The “2020 BNP Paribas Open Will Not Be Held” declared the emailed press release that arrived in my inbox at 6:43 p.m. on Sunday, March 8.
It came after news that a local patient was “presumed positive” after being tested for COVID-19 (aka the novel coronavirus). The unidentified patient is being treated at the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage—just a few miles from the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, where the ATP and WTA tennis players’ favorite tournament in the world was to begin play today and run through Sunday, March 22.
The BNP Paribas Open’s cancellation came after the cancellations of South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, and the Ultra Music Festival in Miami. Both were cancelled on March 6 due to concerns about the potential spread of the COVID-19 virus among their hundreds of thousands of participants and attendees. Still, as of the next day—Saturday, March 7—the 2020 BNP Paribas Open, which drew 382,000 fans last year, was slated to go on.
In fact, the unofficial local kickoff of the tournament did take place, starting on Saturday morning: the traditional Kids’ Day free event, which happened simultaneously along with the Oracle Challenger Series semifinal matches for ATP and WTA pros at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. And on Sunday, the pro series continued, with the WTA final being captured by Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu, and the ATP finals win going to American pro Steve Johnson. Each earned a berth in the main draw of the tournament that is no longer going to take place—at least not this weekend.
The cancellation came after Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County’s public health officer, declared a local public health emergency on Sunday, March 8. Tournament director Tommy Haas seemed to leave the door open for the possibility of re-scheduling the tournament at some point in 2020.
“We are very disappointed that the tournament will not take place, but the health and safety of the local community, fans, players, volunteers, sponsors, employees, vendors, and everyone involved with the event is of paramount importance,” Haas said, according to the news release. “We are prepared to hold the tournament on another date and will explore options.”
All good intentions aside, it’s likely the tournament won’t return until March 2021. So, this year’s biggest winners of the 2020 BNP Paribas Open won’t be Novak Djokovic or Simona Halep. Instead, that distinction will go to the large contingent of kids of all ages who flocked into the Tennis Gardens on Saturday morning to enjoy a variety of fun activities. (Scroll down to view photos of the fun.)
The highlight of the day was the newly introduced tennis clinic held for local kids from Coachella Valley, sponsored and facilitated by the Indian Wells Tennis Garden and its partner, Universal Tennis. More than 140 local students from local schools took to the courts accompanied by coaches and a cadre of participating WTA and ATP pros. Big swings and even bigger smiles were the order of the day for the participants.
When asked what their favorite moments during the clinic had been, three young ladies from the George Washington Charter School in Palm Desert shared their thoughts with the Independent.
“Doing the high-5,” said Gianna.
“Playing with the pros,” Melia told us.
“Trying to beat the pros,” was Kaia’s favorite challenge of the day.