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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

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

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 2014 BNP Paribas Tennis Open moves into the fourth round, many big names on the men’s side have tumbled in the heat and swirling breezes at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

Only five of the Top 10 players have survived. Among those already heading home are No. 4 seed Tomas Berdych, No. 9 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and most shockingly, No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal.

But Team Fed remains in the game.

That’s the name the worldwide tennis media has given to Roger Federer and his coterie of coaches, family and friends. This year's No. 7 seed and a four-time BNP Paribas Open champion, Federer is a perennial fan favorite. He is lionized by legions of loyal fans who track his every move around the expansive Tennis Garden grounds. For them, Coachella Valley’s two-week tennis fest is a chance to enjoy all the pleasures of “Club Fed”—and it doesn’t matter whether Federer is scheduled to play on a particular day or not. In fact, a Federer day-off practice session provides devotees with an opportunity to get even closer to their idol.

Roger Federer was slated for a 4 p.m. workout in Stadium 8 one afternoon this week. Almost all of the other players, even top seeds Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, practice on the practice courts. Seems logical, right? However, spectator space on these courts is limited—so Federer often practices in an open stadium.

How popular is Federer? The stadium was 90 percent filled an hour prior to his scheduled practice start time. When he finally rolled up in his cart, 15 minutes late, an overflow, standing-room-only crowd awaited him.

As soon as he began walking into the stadium, murmurs turned into a swelling round of applause. Fans lucky enough to find themselves along side his path of entry excitedly held out pens and objects to ask for an autograph.

“Hi, guys. Not now; maybe later,” he said, smiling.

He moved onto the court—as the applause surged and then subsided—before picking up a racket, grabbing some balls and starting to volley with his hitting partner. Silence surrounded him as his legion of followers, many sporting baseball caps with Federer’s trademark script logo, soaked up these special moments.

“Roger is the best athlete ever,” declared one young fan. “Tennis is the most difficult game, because it is one-on-one, and Roger is the greatest player and gentleman.”

As the practice session wore on, seemingly no one in the crowd left—not until Roger was finished.

For Club Fed, the fervent hope is that he’ll be the last man standing at this BNP Paribas Open.

Scroll down to see a photo gallery.

Published in Snapshot