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Mon09162019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

As the 2019 edition of the BNP Paribas Open shifted into high gear, the world’s best tennis players battled the weather, injuries, illness and each other for the trophies and the $1.3 million men’s and women’s singles championship checks that were handed out in Stadium 1 on St. Patrick’s Day.

The feel-good story of the tournament—and perhaps of the year in tennis—was Bianca Andreescu. The 18-year-old Canadian, a wild-card entrant into the BNP Paribas Open, defeated four opponents ranked in the Top 20 as she made her improbable march toward the championship, delivering a masterful show of grit and talent.

Andreescu was the talk of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden as she made her improbable run toward the title of the tennis world’s “fifth major.” Last year, Naomi Osaka flew under the radar to win her first big tournament, starting down a road that led to last year’s U.S. Open singles title win over Serena Williams; the Australian Open women’s title; and a return to the Coachella Valley as the No. 1 player in the world. (Osaka lost her bid to repeat as champ in the round of 16 to Belinda Bencic.) Only time will tell us if Andreescu can emulate such a meteoric climb, after winning the hearts of the 16,000-plus spectators as she struggled against the sudden return of warm weather and the (mostly) solid strokes of three-time Grand Slam winner and eighth-ranked Angelique Kerber, before winning in three sets.

On the men’s side, the ATP’s fourth-ranked player, perennial fan favorite Roger Federer, walked onto the Stadium 1 court late on Sunday afternoon as the odds-on favorite against seventh-seeded Dominic Thiem of Austria. Federer had not lost a set on his way to the final, and had just come off an unexpected day of rest when longtime nemesis/friend Rafael Nadal had to withdraw from their highly anticipated semifinal due to a recurring knee injury. (Thiem gained an extra day of rest earlier in the week as well, when the ever-entertaining French shot-making maestro Gael Monfils had to withdraw.) While Federer jumped out to an early lead and appeared to be back in control late in the third and final set, it was Thiem who rose to the occasion, taking the title 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.

One other highlight of came courtesy of tournament director and former ATP pro Tommy Haas, who skillfully filled the open spot in Saturday’s schedule (due to Nadal’s withdrawal) by luring No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic—who had been upset in the third round—and tennis legends Pete Sampras and John McEnroe onto the court for a lively and fun-filled one-set doubles exhibition that was refereed by comedian John Lovitz.

Scroll down to see photos from the final days of the BNP Paribas Open.

Published in Snapshot

Through swirling winds and unusually cool temperatures, the 2018 BNP Paribas Open’s final weekend was marked by tense yet surprisingly lackluster play on both of the draw.

With the exceptions of the electric semifinal loss by Venus Williams to No. 20 underdog Daria Kasatkina, and world No. 1 Roger Federer’s thrilling comeback in his semifinal win over Borna Coric, moments of stellar play proved few and far between.

Upset victories remained the order of the tournament, with both singles’ championship matches on Sunday producing unexpected winners. First up was the women’s match, with Russian star Kasatkina facing Naomi Osaka of Japan. While Kasatkina had thrilled fans with her determined take-down of crowd-favorite Williams in a long and brilliant semifinal battle on Friday night, she could not muster that level of play in the final, as she lost rather quickly, 6-3 6-2, to Osaka.

Next up was the highly anticipated men’s final, with crowd-favorite Federer attempting to defend his title against No. 6 Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina. Other than a tight second-set tiebreaker in which Federer managed to prevail, 10-8, play was ho-hum, with on-court tension more of a product of the players’ discontent with the chair umpire, line judges and the rowdy, packed-house crowd. In the end, del Potro walked away with the third-set tiebreaker, 7-2, and the title.

“In the finals, you know, you must be playing in all the ways, not just tennis,” del Potro observed during the post-match press conference. “Unfortunately, I couldn't stay calm in the tiebreak of the second set, but then the calms came again in the end of the match, and I played good in the tiebreak.”

When Federer was asked post-match about the uncharacteristic bursts of anger he showed throughout the final match, he said, diplomatically: “I don't even remember half of it, to be honest. I don’t want to get into the details. You know, I think I was just (me) trying to pump myself up more, to get energy for me. … It had no effect on the outcome of the match. I think we both went after the umpire for different reasons—or the same reasons in different moments.”

See a variety of Week 2 photos below.

Published in Snapshot

As play ended late Sunday night, March 11, it was fair to say that the first week of this year’s BNP Paribas Open delivered more than its share of upsets and surprises at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

More than half of the Top 30 seeded Women’s Tennis Association players went down to defeat, including Johanna Konta (No. 11), Garbine Muguruza (No. 3), Petra Kvitova (No. 9), Jelena Ostapenko (No. 6) and the ever-popular Americans Madison Keys (No. 15) and CoCo Vandeweghe (No. 17). Also, unranked but perennial fan favorites Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenko fell victim to a group of young and talented players determined to make their presence felt at this year’s tennis carnival.

On the men’s Association of Tennis Professionals side, the carnage was less widespread, but a number of highly seeded victims, including Grigor Dimitrov (No. 3), Alexander Zverev (No. 4), Lucas Pouille (No. 9), Novak Djokovic (No. 10) and American John Isner (No. 15), will not move on to the round of 32, which began Monday, March 12.

In the midst of this statistical turmoil, some intriguing personal moments unfolded on the Stadium Court 1. On Saturday night, the seemingly immortal men’s No. 1 player, Roger Federer, was getting into tournament shape. Playing his first singles match of this tournament against Argentinian Federico Delbonis, Federer took the first set 6-3 and was tied early in the second set—when the skies gave way to a rainy downpour, the likes of which Indian Wells rarely sees. The match was delayed for several hours before finally being postponed to Sunday for its completion.

“It's been a long time since I have been interrupted at night and have to come back the next day,” Federer said to reporters after he claimed his initial victory with a 7-6 second-set victory, sparing him a lengthy contest on the second of what became three consecutive days of play.

The inconvenience did not color his continuing attraction to our valley tour stop. “They are very knowledgeable about tennis,” he said about the tens of thousands of fans who come out each year. “It's nice that the tournament has invested a lot so they can have an even better experience here at the tennis.”

Just prior to Federer’s eventual Sunday win, five-time BNP Paribas Open champion Novak Djokovic took on his first match challenge against the 109th-ranked Taro Daniel of Japan. While walking onstage during his introduction to the packed stadium, Djokovic exhibited an air of detachment as he smiled slightly, waved his hand and lifted his chin, looking to the sky and soaking up the gladiatorial atmosphere he’s been missing due to various recent injuries and illnesses. “I was grateful to be out on the court after surgery that quickly,” he said in his post match interview, “but at the same time, (I) just didn't feel good at all.” His spotty, overall lackluster play highlighted that reality. After losing a tight first set in a surprisingly one-sided tiebreaker (7-3 for Daniel), he seemed to find his passion and stormed through the later part of the second set, taking it 6-4 to square the match. Then came a complete collapse in the third set as the upstart Daniel capitalized for a 6-1 runaway win.

“Well, it’s life, you know,” Djokovic philosophized later. “God always challenges you when you expect it least. I have experienced many times similar situations, so I know that there is always something good in it. You just need to try to set your mind at that frequency.”

The true “feel good” story of the week belonged to 16-year-old American player Amanda Anisimova, who got into the tournament via a sponsor wild-card exemption. On Sunday, in she faced ninth-seeded Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic. The young New Jersey native was absolutely on fire as she overwhelmed her more accomplished opponent, 6-2, 6-4.

“Yeah, it feels crazy. I mean, I’m still in shock,” Anisimova gushed in the post-match press conference. “She (Kvitova) is the best player I have ever played, and it was the biggest court I have ever played on. So it was definitely nerve-wracking, kind of, but I was enjoying it so much out there and I was playing my best. It was a good day.”

As Week 2 play gets underway, a huge highlight comes Monday night—in fact, it’s happening as of this posting. The No. 8 seed Venus Williams is facing her uncharacteristically unseeded younger sister, Serena in the third round. Serena, coming back to competition after the birth of her first child, was asked how she feels about playing her sister at such and early point in the tournament.

“She’s had such a good year last year and (is) playing fantastic tennis,” Serena observed. “But I have to play a seed regardless, sooner than later most times for the next couple of tournaments. So I have to be ready. Obviously I wish it was anybody else in the draw, literally anybody, but that’s OK. Just have to go out there and see how I am and do my best.”

Here are two predictions for Week 2: Rain will return to play havoc with the later rounds this year … and only one Williams sister will move on past tonight. (Update: Venus defeated Serena, 6-3, 6-4.)

Published in Snapshot

The second and final week of Coachella Valley’s prestigious BNP Paribas Open typically delivers sharp tennis play and competitive drama as sports media and fans around the world focus on the on-court action.

This year, that unfortunately was not the case.

As Sunday’s first match began, hopes ran high that top-ranked Serena Williams would reclaim the championship she last captured in 2001. But a curiously subdued and somber Williams offered little resistance to No. 8 Victoria Azarenka’s determined if less-than-dominating performance. With 33 unforced errors, Williams squandered a multitude of break-point opportunities throughout both sets. Even so, she did manage a short-lived comeback in the second set before succumbing to now second-time BNP Paribas champion Azarenka in straight sets, 6-4, 6-4.

That set the scene for heavily favored and top-ranked Novak Djokovic to take on No. 12 Milos Raonic of Canada. Despite plenty of Canadians in the stands to offer support, Raonic could never gain an advantage in the match. He underperformed throughout, committing 27 unforced errors while managing a mere four aces with his vaunted serving game. As the second set began, he left the court for an elongated injury play stoppage, and when he returned, he lost every game in a convincing 6-2, 6-0 Djokovic win.

But by far, the biggest unforced error of the strange day went to none other than Raymond Moore, the BNP Paribas Open tournament director and CEO. At a morning news conference, Moore was asked about prospects of elevating his tournament to the status of a fifth major title for the pros. Saying that the men’s tour was on board for that opportunity, he then offered this evaluation of the WTA and the women’s tour players: “In my next life, when I come back, I want to be someone in the WTA, because they ride on the coattails of the men. They don’t make any decisions, and they are lucky. They are very, very lucky,” he said.

Moore continued: “If I was a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport.”

Both Azarenka and Williams expressed their displeasure with Moore’s remarks during post-match interviews. “Why do you have to make the comment? Who cares?” Azarenka asked rhetorically. “I mean, if that makes that person feel better or bigger or whatever, it’s a pretty sad person.”

Williams said, “Obviously I don’t think any woman should be down on her knees thanking anybody like that. If I could tell you every day how many people say they don’t watch tennis unless they’re watching myself or my sister … you know, I couldn’t even bring up that number.”

When asked if she thought there might be a misunderstanding regarding how people were interpreting Moore’s comments, Williams replied, “Well, if you read the transcript, you can only interpret it one way. I speak very good English. I’m sure he does, too.”

Later in the day, Moore had the BNP Paribas public relations staff issue a statement on his behalf which stated, “At my morning breakfast with the media, I made comments about the WTA that were in extremely poor taste and erroneous. I am truly sorry for those remarks, and apologize to all the players and WTA as a whole. We had a women’s final today that reflects the strength of the players, especially Serena and Victoria, and the entire WTA. Again, I am truly sorry for my remarks."

(Update: Moore resigned on Monday, March 21.)

With all of Sunday’s controversy and uncharacteristically tepid competition, it would be easy to overlook some of the sparkling play that took place earlier in Week 2. Arguably the best tennis of the entire tournament was played on Wednesday, in the round of 16 match between No. 5 Rafael Nadal and No. 52 Alexander Zverev. Perennial fan favorite Nadal defeated the 18-year-old German phenom, who had thrilled crowds with upset wins over Grigor Dimitrov and Gilles Simon, both Top 25 players. Stadium 1 was packed for their battle, and the crowd roared throughout in appreciation of the competitive fire displayed by both players in the 6-7, 6-0, 7-5 Nadal comeback victory.

Published in Snapshot

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

On Wednesday evening, March 18, halfway through the final week of play at the 2015 BNP Paribas Open, storm clouds and gusty desert winds swept across the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

They came and went with minimal impact—much like the highly publicized return of No. 1-ranked Serena Williams to Indian Wells for the first time since 2001.

After winning four matches, Williams withdrew from the tournament on Friday, March 20, shortly before her scheduled semifinal meeting with No. 3-ranked Simona Halep, due to a knee injury.

When asked how emotional it was for her to withdraw, Williams said, “I was really, really disappointed. I was really down. I was really sad.”

Her mood brightening, she continued: “But then I thought, ‘You know what, Serena? This is just an opportunity to be able to come back … and do better next year.’”

So she’s already planning to return in 2016? “I think it’s going to be a must,” she said, smiling.

Halep was the happy recipient of a “walkover” win in her semifinal, which gave her extra rest heading into Sunday’s final. Her rest looked more like rust during a lackluster first set, which her opponent, No. 18 Jelena Jankovic, won 6-2. But Halep then turned on the jets, capturing a tight 7-5 second set and crusing home with a 6-4 final set.

The competitive women’s final set the stage for the return of last year’s men’s singles finalists: No. 2-ranked Roger Federer, and No. 1 Novak Djokovic. And for the second year in a row, Djokovic showed that his game shines in the desert sun, claiming a three-set victory. The first set and the last sets (6-3 and 6-2 wins by Djokovic, respectively) were one-sided displays of Djokovic’s spectacular shot-making. The middle set, won in a tiebreaker by Federer, 7-6 (5), was tense, dramatic and filled with brilliant play on both sides of the net.

Some miscellaneous observations:

• Is it a coincidence that two players who benefited from “walkover” wins in the second week of this marathon championship wound up winning the whole thing?

• Isn’t it unseemly for the impresario of this stellar event, Larry Ellison, to choose not to attend the women’s singles final? Not even the awards ceremony?

• Could there be a better example of irony than Serena Williams being forced to withdraw from her semifinal match due to injury—just as her sister Venus did in 2001?

Until next year! Scroll down to enjoy some images from the second week of the 2015 BNP Paribas Open.

Published in Snapshot

The first week of the 2015 BNP Paribas Open delivered no major surprises on the courts—but it did deliver sweltering temperatures for fans and players alike, as well as record attendance figures, thanks to the return of Serena Williams to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden for the first time since 2001.

Almost all of the top-seeded players in both the men’s and women’s singles draws are still competing, while four American players made it into the second week of both draws—exciting news for local fans: On the women’s side, Serena Williams, Sloane Stephens, Coco Vandeweghe and Madison Keys are still alive, while on the men’s side, survivors include John Isner, Donald Young, Steve Johnson and Jack Sock.

The competition will heat up as the tournament moves into its late rounds this week—and the weather forecast calls for continued high temperatures, which makes staying cool and hydrated a challenge for everyone. The longest lines found on the grounds were often for the spectator water-filling stations.

Saturday brought also brought traffic gridlock, as attendees tried to squeeze into overflowing parking lots. Tournament officials reported that Week 1 set a new record, with 241,884 spectators attending the matches.

Scroll down to enjoy a photo retrospective of last week’s BNP Paribas Open experience.

Published in Snapshot

The last time current world No. 1-ranked Serena Williams, winner of 19 Grand Slam tennis titles, stepped onto the Stadium 1 court at the BNP Paribas Open was in 2001. She was 19 and about to play for the women’s singles championship.

“I was looking to take another title. I was ready,” Williams wrote last month in TIME when she announced her decision to return to the BNP Paribas Open after a 14-year self-imposed exile. “As I walked out onto the court, the crowd immediately started jeering and booing. In my last match, the semifinals, I was set to play my sister, but Venus had tendinitis and had to pull out. Apparently, that angered many fans.”

After 14 years of healing after that unfortunate, racially tinged incident in 2001, Williams walked back onto that court at 7 p.m., Friday, March 13, with determination and trepidation. Those in the traditionally late-arriving desert crowd rose as one and cheered wildly to welcome her back. Williams, clearly overwhelmed by emotion, seemed strangely reserved. There were no smiles, really, and she offered just one brief wave to the fans. In fact, we learned later, she was struggling not to cry.

“It was an emotional time,” Williams shared in her Tennis Channel post-match interview. “I didn’t expect to start tearing up. The crowd was just so amazing and so nice. I just didn’t know what to expect.”

She and most of the tennis pundits running around the Indian Wells Tennis Garden certainly didn’t expect the highly competitive match that followed, against No. 68-ranked Monica Niculescu of Romania. Relying on an unorthodox style of play, Niculescu pushed Williams into a sometimes awkward but always resourceful game, which ended in a 7-5, 7-5 victory by Williams.

Thus ended a week of heightened anxiety—and somewhat unnecessary mystery for everyone involved with the tournament, as the return of Serena Williams had everyone on edge. Serena was invisible to most as the week progressed. Her first onsite practice session was held behind locked doors on Stadium 1. While names like Sharapova, Federer, Djokovic, Murray and Nadal practiced publicly and interacted with fans—keeping with the routines that make this tournament renowned as one of the most laid-back in the world—no announcement of Williams’ presence was made to fans or members of the media, who were kept at bay by posted security guards. She surfaced briefly for a pre-match interview session, and then went back into hiding.

Meanwhile, the anticipation built. “The kids are so excited to finally get a chance to ball-kid for Serena,” said Rick Mozzillo, lead chair person of the tourney’s Ball Kids Committee. “The kids had to sign up for that shift a month ago, and we didn’t know that Serena would be playing that day at that time. So the lucky ones who get to work it kind of won a blind lottery.”

Meanwhile, the PR department laid out restrictions for coverage and access to the big match, the type of which are usually only instituted for the championship match—if at all.

“We were outsiders,” Williams wrote in the opener to her TIME about returning to Indian Wells. That’s how she characterized the status she shared with her sister Venus and the whole Williams family back in 2001.

Hopefully, the healing continues, and she and her family can enjoy what today makes the BNP Paribas Open one of the best stops on the pro tennis circuit each year.

Scroll down to see images from Serena Williams’ return to the BNP Paribas Open.

Published in Snapshot

Hardcore tennis fans arrived early on Monday, March 9, to take advantage of the free-entry policy in effect during the first and second days of the 2015 BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. While there was a lot of tennis action for them to enjoy, not much of it involved the sport’s big names.

Some of the game’s stars—like Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Serena Williams—have not yet appeared to prep for the tournament, which begins main-draw play on Wednesday, March 11. The big names who had arrived—including Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka, Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic and Daniela Hantukova—worked out on the main stage of Stadium 1 surrounded by thousands of empty seats, because the doors to that court were locked all day, while thousands of diehard fans roamed the pathways nearby.

In an email, the Independent asked J. Fred Sidhu, of the BNP Paribas Open media relations team, why this area was kept off limits.

“The main stadium is open to fans at the start of main draw play,” Sidhu said via email. “It is something that has always worked for the tournament. There is really no official reason. Fans have plenty of opportunities to watch practice on the outside courts.”

Fair enough … but it was unfortunate that most of the top-flight players practiced out of sight of the fans who admire them so.

As the temperatures rose past 90 degrees, the WTA women’s qualifying draw completed first-round action in the battle for unseeded players to grab a spot in the final qualifying draw. Women’s play continued today, while men’s qualifying action got under way.

However, the biggest news of the day came when tournament officials announced that top-ranged Serena Williams would end her 14-year absence from Indian Wells when she takes to the Stadium 1 court at 7 p.m. this Friday, March 13, to begin her quest for a third BNP Paribas Open women’s singles championship.

Published in Snapshot

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