The annual tournament that most resembles a vacation for the WTA and ATP tour players has to be the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells in the California desert.
And the best time during that vacation is the first few days before play begins in the tournament main draws. The Indian Wells site is more spacious than any other in tennis and the lawn (pictured above) where players can warm up and stretch is like no other in the sport, a playground and comfortable refuge area, especially because the weather is virtually guaranteed to be sunny and warm.
In the days before the event starts, everyone is present and optimistic – no one has lost. (In the picture above that’s Mikhail Youzhny racing against his young son.) There are also the mountains surrounding the site and all that fresh air. The greater Palm Springs area has long be a playground for the rich and famous and everything is manageable – wide boulevards for driving, cool evenings for sleeping and no high rises – just everything on a human scale.
The one thing that really isn’t human – or at least natural – is all the reclaimed land fed by underground aquifers or water diverted from the Colorado River.
Palm trees, immaculate grass lawns and landscaping with nary a leaf or blade of grass out of place is everywhere – and frequently right next to a tumble weed and sagebrush lot just waiting to be converted into a beautiful gated community or a golf course.
The one thing that’s missing is young people – the California desert is full of geezers and ‘geezerettes,’ many from Canada, who cannot resist the pull away from winters in the north – and oh what a time for escape this miserable winter has been.
The qualifying is under way at the BNP Paribas Open and on Monday Gabriela Dabrowski (far court above) was beaten 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-4 by Evgeniya Rodina. It had to be tough for Dabrowski coming in from Monterrey where she won her second WTA doubles title, but her first with partner Alicja Rosolska, the previous day.
In the men’s qualifying on Tuesday, Frank Dancevic advanced to the second round with a 6-3, 6-3, victory over Damir Dzumhur. The picture above is of Dancevic ‘golf-carting’ back to the locker room after his match.
The women’s draw was done on Monday and the major story coming out of it is a potential third round match-up (both have first round byes) between No. 32 seed Victoria Azarenka and No. 2 seed Maria Sharapova.
As far as the Canadians, Genie Bouchard returns to action after playing just one match (a loss to Mona Barthel in Antwerp in early February) since the Australian Open. After a bye, the sixth-seeded Bouchard will play the winner of a qualifier and Jana Cepelova, the Slovak who reached the Charleston final last April but who has not done very much since. In the third round it could be big-hitting American Coco Vanderweghe for Bouchard. Waiting in the round-of-16, it might be either No. 9 Andrea Petkovic or No. 20 Alizé Cornet. The match-up that many are anxious to see would be in the quarter-finals where Bouchard could meet No. 16 seed Madison Keys. But Keys is playing her first match since reaching the Australian Open semi-final in January and her form could be iffy.
The men’s draw features a re-match of an Indian Wells second-round from 2014 for Vasek Pospisil. After a bye a year ago, he was beaten 6-0, 6-2 by Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan. It was while he was sub-performing with his back issue and at one point it was so bad that it seemed he might suffer a double bagel.
Now Kukushkin, a hero of Kazakhstan’s upset of Italy in Davis Cup last weekend, is ranked No. 54. Pospisil is No. 62. The winner will play No. 4 seed Andy Murray, who beat Pospisil 6-3, 7-5 in Rotterdam last month.
As for Milos Raonic, as the sixth seed he has a bye and then will play the winner of Thomaz Bellucci and Simone Bolelli. If it’s Bolelli, that would be for the third time in a little over a month – Raonic beat the Italian in Rotterdam in two sets but then lost to him in a third-set tiebreak (7-3) in Marseille.
Looking further down the road, Raonic could face No. 11 seed Grigor Dimitrov in the round-of-16 and No. 3 Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals.
Rafael Nadal was out of the stadium court on Monday night. He practiced for a while with Stan Wawrinka and then hit with coach Francisco Roig, who is replacing Uncle Toni this week. At one point, Nadal appeared to be treated for a blister on his foot, but a little later his trainer Rafael Maymo (above) had a more extensive look at the foot.
At the end of his session (above), Nadal spent some time trying on a red cap, with Nike rep Mike Nakagima (glasses on cap) closely observing everything.
There are several players making returns at Indian Wells after extensive time off the circuit – but none for longer than Mardy Fish (serving above) who has not played since Winston Salem in August of 2013.
Fish practiced on Tuesday with Ryan Harrison. A new feature of some of the practice courts this year is to have a picture at the back of the court showing the name and picture of the players working out.
Tommy Haas (above) has not been away as long as Fish, but he returns after yet another shoulder surgery. He has not played since last year’s Roland Garros.
Nick Kyrgios, 19, has only been away since the Australian Open in January, where he reached the quarter-finals, but his charismatic presence is certainly welcome back on the tour.
There are a of tennis people wondering around the site, including seven-time Grand Slam champion Mats Wilander, looking cool behind a pair of shades above.
On Monday evening, Milos Raonic’s coach Ivan Ljubicic was on site. Ljubicic said Raonic had arrived after an early morning flight from Vancouver so he gave him a (well-deserved) day off.
Daniel Nestor was back at work Monday night after flying in from Vancouver – practicing on site at about 7 p.m. with coach Scott Davidoff. Nestor is unbelievably hard-working. The weekend before Davis Cup, he and partner Rohan Bopanna won the doubles in Dubai on Saturday before Nestor flew home to Toronto for a Sunday pit stop before flying on the Vancouver the same day and getting in a 1 a.m. Monday. But by early that same afternoon, he was out practicing at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre, site of the Davis Cup tie.
On a bit of a sour note, there is only one tennis journalist from France’s famous L’Equipe sporting newspaper at the BNP Paribas Open. That’s down from three just a few years ago. Another ominous sign, the number of full-time writers in the tennis section at L’Equipe has been cut to four – Julien Reboullet, Sophie Dorgan, Vincent Cognet and Fred Bernes. At its peak a few years ago, there were 11 covering tennis at L’Equipe. Clearly there needs to be a new French superstar to give those numbers a boost.
Here’s a final shot of players early Tuesday morning frolicking on the Indian Wells grass – on the left waiting to catch a ball is Sam Stosur, in the middle is Azarenka throwing a football and on the right is Garbine Muguruza having a drink.
HEARD IN THE PLAYERS/MEDIA RESTAURANT:
Conversation between a journalist and a cashier:
Journalist: Would you know who Roger Federer is?
Journalist: What about Rafael Nadal?
Cashier: Yes, I know him from last year.