LORD OF THE RINGS: The other night after Andy Murray returned to his car, he soon realized his sweaty, smelly shoes had stunk up the vehicle. He didn’t want to air them out in his windowless hotel room, so, incredibly, he left his shoes underneath the car. Unfortunately, the next morning they were gone, along with his wedding ring that, as often is the case, was tied onto his shoelaces. Murray promptly went over to Pete Carlson’s Golf and Tennis Shop, which has been in Palm Desert for 40 years, and bought two pairs of size 11 Adidas Barricade shoes from owner Pete Carlson. Fortunately, Andy’s missing shoes and rings were soon returned. The relieved Brit joked, “I’m back in the good book at home! Let’s go!”
All this brings to mind many a story of tennis rings, marriages and weddings:
• Pam Shriver couldn’t believe it when Lindsay Davenport confided that she lost her wedding ring and didn’t seem to mind. Shriver then said that she, too, had lost her ring and found it. Then she whimsically noted, “But your marriage lasted.”
• Once when a Wimbledon fan yelled out to Steffi Graf, “Marry me!” the German replied, “How much money do you have?”
• John McEnroe was elated on the day he married his first wife, Tatum O’Neal. It was cloudy – he was happy that the paparazzi would be miserable because of the terrible light.
• Gael Monfils’ and Elina Svitolina’s recent nuptials were tennis’ high-profile marriage of the year. But neither has a Grand Slam title. One tennis record that will probably never be broken is the mark established by Agassi and Graf, who, as a couple, have 30 Grand Slams. At Indian Wells, newlywed Simona Halep easily won her first-round match.
• Years ago, as Kim Clijsters was recovering from a wrist problem, Mark Woodforde joked that it was due to the Belgian “carrying her [huge engagement] ring around.”
GO FIGURE: British papers were asking whether Emma Raducanu is on her way to world domination, while Sloane Stephens noted, “She’s probably going to be knighted… She’s been on a stamp already.”…Tennys Sandgren will long be stewing over the unhappy fact that he was unable to convert any of the seven match points he had against Roger Federer in their 2020 Australian Open quarterfinal match. But there had to be a feeling of redemption and comfort that on his ninth match point Thursday, he secured his first-round win over Thiago Monteiro.
A TOUGH QUARANTINE FOR KYRGIOS AND HIS GIRLFRIEND: After returning to Australia following the Laver Cup, Nick Kyrgios and his girlfriend Chiara Passari were quarantined in a hotel room. Following a “verbal argument,” police separated the two and they will finish their quarantine in separate rooms.
MISSING IN ACTION: Indian Wells fans were excited that veterans Clijsters and Murray were in the draw, as well as teen sensations Raducanu and Fernandez. But of course many of the biggest names in the game were missing. Noting the gap, tournament director Tommy Haas said, “I can’t believe it. This is crazy.”
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Nole announced his BNP Paribas withdrawal with notably little explanation. Now observers wonder if Australian Open health requirements will deter the vaccine skeptic Serb from playing in Melbourne, where he’s won nine times.
ROGER FEDERER: After yet another knee operation, Roger appeared on crutches at Boston’s Laver Cup. Still, one wonders whether the 40-year-old can possibly be in playing condition for January’s Australian Open, let alone the next BNP Paribas Open in March.
RAFA NADAL: Perhaps no other superstar has suffered such a series of debilitating injuries. He’s again trying to heal his battered foot and working to overcome the very rare Mueller-Weiss Syndrome, which has bothered him since 2005. Now ranked No. 6, he suffered a devastating loss to Djokovic in this year’s French Open and has played only two matches since.
DOMINIC THIEM: It’s been well over 900 days since the Austrian beat Federer to win the 2019 Indian Wells title. Just at his peak, mental health issues set him back. And he was recently sidelined for four months due to a wrist injury. Trainers have been fired and like Roger and Rafa won’t be playing the rest of 2021.
SERENA WILLIAMS: Serena pulled out of her first-round match at Wimbledon, hasn’t played since, and is now ranked No. 41. It still remains to be seen whether she can tie Margaret Court’s record of 24 Slams.
NAOMI OSAKA: At the US Open, the last tournament she played in her tumultuous and foreshortened season, Naomi said it would be a while before she plays again. Now ranked No. 12, she recently said she has the itch to play. We know she can change the landscape on important issues, often without a racket in her hand. What we don’t know is when we’ll see the 2018 Indian Wells champ on court.
ASH BARTY: The Aussie, who headed home after a seven-month road trip thousands of miles from her Brisbane home, pulled out of Indian Wells. And there are serious doubts that she’ll even defend her WTA Championship title scheduled in the high altitude of Guadalajara, Mexico. Back in the good old days (i.e. 2019), Ash won $4.4 million at the event.
VENUS WILLIAMS: Now ranked No. 178, Venus didn’t play the US Open and announced that she won’t be playing for the rest of the year. In her 24-year career, she’s only played Indian Wells seven times.
ARYNA SABALENKA: The No. 2 in the world suffered a devastating US Open semifinal loss to Leylah Fernandez, and in March expressed much skepticism about COVID vaccines. Recently, she was struck by the virus. She’s all right now, but won’t be playing Indian Wells.
SOFIA KENIN: The 2020 Aussie Open champ and French Open finalist is in a slump, and is now No. 8. Earlier this year she parted with her long-time coach, her father Alex.
THE WISDOM OF KIM CLIJSTERS: Kim Clijsters, 38, may have lost her opening round match, but she drew much attention. Fans called out, “We love you Kim!” Pam Shriver said, “When it comes to sportsmanship, I don’t think there’s anyone who’s more popular.” She then added, “If Kim’s serious about her comeback…she has to go to a training camp to work on her fitness.” Lindsay Davenport said Kim’s comeback was “all about not having regrets.”
In her presser Clijsters was funny and poignant. She said that her son tells her, “Mom, I want you to lose so you can come home.” She adds, “My daughter Jada, she’s a pretty decent basketball player herself…We’ll do workouts together and she sees the work I put in…Her reaction is a little different than my two younger ones.”
Clijsters has said that passion is the key to tennis. She added, “It’s the main characteristic I look at when I’m listening to somebody, watching somebody play sports, or listening to a person in business, selling a product or anything.
“Passion is the main reason I fell in love with tennis and to this day it’s something I love doing. It doesn’t matter if I’m here on a center court, playing at home in New Jersey on a small indoor court in a bubble. That passion to push yourself, it’s a sign of doing what you love to do, right?…You can see the coaches who are passionate or who are just there to be along for the ride…You can pick it out very easily – and the players too, the ones who have a passion.
“What I learned to love about being a pro…[is the] whole rollercoaster of emotions.” Kim gave advice too: “As a player, just try to keep focused and stay with your feet on the ground, be yourself, and respectful to others. You can’t control everything so try to make the best of it, even the negative things…Those are part of the journey.”
ELDERS IN OUR MIDST: Yes, all of the top ten seeds in the men’s draw are under 26. But that doesn’t mean that the elders of the game haven’t come to Indian Wells. Okay, 42-year-old Venus Williams chose to go to Paris’ Fashion Week rather than being in fashionable Indian Wells, and Federer is still recuperating in Switzerland. Still, 42-year-old Ivo Karlovic, who’s in his 21st season, played the qualifying. But the Croat lost to Emilio Gomez, the son of 1990 French Open champ Andres Gomez. Plus 40-year-old Feliciano Lopez, who’s in his 24th season, was in the main draw, but lost to Tommy Paul.
FEEL-GOOD MATCHES: Thousand Oaks’ Marcos Giron scored a come-from-behind win over US Open sensation Botic van de Zandschulp, and the high-voltage NAFTA duo of Coco Gauff and Leylah Fernandez earned a convincing first-round win before a packed outer court.
BRUIN BLISS: These have been good days for UCLA tennis. Last week, US Open champion Daniil Medvedev chose to train in Westwood and practiced with assorted members of the UCLA team. In Indian Wells, many Bruin loyalists gathered as Marcos Giron downed Botic van de Zandschulp and Mackie McDonald dismissed James Duckworth. Unfortunately for Mackie, he’ll next play top-seeded Medvedev.