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Tennis paradise at BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells

Roger Federer on court at the 2015 BNP Paribas Open.
Roger Federer on court at the 2015 BNP Paribas Open.

Tennis’ version of March Madness doesn’t take place in a noisy indoor arena with screaming fans, but rather in the tranquil terrain of the California desert.

For tennis fans, the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells provides the perfect setting to watch the best tennis players in the world slug it out on a grand outdoor stage. The weather is always ideal — hot and sunny with virtually no chance of rain — and fans are treated to non-stop tennis action while soaking up rays and taking in the breathtaking scenery.

It’s easy to see why Indian Wells, located near Palm Springs, California, is one of the favorite tour stops for players and fans. It’s a first-class facility with one of the largest tennis stadiums in the world holding more than 16,000 people. There are more than 20 world-class courts with players constantly in action during the tournament. Everything around the complex is easy to find, there’s plenty of parking space, and friendly volunteers are always available to lend a helping hand. In addition, souvenir shops provide just about everything for the diehard tennis fan.

As a longtime tennis fanatic myself, I was really looking forward to making the two-hour drive from Los Angeles to Indian Wells for the 2015 BNP Paribas Open. This was a rare opportunity to see the greatest players in the world up close. How could I pass it up?

I arrived at my destination on Sunday, March 15. It was a sizzling hot day with temperatures well over 90 degrees. Tennis fans didn’t mind, though, as this day would feature three all-time great champions in Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Serena Williams.

Federer has been my favorite player to watch over the past decade. With 17 Grand Slam singles titles and many other records, Federer is arguably the greatest player of all time. So what a treat it was for me to watch the Swiss superstar play on the main stadium.

As expected, Federer easily won his opening match in a routine display of power and superb shotmaking skills.

Although he is past his prime at 33 years old, Federer is still one of the top four players in the world and always a contender at any big tournament. He still owns one of the best serves in tennis — always able to hit aces when he needs them most — and his lethal forehand remains a weapon. Oh, yeah, and he’s also a great net player and still moves beautifully around the tennis court.

Federer’s one possible weakness (if you can call it that) remains his one-handed backhand that misfired several times in his opening match. But most of the time his backhand is solid enough against almost any opponent.

That may change if he has to face Nadal down the road. “Rafa” also enjoyed a routine victory in his first match at Indian Wells. The “Raging Bull” from Spain showed his usual intense fighting spirit and unmatched “will to win.” His left-handed lasso-like heavy-topsin forehand might be the most feared shot in the game.

Nadal is quite an imposing figure on the tennis court — super-strong and athletic and willing to do whatever it takes to win. At age 27, he’s already captured 14 Majors and is virtually unbeatable on clay, where he has won a staggering nine French Open titles.

So it was a Sunday Special to watch perhaps the two greatest players ever and the most popular on the main stage at Indian Wells.

One of the best female players of all time, Serena Williams, was also featured on the stadium court that day. It was her first trip to Indian Wells in many years and large crowds came out to watch her play.

As great a player as Serena is, though, she has her critics. She often comes across as grouchy and seems to mope around the court. In the past Serena hasn’t shown much class when she loses, rarely crediting her opponent. But perhaps this is changing as she enters the final stage of her career at age 33.

There’s no denying Serena’s greatness as a player, however. I was impressed with how hard she hits the ball from the baseline and her intensity on the court. Watching players hit hard on TV is one thing; but it’s so much more impressive when you are close to all the action.

Serena’s serve is the best on the women’s side, sometimes clocking it at 125 mph (pretty close to the pace of some of the men’s players).

Like Nadal, Serena is an imposing player on the court. It’s like she’s a heavyweight playing against lightweights.

One of the few female players who at times can stay with Serena in power baseline tennis is Maria Sharapova. The former teen sensation is now 27 years old and in early-round action at Indian Wells she took on another tall, striking, hard-hitting player in Victoria Azarenka.

This early-round Monday night matchup had the intrigue and hype of a finals. Azarenka was a former top player and two-time Grand Slam winner, while Sharapova has won five Majors and continues to draw big crowds.

These two “shrieking sirens” put on a fierce hitting battle and, in the end, Sharapova proved the victor.

After that long match ended, it was Novak Djokovic’s turn to take center stage under the lights. The world’s number one player and eight-time Grand Slam champion had a tougher battle than expected against a gallant challenger in Albert Ramos-Vinolas. Trailing early in the match, Djokovic rallied for a hard-fought victory.

Djokovic displayed his beautiful two-handed backhand and his brilliant return game, both of which rank as the best in the world. While he might not be as famous as Federer and Nadal, the Serbian tennis slayer will certainly finish as one of the best to ever play tennis.

Earlier that day, it was 2013 Wimbledon champion and the pride of Great Britain — Andy Murray — who was featured on Stadium 1. On another hot, steamy day, Murray prevailed in three sets and moved on in the tournament.

The top four men’s players in the world, and the best two female players all in action over a two-day span at Indian Wells. And I got to watch all the incredible tennis action up close from a great view near center court.

It’s an experience this longtime tennis lover will never forget.

in Sports
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