The BNP Paribas Open, the year’s first ATP/WTA 1000 level tournament, is about to start. Craig Gabriel has attended every one of them since 1988 and he previews the two weeks and what it’s like at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

 

You get the feeling when the BNP Paribas Open comes around in March that things are pretty good with the tennis circuit. It is back in its regular time slot on the tour as the season’s first ATP/WTA 1000 level tournament. After the “special” autumn edition last October things are back in familiar territory.

The BNP Paribas Open is one of the most awarded tournaments in the world situated in one of the most magical settings in the world. The springtime air is crisp and clean and crystal clear. The Coachella Valley feels so pure. It is an oasis in the desert; surrounded by mountains which sometimes have traces of snow, where bougainvillea plants are a blaze of colour against the perfectly manicured emerald green lawns.

The Indian Wells Tennis Garden is tennis paradise. 

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To the east Las Vegas is about a 45-minute flight and to the west Los Angeles is approximately a three hour drive down Highway 111 passing the giant windfarms and the famed Joshua Tree National Park.

Got the picture? If you are still wondering, then the perfect word to describe the place is “pristine”.

This year’s BNP Paribas Open promises to be just as spectacular as every other one that has gone before, and the stars will come out to play … both tennis and Hollywood.

It’s not uncommon to see Leo DiCaprio or Charlize Theron or Gladys Knight among the celebrities or gazillionaires like Bill Gates and Larry Ellison (well, he does own the place). But then it is most definitely the perfect venue for any level of tennis fan to wander around and get up close and personal to some of the best athletes and personalities in the world of sport.

It will be a special event for the new men’s world No.1 Daniil Medvedev because this will be the first tournament he plays as officially being world No1. Reaching the summit of world tennis is obviously very special and his first time getting there is something that he will always remember.

 

Returning to Indian Wells for the first time since 2019 is Rafa Nadal who is having his best ever start to a season having won three titles already and has a 15-0 record so far. The Spanish legend is coming off his historic win at the Australian Open which brought him a record setting 21st major and he will try to win the BNP Paribas Open for the fourth time.

Naomi Osaka has been granted a wild card. It was 2018 that she won her first big title, and it was the BNP Paribas Open. Seeing her with a renewed enthusiasm for the game is so good for women’s tennis. She remains one of the biggest drawcards in all sport.

The women’s field is brilliant with an incredible line up of exciting young talent that is intertwined with the established ones – Emma Raducanu, Simona Halep, Leylah Fernandez, Maria Sakkari, Aryna Sabalenka. Barbora Krejcikova is at a career high and Iga Swiatek has developed quite a following.

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The men’s entry is just as thrilling. Andrey Rublev is on a roll, there is Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev and the sensational Spaniard teenager Carlos Alcaraz, the excitement of Felix Auger-Aliassime, the steadiness of Casper Ruud and the Italian charm of Matteo Berrettini.

Last October’s women’s final was the best women’s match of 2021 as Paula Badosa came back to defeat Vika Azarenka saving championship points. To say it was gripping would not do it justice. And in the men’s Cam Norrie rallied back from a set down to defeat Nikoloz Basilashvili.

So, what makes the BNP Paribas Open so special? Certainly, the fans make a tournament and create an atmosphere and those that attend the Indian Wells Tennis Garden and knowledgeable tennis people. They have had the pleasure to witness some of the best matches. As spread out as the complex is, it is also intimate, and the fans can almost feel the sweat coming of a player. They can feel a closer affinity to what is happening on court.

 

Fans crowd the practice courts chasing an autograph or a selfie and players are happy to oblige because there is a relaxed feel about being in the desert. It’s almost like chilling time. The “green” attracts the fans big time as they can watch training sessions out in the open or watch the soccer matches – invariably the European players are against the South Americans players.

Patrons are spoilt for choice with the eateries and restaurants. From waiter service like Nobu (yes the famous Japanese fusion restaurant) with its view over Stadium 2, to getting a hot dog or pizza to go and be able to watch the action from the massive TV screen or take a seat at one of the stadiums. Oh, you want a drink … well there is everything from the champagne bar in the centre of the complex to getting a bottle of water.

And as for the players, well it is all laid on. There want to practice at 8am or 10pm, there is always a court available, there is never a shortage of towels, food is constantly on offer and their every need is catered for. The five-star resort type hotels are all very close by and tournament director and former player Tommy Haas says it is all very straightforward for the players – there is a sense of calm.

After all this is tennis paradise, you couldn’t or wouldn’t have it any other way.