Postcard from Palm Springs: first impressions

Published by Matt Trollope

Lukas Rosol practises at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden as the sun sets over the Californian desert; Getty Images
Tennismash staff writer Matt Trollope is in Indian Wells for the first time and shares his experiences so far of a tournament played in “tennis paradise”.

The lights never go out in Indian Wells.

As I sit here typing this postcard from my condo not far from the BNP Paribas Open – which I’m renting for the tournament fortnight with some other colleagues – the lights of the complex shine brightly and intensely, illuminating the black sky and visible for miles (that’s right, it’s imperial territory here) each way.

If this tournament is the jewel of the Californian desert, then the powerful lights are its representation. They’ll remain on all through the night until they give way to the sparkling sun, which shines warm and bright – pretty much all the time. Check out the Google weather forecast for the next week here …

Indian Wells weekly weather forecast

The setting is unique. And incredible. Unlike any tournament anywhere else in the world. As one of those colleagues remarked to me as we walked home: “I’ve never been anywhere like this. It’s the only place I can think of where you can have three dramatically different landscapes – tropical palms, snow-capped mountains and desert – all in one place.”

It’s little wonder the players love playing here.

Amid the exceptional facilities lies an expanse of thick, green lawn serving as the tournament’s activity hub for the players. Here they warm up, play soccer, throw American footballs, stretch, congregate and relax. It’s the light-hearted, friendly, communal aspect of the men’s and women’s tours we don’t often see.

Fans can lean on the fence separating the grass from the pedestrian walkway and watch all of this play out. It might have explained why Stadium 1 was so sparse for first-round action on Wednesday.

Let’s be honest. A tennis schedule featuring no seeded players – all 32 seeds in the men’s and women’s draw here receive a first-round bye – is always going to be a hard sell. And it’s even harder to make a premier show court look full when it’s a cavernous 16,000-seat arena – bigger than all the Grand Slam centre courts bar the US Open.

But it’s not like there are no fans here – the place is teeming with people. They’ve just got so many entertainment options at their fingertips that they’re spread over the grounds far and wide.

They might be over at the multitude of practice courts, where they’re guaranteed to spot a star or two. Practice is a really big deal here at Indian Wells – player practice times are promoted on giant screens and there are viewing platforms in between all the courts to maximise sight lines.

Roger Federer drew a crowd of several thousand to his evening practice against Robin Haase at Stadium 3 on Tuesday night, one of many top players practising after dark to acclimatise to the dramatically different night-time desert conditions.

If not there, maybe they’re sampling the beautiful food on offer. Acclaimed restaurants like Nobu and Spago – plus many, many more – are dotted throughout the Garden, as well as juice bars, coffee shops and watering holes.

Svetlana Kuznetsova, chatting to us at Wednesday’s media All-Access Hour, said having the world’s best chefs on site separated this event from most others. Yet it comes at a price.

“I was just having lunch at the players area and I just got like four boxes of sushi and it cost me like $80. And I said, sorry, $18? And she said, no, $80,” she recounted. “And I was like. alright, my balance is $100 on the card. So I was like, why is that? And then I realise it’s normal. I’d rather pay for quality food than eat not quality sushi. But it’s great to have good quality food.”

Great food. Great weather. Great facilities. Great players – most of the men’s and women’s top 50, in fact. There’s not much to criticise here.

It would just be nice if they’d turn off the lights at night so we could get some proper shut-eye before returning tomorrow to experience more of what Indian Wells has to offer.

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