The BNP Paribas Open emerged among scores of other tournaments to become, outside of the four majors, by far the most successful tourney in the world. It offers a bounty of delights.
It’s played at an inviting resort destination. Its time slot is perfect. As frigid winter winds blow fierce, who wouldn’t want to escape to a sunny paradise? While local authorities were rough on the Miami Open, the City of Indian Wells was a generous partner. More to the point, the BNPPO founders – Charlie Pasarell and Ray Moore – were former pros with deep connections, adept sensibilities, wide-ranging business skills, and inside-the-boardroom political savvy. Here were bold, risk-taking visionaries who built three wonderful venues, saved the tourney from being shipped overseas, and hired a superb manager, Steve Simon. They attracted and retained a great French sponsor. Eventually, they sold the tourney to the world’s most tennis-friendly billionaire who promptly took it to a whole new level few would have imagined.
There were bumps in the road. Aren’t there always? Now Indian Wells is a must-see experience. It’s been so good it’s forced competitors, like the Miami and US Opens, to upgrade or face embarrassment. It’s shined so bright that it’s made others seem modest, which probably contributed to the demise of tourneys in LA, Carson, San Diego, San Jose, Vegas, and Scottsdale.
To his great credit, Larry Ellison has invested like no other owner. Indian Wells was the first to have Hawkeye on all courts. Men and women are both in action and great doubles are encouraged. If you win both the singles and doubles, you pocket a million bucks.
Indian Wells is a tennis theme park. Its soccer lawn provides a game within a game. Here, getting a Federer autograph or spotting Rafa topless is its own odyssey. The BNPPO was the first to make practice courts a heady destination. About 2,500 will gather to watch Roger prepare. And the tourney introduced courtside “munch-while-you-watch” gourmet eateries. It has ample, stroll-easy spaces, plentiful palms, many a venue for retail therapy and massive viewing screens. Its player restaurant is a gathering spot like no other. The BNPPO is a player favorite. Who’d want to pass on this much fun? Here’s the second biggest stadium in the world, and, after the four majors, it draws more folks than any other tourney. Plus, with the Santa Rosa and Chocolate mountains on its horizons, it boasts the most astonishing sunsets in the game.
Here’s a potpourri of factoids, memories, and magic.
NAME THAT STADIUM: If Indian Wells’ blandly named Stadium 1 is ever given its proper name – Pasarell Stadium – the two biggest tennis stadiums in the world would be named after a pair of UCLA roommates – Charlie Pasarell and Arthur Ashe.
GOD BLESS AMERICA: The last two Americans to win the singles were Serena and Agassi in ‘01. The Americans with the most titles are Connors and Michael Chang, with three each.
NOT FOR EUROPEANS ONLY: Last year Osaka was the first Asian and first Haitian to win and the first non-European woman to prevail since ’01. Del Potro was the first non-European man to win since ‘01. Yannick Noah is the only winner reared in Africa. Russian women have been in the doubles final in six of the last seven years. When Flavia Pennetta won in ’14, some called the tourney “Italian Wells.”
GO FIGURE: After Kayla Day beat Garbine Muguruza, she revealed that her dog was named after Garbine…In ’89 Miloslav Mecir became the last player to win an ATP tourney with a wooden racket…As a high school junior, Sampras collected the first of his 762 wins when he saved five match points to beat Ramesh Krishnan…’94 doubles champ Pat Galbraith is the only USTA President with an Indian Wells title …BNPPO boss Tommy Haas became the first tournament director to win a tour-level match and the former No. 2 had the highest ranking of any circuit tournament director since Jack Kramer…The husband and wife duo with the best record is Agassi and Graf, who won three titles. But that’s nothing. They won 11 Miami crowns…Last year’s men’s final featured two of the game’s most beloved men – Federer and Del Potro.
COACHES CORNER: Federer and his coach Ivan Ljubicic, Djokovic and his former coach Boris Becker, Marcelo Rios and his coach Larry Stefanki all have singles titles. Carlos Moya, the coach of three-time champ Nadal, became No. 1 and reached the finals. Stefanki coached Andy Roddick, who reached a singles final and won the doubles.
BEST MATCH: Yannick Noah’s emotional David-takes-it-to-Goliath win over Ivan Lendl at the La Quinta stadium in ‘82 was the most passionate win in the history of the tourney. As foot-stomping fans shook the makeshift stadium, the dreamy French hunk broke Ivan’s 44 match and eight tournament winning streaks.
WINNERS CIRCLE: John Newcombe was the first man to win the tourney. Federer and Djokovic have won a record five times. Manuela Maleeva was the first woman winner. Nine women have won twice: Serena, Navratilova, Graf, Sharapova, Davenport, Mary Joe Fernández, Kim Clijsters, Daniela Hantuchova, and Vika Azarenka.
BEST PLAYERS TO NEVER WIN: Men – Laver, Borg, Lendl, McEnroe, Murray, Wawrinka, Ashe, Safin, Wilander, Kuerten. Women – Evert, Venus, Sabatini, Capriati, Mauresmo, Novotna, Kuznetsova, Kvitova, Li Na, Kerber, Muguruza.
BEST UPSET: Greg Holmes’ win over Jimmy Connors in ‘85. “The Jimmy Connors Open,” wrote Mike Penner, “got closed down, as its star was waylaid by [a member of] Upsetters Anonymous.”
JUST WONDERING: Where would the tournament be without Larry Ellison…Does any tennis tournament have so many great restaurants, pools, golf courses, spas and resorts so close by?
AND NOW FOR A COMMERCIAL BREAK: After winning the title, Justine Henin told IT, “I know impossible is nothing.” Adidas promptly made the quip the centerpiece of their global “Impossible Is Nothing” campaign…The theme of a City of Indian Wells ad campaign was, “There are some people who believe happiness does not have to come from within.” Past tourney sponsors include American Air, Congoleum, Grand Marnier, Pilot Pen, Virginia Slims, Matrix, State Farm, Newsweek, and Pacific Life.
HAZIEST CRYSTAL BALL: One writer who was sure Martina Hingis would win the ’02 final wrote, “The 21-year-old Swiss woman is far too wise and experienced to be extended by an 18-year-old from Slovakia playing in her first WTA final.” Daniela Hantuchova won easily.
LEST WE FORGET: Alan King, Charlie’s Restaurant, opulent cars parked at the Grand Champions stadium entrance, Barbara Sinatra, Breakfast with Charlie.
SERENA’S MARTIN LUTHER KING MOMENT: During her 14-year boycott, Serena insisted it would “take an act of God” for her to return. Then in ’15, when she finally announced she would, Chris Bowers wrote, “If she got a standing ovation it would be a massive moment in the evolution of human dignity.” Beforehand, WTA CEO Stacey Allaster told her, “This is one of those historic moments…This is your Martin Luther King moment.” She was showered with cheers – some said half the crowd was in tears. Serena said the ’01 final “was not the best moment.” She added, “I can’t begin to tell you what this means.” After Azarenka beat her in the ‘16 final, Vika told Serena, “I know how emotional it was for you [to play here]. I was inspired by your commitment. You’re an amazing competitor. You changed our game. Without seeing how hard you work, I wouldn’t have come back.”
FISHY FACT: Three tourney winners adore fishing – Rafa, Michael Chang, and Miloslav Mecir.
SAY IT ISN’T SO: For years the women’s tournament was named after Chris Evert, but she only played the tourney once…For 12 years Newsweek was the sponsor, but they never had any quality coverage.
MOMENTS WE’D RATHER FORGET: The debacle in ‘01 when 19-year-old Serena was booed for over two hours. The day a tourney exec said things that were not respectful of women. The night a fundraiser for Haiti went awry as Agassi and Sampras trash-talked. The time Michael Chang suffered a wretched leg injury on a wet practice court. And let’s not even talk about the heat, dust storms, and cancellations due to rain.
CELEBRITY SIGHTINGS: Johnny Carson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Bill Gates, Mike Wallace, Gwen Stefani, Will Ferrell, Gladys Knight, Hilary Swank, and Mike Tyson.
POST-MATCH PRANKS: After losing in the ’17 final, the teary-eyed Stan Wawrinka turned to Federer and quipped, “He’s laughing – he’s an asshole.”…Serena jokingly stuck out her tongue as ‘17 champion Vika Azarenka got her trophy. Osaka said her rather dizzy talk after winning in ’18 was the “worst acceptance speech of all time.” Wrong. It was enchanting.
FROM CHAMP TO POSSIBLE TERRORIST: The morning after winning the tourney in front of 16,000 fans and millions on TV, Justine Henin was stopped at the airport for a head-to-toe security inspection.
BEST EXORCIST: Californian Pete Sampras long struggled at Indian Wells. He said his goal was to “exorcize the desert demons.” Then, after a seven-year drought, he won back-to-back titles in ’94 and ’95. Jim Murray claimed, “Playing Sampras in a three-set match is like fighting a bobcat in a closet. You don’t have too much time to figure out strategy.”
THE SKY’S FALLING, THE MARKET’S CRASHING, BUT…: The French bank BNP Paribas signed a five-year sponsorship deal the day the market crashed in ‘08…After the market suffered what was then its fifth worst single-day crash, Agassi was asked if he’d heard the news. Without losing a beat, Andre reeled off, “Dow down 435, NASDAQ down 145.”
THE FIFTH SLAM: When asked if Indian Wells should become the fifth Slam, an official replied, “It already is.” Another said it’s “not our station in life.” Sports Illustrated suggested that the US Open be played in Indian Wells every five years.
DAVIS CUP IN THE VALLEY: The ‘06 US vs. Chile match was held at the tourney’s former home – Mission Hills CC. The Davis Cup finals will probably be played at Indian Wells in ‘21 and ‘22.
TWO CHAMPS, TWO TRAJECTORIES: Last year’s champs Osaka and del Potro have traveled different paths. Naomi, who was No. 44 going into last year’s BNPPO, went on to win two slams, $10 million, and became No. 1. Delpo reached the US Open final, but then suffered a fractured knee in Shanghai. He has only played one event since.
THE MAN WHO MISSES HIS CHEETOS: After a loss, veteran Andy Roddick recalled how he blasted through foes: “I used to hit for a half hour and then go eat Cheetos the rest of the day, [then] come out and drill forehands. Now I’m really trying to be professional…but I miss my Cheetos.”