of her sister Serena’s practice session, around 12:30 p.m. As Serena, the current top-ranked WTA ranked player, laced up her tennis shoes and talked to her entourage, Venus appeared on the court to greet her sister. They spent 10 to 15 minutes together, laughing, dancing and talking with Serena’s guru-in-residence, Patrick Mouratoglou.

With a kiss and a smile Venus left. But make no mistake: She seems happy to be back, and regardless of the ill will from 15 years ago, her fans are happy, too.

Published in Snapshot

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