Saturday was time for a walkabout at the BNP Paribas Open. There was a day and age where you
could do this quickly, where you could breeze from one court to another and on to a stand for a quick
There is very little breezing now, especially on the annual busiest day of the tennis tournament, the
first Saturday. It is very clear that Larry Ellison has taken Charlie Pasarell’s grand idea and made it
grandiose. That’s not a bad thing, certainly. But look at it this way. There was a time when the 405
freeway was also a grand idea.
This is not to say that the thing tournament marketers are now officially labeling Tennis
Paradise—after years of various writers calling it exactly that–is in gridlock. It’s just not quite the same
walk in the park on a sunny day. Saturday, it was more like an obstacle course.
This is a tough balance. Twenty years ago, Pasarell had this marvelous tour stop right down the road
from here called the Grand Champions. It was a large, mostly temporary stadium on the grounds of a
hotel called the Hyatt Grand Champions. Everybody loved it, including the players. Pasarell, unlike
anybody else, quickly saw that it was too small. Presto: The Indian Wells Tennis Garden and the second
largest tennis stadium in the country.
It is only about 7,500 seats smaller than the one that ought to be the largest, the one in Flushing
Meadow, N.Y., that holds the U.S. Open and seats 23,771. From the upper section of that stadium, the
court looks like it should host pickleball, not tennis. But then, a reasonable argument can be made, in
the interest of both Indian Wells and Arthur Ashe Stadium, that those spots in the nose-bleed sections
provide a chance for many to see, in person, the sport and its heroes.
These thoughts crystalized the other day, when Rafael Nadal responded to a question here about
this tournament being considered a “fifth major” and all that comes with that. Nadal, interestingly,
responded that he didn’t need a fifth major, that one more Grand Slam hassle of crowds and media and
corporate sponsors was one more than he cared for. Then, he characterized the BNP Paribas in terms of
peaceful times and wonderful scenery and, especially, great golf courses.
There is a danger in not properly growing a sports event.
Corporate America, the marketing and branding and new dot.com-every-minute wave, is always
ready to pounce on something that is floundering, even slightly, to re-jigger and re-exploit it. That is not
an issue in Indian Wells. Oracle’s Larry Ellison owns it, and what he owns never flounders. The premise
that money can’t solve all problems does not apply to Ellison.
Nevertheless, there is a danger in growing a sports event too much.
To be clear, this is not to suggest that has happened yet at Indian Wells. The people walking the
grounds, finding their shady picnic table spot on the soft and green artificial grass and reveling in the
excitement of just being part of this, are happy campers. Being here is the “in” thing in tennis, not just
for those from Southern California, but for many from around the world.
Our walkabout took us past every imaginable kind of food concession. You want sushi, you want
Italian, you want a hamburger, you got it. You will also wait for it. Lines snake in from the parking lots to
morph into lines snaking into eating spots.
If you want to sit down, there is NABU. Same for the likes of Wally’s Desert Turtle, where you can
weigh dessert or a second mortgage.
A Grounds Pass is a great value. For $50, you can get to any court except Stadium 1. But you must be
nimble. Like for your hamburger, there is a line. Our quest to find an easily accessible seat on the
outside courts took us past Court 3, where the Milos Raonic-Sam Querrey match was getting the
response of a royal wedding. No room on court 7, 8 and 9, but there were seats for Donna Vekic of
Crotia versus Yaslina Bonventure of Belgium. That was worth the wait, and the two provided just over
two hours of entertainment, with the lefty Bonaventure serving out the third set with a forehand winner
on match point.
The first weekend of this tennis event is always the busiest and most challenging for fans. This year
was no different. The place was busting at the seams, literally and figuratively.
USTA Southern California is honored to feature the musings of renowned sports columnist Bill Dwyre for USTAsocal.com during the BNP Paribas Open, which he has covered in depth since 1982. Be sure to connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to follow Dwyre’s reflections, as well as all things Indian Wells.