Is The Indian Wells BNP Paribas tennis tourney just bigger or is it better too? 

The first time I headed to the desert to watch tennis in 2008, the somewhat smaller tournament held in Indian Wells California was known as the Pacific Life Open. Even back then the combined ATP and WTA event attracted the top players but it wasn’t a big hit with the fans. Wow have things changed in the desert.

With a change in the prime sponsor to BNPParibas, the tournament has become a fan favourite.

I remember that first visit, the main stadium which seats 16,100 was only about 1/3 to 1/2 full for most matches. Wandering around the grounds there was one other temporary show court that was packed and lots of matches were played on side courts with no viewing stands. On the grounds there were about five or six small flimsy retail tents and one large retail tent with tennis clothes and tournament souvenirs. I honestly cannot remember the food stands. One of the most endearing things about the tourney was that the majority of the staff, from concession stand workers to stadium ushers, were retired seniors living in the area.

I went back to Indian Wells in 2013 and by then big changes were already in progress. Besides an increase in fan attendance, including various celebrities, the tournament grounds now had a plaza area with a big screen broadcasting the match on stadium court. There were plans to build another stadium court as well as other upgrades to the grounds.

This year, 2015, my third visit to the tourney in the desert revealed a tournament that now sits among the best on both the ATP tour and the WTA tour.

The new stadium that was completed in time for last year’s edition of the tournament, seats 8,000 fans and includes Nobu Japanese restaurant which boasts a never ending line to get in. The grounds have undergone numerous fan friendly changes. There are 19,000 square feet of shaded plaza areas, live music entertains fans between matches, as do various other acts including drummers and “stilted tennis players” reaching nearly 8 feet in height. Numerous food outlets and retail outlets surround the plaza area.  The main retail clothing tent features all the top brands and features a huge Nike section. The lineup in this store can appear to go on forever, but the system at the cashes makes checkout super speedy. I can think of lots of other event venues that could learn from this event.

As always the staff of the event is primarily composed of local retirees from the surrounding area. Not only were they happy to be involved with the tournament they were always smiling no matter what job they were doing.

In contrast to many other tournaments, all match courts have hawk eye line calling technology. Practice court schedules are posted for the fans. Free wifi is available on the grounds and there is even live streaming of a few matches. The tournament app is one of the best providing live scores, match updates and tournament news.

This tournament definitely ranks up there in my favourites, it is not the US Open without thousands of people everywhere you turn and it is not Roland Garros with three huge stadiums. It is however a fan friendly tourney with great tennis. If you decide to head to the desert for next year’s event check out the following blog for lots of good advice. http://ihaveatennisaddiction.blogspot.ca/2015/03/tips-for-enjoying-and-surviving-bnp.html?m=1

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As I pack for indian wells….

Indian Wells BNP Paribas Open is only a couple of weeks away and as I start packing I am starting to ponder what the event holds.

First of all I am sure the desert weather will be a relief from the bitter cold winter that continues to grip Toronto with another round of snow forecast for this week. However you never know what the desert will hold, extreme hot days and frigid nights make packing a challenge.

The venue for this tournament is first class.  Not only do you get to watch great tennis, but the backdrop of palm trees fading into mountains glistening in the sun is a whole level of awesomeness on its own.

The women’s draw appeared to be wide open, that was until a couple of weeks ago when Serena announced that after an absence of 14 years she would be returning to the California desert. I am not sure if she is a guaranteed trophy holder as there will be several players taking a direct aim at her. Furthermore many of these players have been playing tournaments and staying match tough, whereas Serena has not played any competitive matches since her win at the Australian Open.  Not only could she face tough challenges from some of the new power hitters in the game including Garbine Muguruza and Madison Keys, but an unseeded, quickly returning to form Victoria Azarenka is lurking in the field.

Keep an eye out for the Czechs including Doha winner Lucie Safarova and  Barbora Zahlavova Strycova to do some damage, as well as newcomer Karolina Pliskova.  Dominika Cibulkova could also be a factor if she has sufficiently recovered from her achilles injury. Kvitova would have been a factor but apparently she has just withdrawn from the tournament and no reason has been provided as of yet.

Taylor Townsend of the USA was granted a wild card into the main draw and after watching her at the French Open I will not be surprised to see her post some impressive wins. Hopefully a physically healthy Bettanie Mattek-Sands can have a great run close to home.

Unfortunately I don’t expect much from Canadian Eugenie Bouchard who has not played well yet in 2015. After hiring Sam Sumyk as her new coach she has withdrawn prior to her last two tournaments, and i have heard a few rumblings about an arm injury.

Of course the ultimate final would be another Serena and Maria match up, but I think they will both have to work hard to make it to the final.

On the men’s side of things we could be heading toward another Roger-Novak final as in last week’s Dubai event where Roger came out the winner. A win in Indian Wells by Roger would certainly have everyone talking about him regaining the number one ranking. Nadal played well on the clay courts of South America the past couple of weeks, but i don’t think he is up to the challenge of a Masters 1000 level hard court tournament yet. Kei Nishikori is now the number 4 ranked player in the world and the hard court suits his game so i certainly think he will be around until at least the quarter finals.  Andy Murray hopes to answer a few questions about his play after some early round losses this year have resulted in him now occupying the number 5 ranking.

As far as upsets go I don’t expect any major upsets involving the top five. But the new wave of players including Nick Kyrgios, Thanes Kokkinakis, Borna Coric and maybe even Ryan Harrison could present some problems for Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov and perhaps even Thomas Berdych.

The American men will feel the pressure to perform at home especially John Isner or Sam Querry. Might be hard for Querry to focus after all the attention surrounding his millionaire matchmaker appearance.

Predictions are always fun, but how the tournament unfolds is always a surprise. Can’t wait for play to start.