14 March

The tennis has landed - a special report from Indian Wells, USA

It's sometimes called the 5th Grand Slam, but does Indian Wells live up to the hype? Local Tennis League player Simon Wood files this special report from Palm Springs... PLUS We offer you a chance to win an Indian Wells souvenir towel!

Normally you would associate the US tennis swing with lead up tournaments to the US Open which kicks off at the end of August. However, for 4 weeks in March there are back to back ATP1000 and WTA mandatory tournaments taking place in Indian Wells close to Palm Springs followed by Miami, commonly known as the ‘Sunshine Double’. 

Win the Indian Wells Towel!Indian Wells is often called the ‘5th Grand Slam’ and having had the pleasure of visiting this year I can see why. Unlike most other tournaments, Indian Wells is a combined event featuring all the top male and female players competing together at the same venue. This year all the household players were there and the tournament boasts a very impressive role of honour including Boris Becker, Andre Agassi, Monica Seles and Martina Navratilova. 

The only difference here is that the Men’s and Women’s event schedules are slightly different as the women start a day before, and all the top seeds get byes which means it can be quite hard to follow in the same way as you would do with a Grand Slam. 

Having been to all the Grand Slams I was interested to see whether this ‘5th Grand Slam’ tag was justified from a fan's point of view. 
As I approached the Indian Wells Tennis Garden it felt like a giant spaceship had suddenly sprung up from nowhere in the surrounding Palm Desert.  

Once inside the venue felt spacious and there was a real buzz of excitement and hive of activity everywhere you looked. The main court is called Stadium 1, which is the second largest permanent tennis stadium in the world after the Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York with a capacity of 16,100 (Wimbledon Centre Court is 15,000).  There are 11 match courts in total with Stadium 2 the most recent addition completed in 2014, with has a capacity of 8000. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019 - Rafael Nadal plays Filip Krajinovic in the 4th round of the BNP Paribas Open in Stadium 1 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California. (Michael Cummo/BNP Paribas Open)

The key focus point when you are not watching tennis is the ‘Circle Of Palms’ which is an oasis of palm trees, colourful flowers and fountains. It’s here you will find a wide variety of food and drink, picnic tables and merchandise stores. I think I overdosed on Fish Tacos, which were incredible, and definitely took my fair share of signature cocktails. This area is a welcome respite from the hot, strong Californian sun. This year was the coolest Indian Wells since 2005 but still too hot for me and my pale skin.

There was also a stage (below) where they had live interviews with some of the top players and live bands when the sun went down which created a real party atmosphere. I saw back to back interviews with Coco Vandeweghe and Simona Halep and even saw the tennis GOD Nick Bollettieri walking around. As at other Grand Slams, there is a big screen called ‘Stadium Plaza’ where you can watch the matches on Stadium one if you weren’t lucky enough to have tickets. 

The one thing that struck me as being most different to the Grand Slams was the role of the practice courts within the grounds for fans. In all other Grand Slams these are hidden away and public viewing is not encouraged. Here, however, it is different. The tournament actively encourages fans to go and see their favourite players hone their skills and make the most difficult shots look incredibly easy. The practice schedules are even published for everyone to see.  I was fortunate enough to see Federer, Serena Williams, Nadal and Osaka up close. And you don’t appreciate their intensity until you get within just a few metres away. 

The stage at Indian WellsStadium 1 court casts shadows over the rest of the grounds it is so big. The best match I saw there was the battle between Petra Kvitova and Venus Williams. The venue wasn’t full but the local partisan crowd really got behind their player as Venus came from a set and 2 breaks down to win in 3 sets in 2 and a half hours. 

Sometimes watching live tennis in the US can feel a bit of a sideshow with spectators drifting in and out of the game depending on what other conversations are taking place or music is playing. Here, however,  it felt different. Everyone close to me seemed engrossed in the game and riding the highs and lows with the players as the match progressed and Venus paid respect to the support she received in the post-match interview. 

TV Coverage of the 2019 BNP Paribas Open, ATP Masters 1000 continues on Amazon Prime