So the dry sand of the Indian Wells desert has not had even 24 hours to settle before tennis fans focus their attention on the next “fifth Slam” of Miami starting this week. I’ve said a few times I wish some space of even a week existed between the two events to give everyone time to process what occurred, but alas that’s not to be. Maybe I’m the only one who needs a few days based on my experience down in the desert. I have been to the BNP Paribas Open formerly the Pacific Life Open a few times before but this was my first time covering it as media. And to say it was a confusing, eye-opening yet once-in-a-lifetime experience would be an understatement. So this look back won’t be focused on the matches on either the men’s or women’s sides but more about my take of things from on and off the courts.
The Court Jester Becomes the King.
Only 12 months ago many were asking if Novak Djokovic had peaked as a tennis player. After losing early in Indian Wells and then Miami, many including me, thought he was either too weak physically and/or mentally to ever really challenge for the top ranking. Whatever issues “Nole” needed to sort out from that time he’s done so and his results speak for themselves now. But what interested me watching Djokovic at Indian Wells over the past ten days was how he seemed to embrace being the new “it” guy. Last year, he only practiced off-site at the player’s hotel. This year, he was entertaining everyone on the practice courts when he wasn’t on the grassy pitch lunging for goals along with his “bro” Andy Murray or blowing up Twitter with his thoughts. He may not be No. 1 yet, but Djokovic has become in a way “the people’s champion” in that he’s more accessible than Roger Federer will ever be due to his “legend” status and Rafael Nadal who, of course, is very giving of his time to his fans, but yet still comes off as a tad shy even though he’s been doing this for awhile now. It’s great that Djokovic has opened up even more in the last few months but will it last, especially if he does become No. 1?
Let’s Be Rivals.
There’s be quite a lot of talk from some wishing the sport could go back, especially on the men’s side, to having not just more rivalries but intense rivalries ala those between John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg, Ivan Lendl and the like. For awhile I was sort of in that camp only because I thought having a little more “fire” displayed between the top players on the court and off-court could fuel more interest in the sport. But from what I experienced at IW in terms of the amount of time players of all rankings co-mingle with one another off-court, that’s just not possible. From practicing with each other to sharing tables at the players’ cafeteria, to maintain a distance and even a mild animosity toward your closest rivals would just end up costing you more mental energy than it’s worth. Sure there are some players, both men and women, who do this to some extent, but as we see by their rankings, it doesn’t exactly help. So for those who long to see another feisty rivalry in the sport, don’t hold your breath.
Having lived in New York and then out here in L.A. for too long now, I’m used to seeing celebrities and interacting with them from time to time and I’m rarely star struck. But there were moments during Indian Wells especially during some of the press events and even just being in the cafeteria where the players and media ate at that I had to remember to keep telling myself “they’re just people trying to get something to eat.” Being around the top players, even for a short time, I had to remind myself that it was ok to feel some sort of awe around them, for who they are and their accomplishments. I remember looking over at some other journalists who’ve been covering the tour for a long time and wondering if it’s really necessary to analyze every single match a pro has ever played hoping for some sort of epiphany on what makes them the player they are. Probably not. It’s their job to cover the sport and cover everything, and I mean everything about the pros, but I hope if I still do this, even in a limited way, that I’m able to still be in awe of what these great athletes can do and not get so bogged down in the “where is your game now” questions that’s let face it, get old rather quick.
Little Things I’ll Remember The Most:
– Being part of the WTA All-Access Hour and watching the media swarm (and not swarm) around the eight players present. And you wonder why some players get little to no press coverage at all.
– Watching Donald Young answer my question during his press conference after his win over Andy Murray. Genuine excitement from him. Great moment.
– Waiting for Ryan Harrison’s presser to start after his second round win and having Jürgen Melzer (random) step out of a smaller interview room. Melzer walked up to the front row and asked Harrison “So how did your match go today?” Both men then congratulated each other on winning that day and shook hands.
– Andy Roddick and Novak Djokovic joking with each other during Roddick’s presser. Classic.
– Spending time with a German reporter sitting next to me in the media center discussing the state of German tennis and showing him Andrea Petkovic’s You Tube videos (he had no idea). Good times.
– Seeing packed stands for all of the doubles matches, even those without the “Fantastic Four” on the men’s side.
– Walking past Rafael Nadal goofing around on a practice court with friends hitting a soccer ball. Nadal at one point ran for the ball, lay down and kicked it over his head and then over the net. Unreal.
– Watching fans, mostly young girls, fawn all over a sweaty and shirtless Ryan Sweeting as they waited to get his autograph or take a photo of him. Ah, sudden fame!
– The relief and joy on Dinara Safina’s face after she won her match against Daniela Hantuchova.
Anyway, those are some moments and observations I’ll remember from my five days down at Indian Wells. Hope you enjoyed the event as much as I did.
Special Thanks Again to Tennis Panorama For Making it Happen. Follow all their news on Twitter @GVTennisNews.