BNP PARIBAS OPEN: SUPER FINAL SUNDAY—DJOKOVIC WINS HIS FOURTH TITLE AND SIMONAMANIA CARRIES HALEP TO VICTORY

Sometimes sense just triumphs over sentiment.

Novak Djokovic is No. 1 in the world. He’s won two of the last three Grand Slams, including January’s Australian Open. He’s 27 and in his prime—focused and confident. He has fabulous movement, core strength, a best-in-the-business backhand return of serve, and tremendous flexibility. He’s the epitome of the modern tennis player. Just ask Andy Murray. And yeah he’s sidetracked by just one kid.

Roger Federer has four. And of course he has grace, a fluid liquidity that’s balletic, a backhand that dazzles, and a “still eager after all these years” passion and will that attracts adoring fans from India to Indian Wells. He’s regal and unreal.

If life were a fairytale, the 33-year-old genius would have prevailed in the men’s final today at the BNP Paribas Open. But just like at last year’s Wimbledon, the Mighty Fed fell distinctly short after forging an amazing comeback. Djokovic may only have one fourth of father Federer’s number of kids, but after his 6-3, 6-7, 6-2 victory, he now has the same number of BNP Paribas Open titles. His fourth win at Indian Wells was also his 50th overall tour title, drawing him one ahead of coach Boris Becker’s 49 career tournament wins.

Djokovic shared his celebratory dessert with the press corps afterward, but the match was no gluten-free piece of cake. In pressers, Federer has pledged a special allegiance to his rivalry with Rafael Nadal, but there’s no doubt that the Federer vs. Djokovic matchup produces a distinct (and less sentimental) brand of thrilling tennis—like two dashing swordsmen or a pair of ruthless quick-draw artists racing to attack. At the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, all their gifts were on display. Novak’s speed and rubberband-man elasticity, which somehow make his wingspan seem wider than John Isner’s. Federer’s feather-light and fatal touch, capable of placing the ball just beyond the fastest opponent’s reach.

While Federer fans cheered him on with a traditional “Let’s go, Roger,” a Djokovic posse at the very top of the stadium varied their chants according to the moment, even targeting Federer by repeating “Pressure! Pressure!” whenever his serve was in danger. Thirty-eight matches into their rivalry, these two are so assured and familiar that fans cheer their trick moves between points, from Federer answering a Djokovic fault with an effortless behind-the-back return, to Djokovic catching and cradling a dead-ball service return with his racket. Of all the Big Four match ups, Djokovic-Federer is the one most about “controlled aggression” (as Federer put it afterward), and it times it boils over into anger: more than once Federer swatted a ball skyward after a routine miss, while Djokovic shook with frustration at one point and smashed a racket at another.

And the battle itself, you ask? Flashes of brilliance and lapses of concentration were both on display. Like most matches at this year’s tournament, the ratio of winners to unforced errors was unflattering, but the number of inspired or even breathtaking shots was high as well, even within rallies. Both players came into the final in dominant form, but Djokovic capitalized on a single break to seize the first set with ruthless quickness, 6-3, and grab an early break in the second.

But from 4-2 up there were some deja vu moments, as Djokovic threatened to follow in the footsteps of his fellow Serbian finalist Jelena Jankovic, who’d tossed away her title hopes with a slew of service woes just a few hours earlier. Where once Novak’s serve had reliably dug him out of deficits, serving at 5-4 in the second set tiebreak, he delivered two double faults in a row. One second the stadium was so silent that you could hear Djokovic’s signature before-serve ball-bounce routine. The next the whole place ignited in a collective roar. All it took was a commanding serve from Federer and the battle was back on event terms.

But at the start of the third Federer’s backhand went MIA, leaking errors into the doubles alley and net, as Djokovic regained control. With Djokovic serving at 2-0, Federer mounted one last surge. Not only was he outlasting Djokovic in rallies—who does that?—he was even calling the lines perfectly when needed, twice reversing the outcome of points with the help of Hawk-Eye. When Roger converted on his fifth break point attempt, the stadium erupted again. A thriller was in the making.

Or so it seemed. At 2-3, 40-15 on Federer’s serve, the momentum switched back once more to Djokovic, as he steadied his game and the Federer backhand again went off course. On break point the Serbian taunt reappeared—”Pressure! Pressure!”—and Federer succumbed to it. Even the man who many consider the greatest ever can double fault at crunch time. “I’m not the only one double faulting under pressure,” Novak said afterward, and on this day, he wasn’t kidding. Which brings us to….

HALEP VS. JANKOVIC: MARATHON MELODRAMA AT INDIAN WELLS

Everyone had an opinion on the Simona Halep-Jelena Jankovic BNP Paribas Open final. To even-handed analysts, it was a textbook example of how not to win a big tennis match. Don’t have much belief. Waste your energy on what happened long ago in the match. Don’t stay in the moment, and falter at the end.

Chris Evert was more succinct, simply saying. “You have to be a psychologist to coach women’s tennis—let’s get that one out of the way.” There was ample entertainment—and frustration, to a degree that had one voice in the press room marveling at the sheer number of service breaks.

The first game was an omen of the match to come—a lengthy see-sawing affair that ended with a break of serve. There were 17 more of those to come. At one point a shockingly focused Jankovic was two points away from repeating the scoreline of her 6-2, 6-4 win over another Slam bridesmaid, Caroline Wozniacki, in the 2010 final. But then the inevitable unraveling—already present in a slew of double faults as tentativeness crept into Jankovic’s game—fully took hold.

In a Serena-less final, Simonamania ran rampant in the stands if not on court. Chants of SEE-MOH-NAH ranged from confident to worried to triumphant while the quiet Romanian steadied her resolve if not always her game. “The action between the players’ boxes is a lot more exciting right now than the action between the players,” ESPN’s Pam Shriver remarked at one point. Aside from strong backhands, Halep and Jankovic are a study in contrasts. Nary a Jankovic match goes by without a laugh and an argument, and this one was no exception. As for Halep, even her fist pumps are compact and inward—stylish in the most low-key way.

Afterward, Jankovic delivered the more memorable speech, saying she and Halep were “running like two dogs left and right,” and going on to thank her hairdresser. But the hefty trophy belonged to Halep. The 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 marathon win was the biggest victory of her career, as the season approaches the surface—clay—where she first began her ascent in 2013, with a three-set win over an opponent named … Jelena Jankovic.


BNP Paribas Open: Hot Shots

As final Sunday approaches, it’s time for another installment of Hot Shots at the BNP Paribas Open. All photos below by Brent Bishop, unless otherwise noted.

Roger Federer

Novak Djokovic

Serena Williams (photo by Michael Weinstein)

Rafael Nadal

Milos Raonic. More Hot Shots after the jump: More »


BNP Paribas Open: The Buzz—Notes on the Big Four, the Top Two, and a Tournament of Tears

ALWAYS TRYING TO GET AN EDGE: Once in a while we get a hint of Fed‘s gamesmanship, like the time he first played Murray in a Slam final and remarked that a Brit hadn’t won a Slam in 150 years or so. Today, after Djokovic said he would be prepping for the final by changing diapers, Roger quipped it would be similar for him “times four.” BTW: Federer is a four-time winner at the BNP Paribas Open, while Djokovic is a three-time champion.

VICTORY JINX? The 2013 Wimbledon final was Andy Murray‘s biggest victory, but he hasn’t beaten Novak Djokovic since. Djokovic now leads their head-to-head 17-8, having won 9 of their last 10 matches. BTW: Since returning from his back injury, Murray is 0-11 against Djokovic, Federer and Nadal.

TOURNAMENT OF TEARS: The desert may be dry, but this year’s BNP Paribas Open has been defined by waterworks, from Serena‘s dramatic return to center court to Flavia Pennetta‘s emotional outburst before going on to beat Maria Sharapova. Ironically, one round later, Pennetta fell victim to the current WTA champ in the crying game, Sabine Lisicki.

CARRYING HIS CLAY COURT SHOES EVERYWHERE: Novak Djokovic told ESPN that winning the French Open “has been on the top of my priority list for a long time …. but I’m not going to put a lot of pressure on myself in the back of my mind. I think of it once in a while … I take my clay court shoes everywhere I go.”

GO FIGURE: Rafa Nadal hasn’t defeated a top 10 opponent since last year’s French Open.

WEARING HIS HEART ON HIS SLEEVE: Writer Ben Rothenberg asked Milos Raonic how he feels about the approaching one-year anniversary of his long-sleeve look on court. “The sleeve’s been loyal,” Raonic quipped. “It’s all you can ask for from a significant other, and it makes me feel good.”

IT’S BANANAS IN INDIAN WELLS: During his semifinal match at the BNP Paribas Open, Roger Federer once again had the woman who spelled “bananas” in a pop hit—Gwen Stefani—watching from the player box. And in the presser after his quarterfinal loss to Milos Raonic, Rafa Nadal used the popular nickname for his forehand down-the-line passing shot, referring to it as “the banana.”

BIG FOUR—OR TOP TWO? We were one point away from a Big Four semifinal lineup at the BNP Paribas Open, before Milos Raonic fought off Rafa Nadal. The last time the Big Four filled all the semifinal slots of an event was in 2012.

EVEN THE BEST ARE FLAWED: At a crucial point deep into their BNP Paribas Open quarterfinal, Rafa misjudged a Milos Raonic floater that landed in. The moment was reminiscent of Federer letting an Andreas Seppi shot pass him by on match point at this year’s Aussie Open.

NO LOVE LOST: Sabine Lisicki offered a frosty handshake to a smiling Jelena Jankovic at the conclusion of their BNP Paribas Open semifinal. Going into their match, when she was asked about Jankovic, she said, “I have nothing to say about Jelena. Sorry.”

NEITHER WOULD WE: A suddenly resurgent Jelena Jankovic said, “I wouldn’t [have] pick[ed] myself” to make the women’s final at the BNP Paribas Open.

KNOCKING METHODICALLY ON THE DOOR OF THE BIG FOUR: Rarely has tennis seen more intentionality in a career than with Milos Raonic. His parents moved from Montenegro to Canada without any jobs. He went onto train in Spain. He hired Ivan Ljubicic as a coach, and also hired a sports psychologist. He’s even methodical during changeovers, using a knee-tapping form of meridian zone therapy.

NO KIDDING: The Tennis Channel said Milos Raonic is a “cerebral player.” More »


BNP Paribas Open: Serena’s Fairytale Return to Indian Wells Comes to an Abrupt End

By Bill Simons

Once again, Billie Jean King got it right. Years ago, she claimed the Williams sisters provide “more drama, more bang for the buck, than anyone else in the sport.”

No kidding.

Simply put, these two can’t avoid controversy. Many in tennis sensed that some how, some way, Serena  would not get through her prodigal-like return to the desert without an odd twist or hefty bombshell.

But there was no problem when the teary Serena returned to Indian Wells’ center court after a 14-year absence. Fans welcomed her with adoring applause, and a generous shower of love.

Phew, there were no boos or catcalls—such a feel-good moment. Serena thne adeptly avoided disaster during two of her four matches as she got off to sluggish starts against Monica Niculescu and Sloane Stephens before rallying to avoid what anticlimactic losses.

But, the most observed week in recent tennis history came to an abrupt, jarring halt  just after the 2010 Indian Wells champion, Jelena Jankovic, reached the final. After all, controversy all but stalks Ms. Williams. What other athlete has gotten embroiled in such continued turmoil?

Before we even really knew her, Serena’s dad Richard insisted that she would not only be better than her older sister Venus, she would be the No. 1 player in the world. Then, as a 19 year old, the kid with the big grin on her face and the beads in her hair was berated by an unhappy Indian Wells crowd. Then against Justine Henin at the 2003 French Open into a nasty spat with Justine Henin, while a series of terrible calls during Serena’s 2004 US Open match against Jennifer Capriati soon led to the introduction of Hawk-Eye.

Five years later on the same court, Serena shouted at a US Open linesperson that she wished she could “take this —-ing ball and shove it down your —-ing throat,” and then in her next US Open, she messed up her surging comeback against Samantha Stosur when she yelled “C’mon” in the middle of a point. The list goes on. After she was dumped by an NFL her play surged and she had the best stretch of her career. But then her half-sister was murdered and in 2010, Serena wrecked her foot when she stepped on a glass in a Munich bar, and went on to overcome a related pulmonary embolism.

Not surprisingly, another bizarre chapter of the Serena saga would be written. Tonight Serena came out on court and announced she had withdrawn from her much-anticipated semi against the formidable Simona Halep, who had crushed her five months ago in Singapore. If last Friday was, as Stacey Allaster suggested, Serena’s “Martin Luther King moment,” tonight somehow brought to mind the day King himself decided amidst great controversy to tell demonstrators to retreat from Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge because conditions were not right.

We all know King had a dream. This was a nightmare. Just after a delirious Jankovic told the crowd, “I could jump up and down, I am so happy” the fans would not be so happy. Serena’s jolly fairy tale soon turned sour. Yes, the PA announcer Andrew Krazny was all but beaming when he referred to Serena as being triumphant and courageous. “Welcome home and welcome back to Indian Wells,” he said. The unsuspecting crowd cheered mightily.

Then, with little clarity, he told the crowd that he was going to embarrass Serena and told them that a few hours ago, when she was on her way to get an MRI on her knee, “You said to the driver, turn around and come back here …. so you could … talk to your fans … about what was going on. I envy that courage, and we love you Serena.”

Some booing rained down amid the cheers. Then Serena said, “Yeah, a couple of days ago in my practice I really injured my knee, and I fought through it and just kept playing. Today I was struggling to just even walk. It was really sad, because … four months ago I decided to start this journey and come back here at a place where I had so much success. And it has been a wonderful journey. And I have to say that I am so excited … I was able to come out here and build so many wonderful new memories. I can only promise to come back next year and play on this court … It will be my pleasure. Thank you so much.”

The announcer then gushed, “Serena, on behalf of everybody here at Indian Wells, we wish you a speedy recovery. We love you. This is always home, and know there is always an invitation for you.”

Fans again cheered. Kids cried out to the departing champion, “We love you so much!” Explanations were made, while the Tennis Channel quickly aired a biography of Sloane Stephens, and ESPN began replays of this afternoon’s no-nonsense men’s semis.

“Not a storybook ending at all—rats,” quipped Mary Carillo. But if the handling of the debacle 14 years ago was far too sour, and the handling of this year’s pullout was a too sugary sweet. It was all shaped into a package with an upbeat PR spin. But Serena’s withdrawal was just too eerie to be packaged in an “all is swell, hunky dory” ‘tude. Fourteen years ago, a Williams sister had pulled out of what had promised to be a dramatic semi against a formidable foe because of a knee injury. Now the other Williams sister had done the same thing. Go figure.

Certainly there was no evidence of foul play or deception. But considering the context and the coincidence, the handling of the situation could have been far more sober and less celebratory.

This was not a good moment for Williams, for tennis, or sports. No, this was not being told that Pete Rose had bet on on baseball, that Lance Armstrong won all those Tour de France races while being juiced up, or that Barry Bonds had set the home run record after reportedly taking gobs of steroids.

Serena didn’t cheat. Unless you are like the legendary Willis Reed, who played his final NBA game on one leg, an athlete cannot complete while injured. Many had wondered about Serena’s knee before and during the tournament. In her press conference, Williams said she felt a sharp pain while serving in practice a couple of days ago, that she had a great deal of inflammation, that she got a cortisone shot, and her recovery should only be a matter of two or three days.

Still, tonight there just didn’t seem to be a sense of true sorrow, a feeling of genuine remorse. Yes, as Serena said after her first match, she did not have to hold up the trophy here. She had won already just by showing up. But this withdrawal, no matter how sensible, left a shadow. Questions lingered. A magical moment, a story of redemption, that we all had just embraced, now seemed far less wondrous.

Then again, with Serena there’s always a twist.


BNP Paribas Open: The Buzz—Of Fame, Frogs and Forehands

LUCKY SEVEN: Going into this year’s BNP Paribas Open, German grass stalwart Sabine Lisicki hadn’t won a match at Indian Wells in six attempts. Now she’s in the semifinals after a dramatic marathon win over 2014 champ Flavia Pennetta, in which Pennetta fought off a match point in the second set and Lisicki fought off three match points in the third.

IS GREED GOOD? Canadian Milos Raonic said the difference between himself and his siblings is that he’as “definitely more greedy.”

THAT’S A LOT OF VISUALIZING: Canada’s Genie Bouchard, 21, says she’s visualized winning Wimbledon from a very early age.

OH, THE WHIMS OF POPULARITY CONTESTS: Awards in tennis are a whole other conversation, but let’s just say that it’s absurd that Sergi Bruguera (who won 2 Grand Slams and was ranked No. 3 in the world), Yevgeny Kafelnikov (who won 2 Slams and was No. 4 in the world) and the strong, characterful Mary Pierce (who won 2 Slams and reached No. 3 in the world) are not in the Hall of Fame. There’s just no explanation for this foolishness, except to say the election system is somehow flawed.

FAME OR FOREHAND? Rather than having Rafael Nadal‘s universal fame, fellow Spaniard David Ferrer would prefer to be blessed with Rafa’s topspin forehand, which Ferrer says “is perfect for clay.”

ANDY’S INDISCRETION: After his recent superb Davis Cup triumph, Andy Murray was less than superb in his post-match interview with the BBC, where out of nowhere he said that Britain’s doubles player Dom Inglot “got a little girlfriend on the go here in Glasgow. He’s maybe celebrating with her this evening.” Inglot then intervened and said, “I’ve actually got a girlfriend [at home] who’s going to be watching this.”

AMELIE THE GREAT: Serve and volleyer Amelie Mauresmo charged the net and also tennis convention. The openly gay two-time Slam champ and former No. 1  will be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame this July. Highly appealing, she always seemed to be drawing our attention:

• After winning Wimbledon in 2006, Mauresmo suffered a horrendous slump. She went on to say, “I am emotional. I am sensitive. I am extreme. Also, I am aware that I am intelligent, and that’s why I’m asking myself questions. Unfortunately I’ve been struggling to find clear answers, and for months it was agony to play tennis.”

• When three knife-wielding thugs tried to mug Mauresmo and her then-girlfriend Sylvia Bourdon on a Caribbean beach, Mauresmo punched them out.

• Asked how she could prevent having another disappointing French Open, Mauresmo once replied, “Clear my head, have a brain graft.”

• In a futile effort to finally win Roland Garros, Mauresmo added Yannick Noah as a coach just before the French Open, which prompted writer Lisa Dillman to wonder, “What’s next? Channeling the spirit of Suzanne Lenglen?”

AS SHAKESPEARE SAID—IN RATHER A BAD MOMENT—KILL ALL THE LAWYERS: Ana Ivanovic, whose mother is a lawyer, said maybe it was a disadvantage that both of Madison Keys‘ parents are lawyers,  because “you can think too much out there.” BTW: Ivanovic said in comparison to the American lifestyle, she likes the spontaneity of Serbian culture, but conceded that maybe people could work harder in her country.

LOOK WHO’S HITTING THE WALL: Caroline Wozniacki said that deep into the New York Marathon, she hit the wall, telling reporters, “Yes, there is a wall.” Having said that—no it doesn’t bother Wozniacki that over the years scores of her frustrated foes have often likened her to a wall.

A RARE RUSSIAN SOUTHPAW: Left-handed Ekaterina Makarova says there are far more lefties in American than in Russia, because “after World War II, children [in Russia] were encouraged to be right-handed.”

HE’S HAD IT AND HE ISN’T GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE: During one uninspired TV broadcast, Kevin Ware said he’d “rather watch Cougar Town than listen o the constant rambling before, during, or after a tennis match.”

KIDS SAY  THE WISEST THINGS: Wake Forest freshman and Wimbledon junior champion Noah Rubin asked, “Why do people keep looking forward to the next event when it means you will never enjoy the now?”

SAY IT ISN’T SO: Georgia coach Manny Diaz shared a study that showed that since 1970, 74 Division I men’s tennis programs were dropped, 78 Division II programs fell to the wayside, and 51 Division III programs were abandoned.

A WHALE OF A POINT: After reading Moby Dick, the WTA’s foremost literary critic Andrea Petkovic tweeted, “Um, Herman [Melville], you wrote 860 pages of a book to introduce Moby Dick on page 821, and you finish everybody off in less than 40 pages?”

OF FROGS AND FOREHANDS: Now that fishing fanatic John Isner has a b ig contract with Bass Pro Shops, it might somehow be appropriate to recall that writer Christopher Clarey once said, “Tiebreakers are to John Isner what ponds are to frogs.”

A MONUMENTAL MAN: Esteemed writer Richard Evans wrote, “When I lived in Richmond, VA, I found it difficult to drive past Arthur Ashe‘s statue without getting a lump in my throat. Compared with the huge, preposterously imposing statues of Confederate generals that adorn long stretches of Monument Avenue, Arthur’s statue is relatively small, but no less emotive.” Evans added that former Richmond mayor and Virginia governor Douglas Wilder deserves credit for getting Ashe “there in the face of fierce opposition from those who think that Confederate generals are still important—and there are plenty of them in Richmond—and Arthur would have thanked him for that. But I am not sure having a statue of himself in his hometown would have been high on his list of posthumous priorities.”

Photos by Brent Bishop and Michael Weinstein.


BNP Paribas Open: The Buzz—Big Bans, Big Toolboxes and Flying Cars

STRIKE UP THE BIG BAN: American pro Wayne Odesnik has been hit with a 15-year ban after the second doping violation of his career. Odesnik was ranked No. 267 in the world, but the question of the day for the top men’s players at the BNP Paribas Open was what they thought of the news.

Andy Murray offered the sharpest—and longest—remarks. “[It's] probably deserved,” Murray said. “I think it’s a good thing … He clearly was taking something and trying to get an advantage … We don’t want that being part of the tour … He’s been linked to a number of people that have been involved in doping presently and in the past and surrounded himself with those people, so I can’t say I’m surprised … It’s good that he’s off the tour now.”

Rafa Nadal was unaware of Odesnik’s ban before he was asked about it. “If somebody is not doing the right thing, he’s obviously—they cannot be playing,” he said.

“I only heard it this morning, like all of you guys, I guess,” said Roger Federer. “What do you want me to tell you? I think it’s good you catch guys who do things they shouldn’t be doing. Players and athletes should know if they cheat, they get caught, I guess. That’s the moral of the story here.”

In the end, a harsh tweet from Murray may have trumped all the remarks from the press room. “Bye bye Wayne … Good riddance,” he wrote.

THE BIGGEST TOOLBOX IN TENNIS: While reflecting on the Jack Sock vs. Roger Federer match, Jim Courier said Sock “will succeed despite his technique, just like I did.” As for figuring out and breaking down Sock’s game, Courier said, “You saw Federer going to his toolbox, and I’m not sure that there’s been a bigger toolbox in tennis history.”

A LINGERING MYSTERY: We still don’t know what really prompted Flavia Pennetta to tear up doing her fourth-round match. The pressure of defending her title and knowing that at 33, her retirement is “close”? Another educated guess is that it had something to do with her romance with Fabio Fognini. After all, she wrote a book titled Dritto al Cuore (Straight From the Heart) that details her breakup with Carlos Moya.

EIGHT HUNDRED TIMES IS NOT ENOUGH: While commentating the round-of-16 match between Tomas Berdych and Lukas Rosol, the Tennis Channel’s Brett Haber was complimented for cleverly noting that they were “Czechmates,” at which point he admitted, “I’m about the 800th guy to come up with that.”

A TALE OF TWO SEXES: Going into the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Open, only two of the top 10 seeded women—Serena and Simona Halep—were still in the draw, while six of the top 10 men remained.

JUST WONDERING: Will the Big 4—Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray—all meet in the semis?

NEW BALLS PLEASE? The stat sheets at this year’s BNP Paribas Open haven’t been pretty, with unforced errors outnumbering winners in a large percentage of matches. Never shy about voicing his opinion or lobbing a criticism, Rafa Nadal put forth one theory after his third-round win: it’s the balls. “During the day, especially, the ball is like you are touching a stone. There is no feeling for the ball. I see a lot of player[s] having a lot of mistakes … and that’s not good for our sport. But that’s what we have today. We have that ball. I think [the] ATP and [the] fans deserve a better ball to have a better show.”

DIFFERENT STROKES: Bernard Tomic is the last Aussie standing after his round-of-16 defeat of countryman Thanasi Kokkinakis. “You have to be different. You have to play for yourself,” Tomic told Tennis Channel’s Justin Gimelstob after the win.

SWISS PRIDE: About the comeback of fellow Swiss player Timea Bacsinszky, who is rocketing up the rankings after almost retiring a few years ago at the age of 22, Roger Federer said, “She has great potential, and I’m so happy for her now … It’s an unbelievable story, actually.”

LIVING ON SWISS TIME: Mary Carillo asked, “How amazing is Roger Federer? How does he have the time to do what he does?”

SERENA’S FUTURE: During her return to Indian Wells, Serena has been serious and even a bit reserved, but there were some moments of wit in her press conference after reaching the semifinals. Asked how, years ago, she’d envisioned herself in 2015, she said,  “I don’t know if I ever thought that far in advance. I mean, if you look at Back to the Future, [in] 2015 people were flying in cars. (Laughter.) So maybe I thought I would be in a flying car. (Laughter.)” BTW: Turns out Serena is a fan of Crispin Glover‘s character in the series—she says the first film is her favorite “because I like the dad. He was the ultimate, like, nerd.”

Photos by Brent Bishop.


BNP Paribas Open: The Buzz—Intense Verbal Volleys, and Tears of Victory

IS MOHAMED TOO AGGRESSIVE? Attention Islamists—this item is not meant to offend: After chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani made some overzealous calls during the Thanasi Kokkinakis-Juan Monaco match, Paul Annacone asked, “Is Mohamed too aggressive?”

WATCHING TV WITH DAD: When Serena Williams was asked about her next opponent Timea Bacsinszky—who’s won all of her matches here from a set down—her answer gave some insight into the viewing habits of the Williams household. “Because she’s been winning so much I have been able to see her play a lot,” Serena said. “At home hanging out with my dad we kind of watch Tennis Channel all the time … What I think most about her is she never gives up. She’ll be down … and you’ll turn the channel and come back and she’s won the match. I think that is a wonderful quality to have.”

GOOD WORK: “I’m just loving my job,” a tearful Timea Bacsinszky said after winning her fifteenth match in a row to advance to the quarters at the BNP Paribas Open. Her job is about to get a lot harder—her next opponent is Serena Williams.

INTENSE VERBAL VOLLEYS: It started innocently enough, when Flavia Pennetta was tearing up on court early in her match against Maria Sharapova. Mary Carillo quipped, “[Maria's] not going to walk up to net and say, Can I get you a cup of tea? Do you want to talk about it?” Later Tennis Channel’s Jim Courier said It was hard on Sharapova to deal with an opponent having emotional trouble. But Lindsay Davenport followed up by saying she wasn’t sure if Sharapova knew what was going on and she would not let Pennetta effect her either way. Then a not very happy Courier replied, “Thanks for swatting my idea away. That’s why we don’t work together too much.”

Later Courier said to Davenport, “I was just listening to your soliloquy. I’m going off headset. I can’t believe you know the meaning of the word soliloquy.” Davenport then circled her wagons and said, “You’re on fire right now.”

TEARFUL VICTORS: On Tuesday night at the BNP Paribas Open, the winners—Flavia Pennetta, Timea Bacsinszky—cried, while the losers remained dry-eyed.

LOVE GAMES: For those keeping score, BNP Paribas Open defending champ Flavia Pennetta won after her boyfriend Fabio Fognini finally showed up to watch her. Maria Sharapova and her boyfriend Grigor Dimitrov lost their matches within ten minutes of each other.

HARD BALL: Jelena Jankovic said Madison Keys, who she beat in three sets, “hits the hardest ball on the tour … they were like bombs.”

WE DON’T THINK THEY’RE FOOLING ANYBODY: Thirty-year-old veteran Jelena Jankovic said she has “my little braids to make me stay young.”

IT’S ALWAYS FUN TO INVENT A NEW WORD: Paul Annacone said Bernard Tomic has “Murrayesque” court sense.

TEENAGE DREAMS: For the first time since 2007, there are eight teenagers in the ATP top 200. In order, they are: Nick Kyrgios (19, No. 37), Borna Coric (18, No. 60), Hyeon Chung (18, No. 122), Thanasi Kokkinakis (18, No. 124), Alexander Zverev (17, No. 136), Yoshihito Nishioka (19, No. 147) , Jared Donaldson (18, No. 174), and Elias Ymer (18, No. 190).

GO FIGURE: Serena goes into her quarterfinal with an 11-match winning streak, but her opponent, Timea Bacszinsky has won 15 matches in a row … Thanasi Kokkinakis would have won his match against Juan Monaco when a Monaco shot was out, but the ball was called in and the Aussie was all out of challenges. He had to go into a tiebreak before finally prevailing.

A CERTAIN CLAY LOOK: Ted Robinson said Juan Monaco “just looks like a clay courter. There’s a certain look.”

THE CLASSICS: There are no great players from Greece right now, but there’ve certainly been some great players with Greek heritage: Pete Sampras, Mark Philippousis, Marcos Baghdatis, and now Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis.

AUSSIE ALERT: While reflecting on Australia’s stunning Davis Cup win over the Czech Republic, the fabulous run of Nick Kyrgios at the Aussie Open, and the arrival into the round of 16 of Thanasi Kokkinakis and Bernard Tomic, Jim Courier said, “The Aussies aren’t just coming, they’re here.”

RAFA ON CLIMATE CHANGE: Asked about the dry heat in Indian Wells in relationship to the humid conditions in Australia and Rio, Rafa Nadal remarked, “It’s always a little bit warmer [here] than a few years ago.” But he added that it’s “difficult to find a place with better conditions” than Indian Wells.

IT’S MORE THAN BEING TALL: It’s not just that John Isner and Ivo Karlovic are each 6’10′ tall—both have tremendous reach.

JUST TOO FASCINATING: Eavesdropping on on-court coaching has evolved into one of the most fascinating parts of watching women’s tennis on TV. Now should men’s tennis do it, too?

HATS ENTERTAINMENT: At the start of her post-match presser after losing to Serena, Sloane Stephens noted the large number of people in the press room and asked, “You guys like my hat?”

SAY MY NAME, SAY MY NAME: In pressers before and after her match with Serena Williams, Sloane Stephens repeatedly referred to Serena as “the No. 1 player in the world” rather than by her name.

ANNACONE ON ANA: After Ana Ivanovic delivered an incredibly errant service toss but still managed to whack a wonderful serve, Paul Annacone quipped, “Ana basically hit that ball from San Diego.”

FASTER THAN THE SPEED OF SIGHT: When a desperate Sloane Stephens challenged an ace by Serena Williams that was in by a country mile, a Tennis Channel commentator remarked, “Maybe she just didn’t see the serve.”

TOUGH OPPONENTS, TOUGH QUESTION: If Serena Williams wins this year’s BNP Paribas Open, she’ll have won the event more than any other woman, and her titles in Indian Wells will span 16 years—she first won here in 1999. So Serena was asked who—besides Venus—is the toughest opponent she’s faced. “I have played so many great players, from Hingis to Davenport, Monica, Steffi,” Serena said, after protesting that the question wasn’t fair. “It’s a weird position. I have been able to play so many different generations that I don’t think I could just give one answer. Henin [was] amazing.”

CHANGING CHANGEOVERS: Nothing’s supposed to happen during changeovers, aside from Rafa fussing with his bottles. But actually there’s a long tradition of happenings during the obligatory break. Arthur Ashe used to meditate. Jim Courier read a book. And of course there was the infamous bump between Venus Williams and Irina Spirlea at the 1997 US Open. More recently, a jet-lagged Serena Williams asked for an espresso after a slow start during Hopman Cup. But in just the last day or so at the BNP Paribas Open, Juan Monaco repeatedly stood on the strings of his racket to try and loosen their tension against Thanasi Kokkinakis, and Milos (“I’ll leave not stone unturned) Raonic crossed his arms and tapped his knees in what was said to be a meridian stress relief exercise. Most dramatically, an emotional Flavia Pennetta left the court between sets against Maria Sharapova.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Timea Bacsinszky‘s press conference began with Mary Carillo asking, “Why are you so damn good now?”

PERMISSION GRANTED: When famously outspoken Mary Carillo asked her broadcast partner, “Can I go on a little rant?”, Lindsay Davenport succinctly replied, “Always.”

Photos by Brent Bishop.


BNP Paribas Open: The Buzz—Twitter Tactics, Djokovic the Dancer, and What Makes Maria and Vika Special

VIKA—STRAIGHT OUTTA BELARUS: Going into their third-round match, Vika Azarenka was asked what makes Maria Sharapova special. “I don’t know. You have to ask her parents,” Vika answered, to some laughter. But IT followed up by noting that Sharapova’s father, Yuri Sharapov, has said Maria was born to be a champion. We asked if Vika’s athleticism and competitive drive came from her family. “I think my character was built from where I’m from, from Belarus,” Vika said. “I didn’t have a really easy background. All those experiences that I had, coming from a family who didn’t have pretty much any money, to be able to sit here and play in front of the crowd, it’s a long way to go … So I don’t know if my parents knew I was born a champion, but my parents always want[ed] me to fulfill my dreams and be on the tennis court winning majors, being No. 1 in the world. That was my dream.”

THE VIKA OF NIKE’S LABORS: At the Australian Open, Vika Azarenka‘s bright tennis-ball yellow outfits were a topic of conversation, with some naysayers claiming they should be considered a hindrance. Here at Indian Wells, her color spectrum has shifted, and she offered some wry insights about her Nike wear: “I think I’m getting dressed as every kind of fruit this year. It was a lemon in Australia; now it’s orange. We will see.”

DOG DAYS: At Maria Sharapova‘s post-match press conference on Saturday, the first question wasn’t about her next opponent Vika Azarenka, but about traveling with her dog. For the record: Maria only travels inside the US with her pet because she thinks international travel “would be quite difficult for any dog.”

NOVAK NIJINSKY: Of the Big Four, free-flowing, nimble-footed Roger Federer is the one who gets the most Rudolf Nureyev comparisons. But it turns out that gymnastic Novak Djokovic is the one who has actually taken a ballet lesson, recently joining his wife Jelena Gencic. “I really enjoyed [the] ballet session we had,” Djokovic said. “People underestimate what ballet dancers are doing and how much effort and energy they put [into] creating such a gracious and beautiful-looking moves. It’s really an art.”

SLOANE THROWS A BLOCK PARTY: After a long dry spell, Sloane Stephens is winning again. And she’s talking again. Following Sloane’s third-round victory at Indian Wells, a large part of her press conference was devoted to the subject of quelling Twitter wars with diehard fans of her next opponent, Serena Williams. “Oh, they hate me,” Stephens said, when asked about Serena fans who see red at the mention of her name. “They are the first people to get blocked on my Twitter. I am the queen of blocking. Okay? You say one bad thing, I block … There is no room for negativity … [If] it comes to the point where you’re on Twitter saying mean things about someone else …What [are] you actually doing with your life? Like is this your day job, or how does that work? … I have a lot of other things going on. It’s okay that people don’t like me on Twitter. I will live.”

ANDY THE STAN: Twitter is a different kind of praise tent for Andy Murray, who has tweeted kind words about young players such as Caroline Garcia. Most recently he’s used Twitter to tout the talent of American teen Taylor Townsend and Australia’s Thanasi Kokkinakis. “I just really enjoy watching her play,” Murray said of Townsend. “I think she has a great personality … an exciting game. She goes for her shots. She plays slightly different to everyone else.”

BUT WHAT ABOUT FLAVIA OF LOVE? During a humorous discussion of Sam Querrey‘s recent appearance on The Millionaire Matchmaker, Madison Keys was asked who else from the ATP tour should be on the show. “Get someone funny,” Keys suggested. ”Get [Fabio] Fognini on there or something.”

FINE TIMEA: With two top-ten wins to her name this year, Switzerland’s Timea Bacsinszky has now won 14 matches in a row—sweeping a pair of WTA events in Mexico—and she’s 19-2 overall in 2015. The 25-year-old Bacsinszky is into the fourth round here at Indian Wells—no small thing, since she considered retiring a few years back. “Maybe I’m like a good wine—with time, I’m better,” she joked after her first title this year.


BNP Paribas Open: Hot Shots

Photographers Brent Bishop and Michael Weinstein are on site working with Inside Tennis at this year’s BNP Paribas Open. Below (and after the jump), we share some of our favorite shots so far at this year’s tournament:

Maria Sharapova. Photo by Michael Weinstein.

Marin Cilic. Photo by Brent Bishop.

Photo by Brent Bishop.

Photo by Michael Weinstein.

Ana Ivanovic. Photo by Brent Bishop. Additional photos from “BNP Paribas Open: Hot Shots” after the jump. More »


BNP Paribas Open: The Buzz—Talk of New Stadiums, Dangerous Cooking and Ample Tears

By Bill Simons

THIRD STADIUM FOR INDIAN WELLS: The Indian Wells Tennis Garden—site of the BNP Paribas Open—is by far the best tennis facility in the world. And according to sources, look for the palatial site to add a third stand-alone stadium, Court 3, on the site of the current temporary Stadium 3. The new venue reportedly will be under 8,000 seats and will feature (of course) a restaurant, as well as a museum that could become a huge fan favorite.

WHAT A DIFFERENCE 14 YEARS MAKES: Serena‘s Indian Wells treatment then, Serena’s Indian Wells treatment now.

PRESS ROOM DIALOG OF THE DAY: A press handler approached two well-traveled journalists in the media center and asked, “What are you two gentleman talking about? Such a wealth of experience.” One of the reporters replied, “Experience yes, wealth no.”

T-SHIRT OF THE TOURNEY: Amelie Mauresmo‘s message: “Gym is my new boyfriend.”

FIGHTING WORDS: When referring to the ITF’s claim that Davis Cup play is a success, Rafa Nadal said, “It’s a lie.”

CURIOUS QUESTIONS:

Mary Carillo jokingly asked Lindsay Davenport whether she was going to give her pupil Madison Keys illegal signals from her seat. During Madison’s first match, when Davenport went down on court, she was greeted by applause.

Aga Radwanska, who is coached by Martina Navratilova, was asked, “Murray is also coached by a woman. Is that good for humanity?”

Radwanska was also asked, “What is the best part of being coached by Martina, and what is the worst part? Is she annoying?

CAUTION—PETKOVIC’S COOKING MAY BE DANGEROUS TO YOUR HEALTH: A while ago, German Andrea Petkovic tweeted, “I am cooking and it’s amazing and everybody’s excited and we will all die soon and probably maybe for certain.”

A COMPARISON FOR THE AGES: Here’s a provocative comparison: Left-handed broadcaster Mary Carillo said 18-year old lefty Taylor Townsend reminded her of France’s long-retired left-handed shotmaker Henri Leconte.

HER MARTIN LUTHER KING MOMENT: A few weeks ago, WTA chief Stacey Allaster told Serena that the day when she returned to Indian Wells after 14 years would be her “Martin Luther King moment.”

REFLECTION ON A TRAGEDY: Simona Halep dedicated her first victory at this year’s BNP Paribas Open to a cousin who recently committed suicide in Constanta, Romania. She said the suicide was a tragedy, but it was best for her play Indian Wells.

LOOK WHAT’S IN ROGER’S REAR VIEW MIRROR: Federer said that if Rafa “wins the French Open a few more times, and I don’t win anymore, then clearly he can catch me very quickly.”

QUOTE OF THE TOURNEY SO FAR: After the first match of her return to Indian Wells, Serena said, “I feel like I have already won the tournament.”

THAT’S A LOT OF TEARS: Madison Keys said that when Serena stepped back onto the court on Friday night, “half the crowd was probably crying.”

GATEWAY REALITY SHOW: Madison Keys said that Sam Querrey thought being on the reality show Millionaire Matchmaker was “a gateway into The Bachelor … which is his lifelong dream. He was all excited about it.”

FISH ARE JUMPING: The feel-good story on the men’s side of the Indian Wells tourney is the return, after 18 months, of Mardy Fish. Fish said he didn’t recognize 30% of the players in the locker room.

BEST FISH JOKE: John Isner said that his new sponsors at Bass Pro Shops “have a lot of hook-ups.”

HIGH PRAISE: Mats Wilander said that Serena Williams‘s initial press conference in Indian Wells was the best press conference in history.

MR. PERFECT: Roger Federer plays tennis with more grace and success than any other human being in history. As the father of two sets of twins, it’s also said that he even reproduces better than the rest of us. Now, Federer told the New York Times that despite sometimes bothersome back problems, last year he didn’t get any shots, confiding, “I was just praying I didn’t have to take it … [I have] never had to take a shot in my life.”

GO FIGURE: Spaniard David Ferrer won two titles in two weeks, and Federer and Nadal won titles in the same week … Practice sessions at Indian Wells draw a lot more fans then many matches on the circuit … Four former women’s No. 1 players were on outer courts on the first Saturday.

NOVAK’S DESERT VACATION: New dad Novak Djokovic, who has his wife, his son, two dogs and assorted coaches and handlers with him in the desert, said he felt that talking to the press was like a vacation and that his dogs are like his children.


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