CVIndependent

Wed05222019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The second and final week of Coachella Valley’s prestigious BNP Paribas Open typically delivers sharp tennis play and competitive drama as sports media and fans around the world focus on the on-court action.

This year, that unfortunately was not the case.

As Sunday’s first match began, hopes ran high that top-ranked Serena Williams would reclaim the championship she last captured in 2001. But a curiously subdued and somber Williams offered little resistance to No. 8 Victoria Azarenka’s determined if less-than-dominating performance. With 33 unforced errors, Williams squandered a multitude of break-point opportunities throughout both sets. Even so, she did manage a short-lived comeback in the second set before succumbing to now second-time BNP Paribas champion Azarenka in straight sets, 6-4, 6-4.

That set the scene for heavily favored and top-ranked Novak Djokovic to take on No. 12 Milos Raonic of Canada. Despite plenty of Canadians in the stands to offer support, Raonic could never gain an advantage in the match. He underperformed throughout, committing 27 unforced errors while managing a mere four aces with his vaunted serving game. As the second set began, he left the court for an elongated injury play stoppage, and when he returned, he lost every game in a convincing 6-2, 6-0 Djokovic win.

But by far, the biggest unforced error of the strange day went to none other than Raymond Moore, the BNP Paribas Open tournament director and CEO. At a morning news conference, Moore was asked about prospects of elevating his tournament to the status of a fifth major title for the pros. Saying that the men’s tour was on board for that opportunity, he then offered this evaluation of the WTA and the women’s tour players: “In my next life, when I come back, I want to be someone in the WTA, because they ride on the coattails of the men. They don’t make any decisions, and they are lucky. They are very, very lucky,” he said.

Moore continued: “If I was a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport.”

Both Azarenka and Williams expressed their displeasure with Moore’s remarks during post-match interviews. “Why do you have to make the comment? Who cares?” Azarenka asked rhetorically. “I mean, if that makes that person feel better or bigger or whatever, it’s a pretty sad person.”

Williams said, “Obviously I don’t think any woman should be down on her knees thanking anybody like that. If I could tell you every day how many people say they don’t watch tennis unless they’re watching myself or my sister … you know, I couldn’t even bring up that number.”

When asked if she thought there might be a misunderstanding regarding how people were interpreting Moore’s comments, Williams replied, “Well, if you read the transcript, you can only interpret it one way. I speak very good English. I’m sure he does, too.”

Later in the day, Moore had the BNP Paribas public relations staff issue a statement on his behalf which stated, “At my morning breakfast with the media, I made comments about the WTA that were in extremely poor taste and erroneous. I am truly sorry for those remarks, and apologize to all the players and WTA as a whole. We had a women’s final today that reflects the strength of the players, especially Serena and Victoria, and the entire WTA. Again, I am truly sorry for my remarks."

(Update: Moore resigned on Monday, March 21.)

With all of Sunday’s controversy and uncharacteristically tepid competition, it would be easy to overlook some of the sparkling play that took place earlier in Week 2. Arguably the best tennis of the entire tournament was played on Wednesday, in the round of 16 match between No. 5 Rafael Nadal and No. 52 Alexander Zverev. Perennial fan favorite Nadal defeated the 18-year-old German phenom, who had thrilled crowds with upset wins over Grigor Dimitrov and Gilles Simon, both Top 25 players. Stadium 1 was packed for their battle, and the crowd roared throughout in appreciation of the competitive fire displayed by both players in the 6-7, 6-0, 7-5 Nadal comeback victory.

Published in Snapshot

As the 2016 edition of the BNP Paribas Open got under way last week at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, two topics dominated the conversations of players, the media and fans alike: Maria Sharapova’s recent alleged doping infraction (leading to her absence) and the return of Venus Williams after a 15 year boycott of the tournament where she enjoyed some of her earliest career triumphs.

Two-time defending men’s champion Novak Djokovic told the media he was sympathetic regarding Sharapova’s situation. “I know that she has always been very responsible and aware toward herself, toward the sport—very disciplined, very … hard working, hard-working ethics, and (she) loves what she does.

“I thought she was very courageous, and it was very human, brave of her, to go out and take the responsibility and say what has happened. She did admit that she made a mistake with her team. But certainly if there was a mistake, and if she was caught to be positive on doping for a certain substance, then there should be certain kind of consequences for that.”

Consequences seemed to be on Venus Williams’ mind as she stepped back into the Tennis Garden surroundings.

“I think when (Serena) came back, it wasn't an easy decision. You never know what was going to happen,” Venus said regarding her sister’s return to Indian Wells last year. “But she had so much courage to do so. It made it so easy for me. I felt like when I came out here, I was able to focus on the tennis and not on, ‘Oh, my gosh, what’s gonna happen?’”

What did happen when she finally set foot on the Stadium 1 show court for her Friday, March 11, match? A standing ovation that lasted several minutes.

“Yeah, I did get emotional,” Venus Williams said. “When we were doing the coin toss, I got a little watery eyed. Your opponent—you don't want to give them any more encouragement. It was wonderful. I think I smiled the whole warm-up. I had to get my game face on. It was tough to do.”

Shortly after the start of her first match, against 89th-ranked Kurumi Nara of Japan, the wind kicked up, and a burst of rain rolled across the Tennis Gardens grounds, blowing objects around. The storm chased players off all the courts—and it’s possible the disruption contributed to Venus’ early exit from this year’s tournament: She would go on to be upset, 6-4, 6-3.

“The crowd rooted me on because it was a tough day and tough conditions and brutal out there,” a positive Venus Williams remarked in her post-match media conference. “It was wonderful to feel the love. You know, I would love to come on back.”

As the winds dissipate and the second week of play gets under way, all five of the top-seeded men are still alive (including No. 1 Djokovic, No. 2 Andy Murray, No. 3 Stan Wawrinka, No. 4 Rafael Nadal and No. 5 Kei Nishikori), while just three of the top 5 women (No. 1 Serena Williams, No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska and No. 5/defending champ Simona Halep) are moving ahead. 

Published in Snapshot

Wednesday, March 9, was a beautiful day in many ways at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

At 9 a.m., under brilliant blue skies, long-estranged Women’s Tennis Association champion Venus Williams made her first official appearance at the tournament since 2001. She took to Practice Court 1 to begin her preparations for her first match, which will take place on Friday, March 11. Before only a dozen onlookers—only members of the media and security guards—Venus worked on her game. She seemed anxious and a bit surly; while casting surreptitious gazes at the few strangers present, she maintained a serious expression.

At 10 a.m., as her workout entered its second hour, the gates to the grounds opened up for fans—and a crowd of spectators quickly formed around her court. She worked out in brief spurts, taking frequent breaks to rest in the shade, talk on her phone or grab sustenance from a Whole Foods shopping bag she brought with her. During one of those breaks, as the stands filled, she looked around and caught sight of a young girl holding a sign that read: “Welcome Back Venus!”

A smile broke across her face.

As she returned to the court for more work, a healthy round of applause spilled out from the gathered fans.

The tension had been broken. She laughed, and it was pretty clear she was starting feel comfortable at the site of some of her earliest career victories.

Later, when she left the practice court, she walked across the great green area where players regularly congregate for impromptu soccer matches, calisthenics or other activities. Dogged by the ever-present photographers (present company included), she seemed a bit guarded, but then veered off to a crowd of autograph-seekers behind the fence, where she spent a few minutes signing and chatting. Then she was off again.

The final surprise sighting of the newly returned Venus Williams came at the start of her sister Serena’s practice session, around 12:30 p.m. As Serena, the current top-ranked WTA ranked player, laced up her tennis shoes and talked to her entourage, Venus appeared on the court to greet her sister. They spent 10 to 15 minutes together, laughing, dancing and talking with Serena’s guru-in-residence, Patrick Mouratoglou.

With a kiss and a smile Venus left. But make no mistake: She seems happy to be back, and regardless of the ill will from 15 years ago, her fans are happy, too.

Published in Snapshot

While Indian Wells will be the focus of the tennis world for much of March thanks to the BNP Paribas Open, art will share the spotlight from Thursday, March 17, to Sunday, March 20, thanks to the first Spectrum Indian Wells, a juried contemporary art show.

During a recent interview with Eric Smith, the Spectrum Indian Wells founder and Redwood Media Group CEO, he explained his local ties. After spending 13 years in Cleveland, Smith now makes his home here in the Coachella Valley.

“We don’t really do art festivals—we do art shows,” Smith said. “It’s hard walls about 10 feet high with truss lighting systems, and it’s more of a gallery atmosphere. We do six across the country: San Diego; we do two in Miami; New York; Santa Fe; and one here in Indian Wells. I was the original founder of the Palm Springs International Art Fair in 1999. I ran that for five years until I sold my company. I got to escort Dolores Hope around the show, and Mary Bono was there, too. It was really fun. I think I was a bit ahead of my time, and I really enjoyed producing that show. It was smaller, and it was at the convention center. … I ended up buying it back in 2009, and I live here in Palm Desert.”

Smith is an avid tennis player who closely follows the BNP Paribas Open.

“I always thought there was a missing link of something to do during the tennis tournament,” he said. “That was kind of the motivation. During the last week of the tennis tournament, you’re down to semifinals and finals. There’s not much going on. Everyone is looking for something to do, and I thought, ‘Let’s start another nice art show in the Coachella Valley.’ The Renaissance (Indian Wells Resort) was available, and that’s where a lot of the tennis players stay, and a lot of wealthy individuals are here for the tournament, so it just made sense. The (target) demographic is the people galleries are looking for. Plus we have a large following and a large exhibitor base. But with all that being said, it’s hard to start a first-year show.

“When I went to the Renaissance, they asked me, ‘Do you think people will come during the tennis tournament?’ I said, ‘That’s what everyone asks me, and here’s my explanation: I think they’re going to come in droves. I play tennis and go to the tennis tournament. During the last four days, the only court that’s left is Center Court, and that’s it: 450,000 people attend that tournament, and for the last couple days, there are 14,000 attending each night, and that’s it.’ They can come over, eat at the Renaissance, have another glass of champagne, tour the grounds—and that’s the idea.”

Smith is producing the show with his own money and the help of UBS, which is the art show’s main sponsor. He described the art that will be on display at the show.

“(There will be) some great photography, and two- and three-dimensional work,” he said. “We have that great rose lawn at the Renaissance, and we’re going to place some sculptures out there. It will be a combination of traditional, modern and contemporary work. We’ll have realism, impressionism, landscapes and abstracts. We have a lot of great artists. (There is) not a lot of glass work or anything like that. We’ll have about 50 exhibitors, and it will really be a nice atmosphere. It won’t be like La Quinta, and it will be more like the Palm Springs (Fine) Art Fair.”

Smith said he really wants people in the area for the tennis tournament to come to the show.

“Anybody who has a tennis-tournament ticket can come in for free,” he said. “Our goal is to grow it over the next three years and provide a nice aesthetic and a wonderful atmosphere for artists and galleries to sell their work.”

Smith’s message to both tennis-tournament attendees and the general public: Come and enjoy.

“There will be some mid-career artists, a few emerging artists, and artists who have been around awhile,” he said. “There’s a nice mixture and a lot of galleries, too.

“Come and enjoy yourselves. It’s a great week for the Coachella Valley with the tennis tournament, and we’re just adding a little spice to it.”

The Spectrum Indian Wells art show takes place Thursday, March 17, through Sunday, March 20, at the Renaissance Indian Wells Resort and Spa, 44400 Indian Wells Lane, in Indian Wells. Admission prices vary; a general-admission day pass is $20. For tickets or more information, visit spectrum-indianwells.com.

Published in Visual Arts

On Wednesday evening, March 18, halfway through the final week of play at the 2015 BNP Paribas Open, storm clouds and gusty desert winds swept across the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

They came and went with minimal impact—much like the highly publicized return of No. 1-ranked Serena Williams to Indian Wells for the first time since 2001.

After winning four matches, Williams withdrew from the tournament on Friday, March 20, shortly before her scheduled semifinal meeting with No. 3-ranked Simona Halep, due to a knee injury.

When asked how emotional it was for her to withdraw, Williams said, “I was really, really disappointed. I was really down. I was really sad.”

Her mood brightening, she continued: “But then I thought, ‘You know what, Serena? This is just an opportunity to be able to come back … and do better next year.’”

So she’s already planning to return in 2016? “I think it’s going to be a must,” she said, smiling.

Halep was the happy recipient of a “walkover” win in her semifinal, which gave her extra rest heading into Sunday’s final. Her rest looked more like rust during a lackluster first set, which her opponent, No. 18 Jelena Jankovic, won 6-2. But Halep then turned on the jets, capturing a tight 7-5 second set and crusing home with a 6-4 final set.

The competitive women’s final set the stage for the return of last year’s men’s singles finalists: No. 2-ranked Roger Federer, and No. 1 Novak Djokovic. And for the second year in a row, Djokovic showed that his game shines in the desert sun, claiming a three-set victory. The first set and the last sets (6-3 and 6-2 wins by Djokovic, respectively) were one-sided displays of Djokovic’s spectacular shot-making. The middle set, won in a tiebreaker by Federer, 7-6 (5), was tense, dramatic and filled with brilliant play on both sides of the net.

Some miscellaneous observations:

• Is it a coincidence that two players who benefited from “walkover” wins in the second week of this marathon championship wound up winning the whole thing?

• Isn’t it unseemly for the impresario of this stellar event, Larry Ellison, to choose not to attend the women’s singles final? Not even the awards ceremony?

• Could there be a better example of irony than Serena Williams being forced to withdraw from her semifinal match due to injury—just as her sister Venus did in 2001?

Until next year! Scroll down to enjoy some images from the second week of the 2015 BNP Paribas Open.

Published in Snapshot

The first week of the 2015 BNP Paribas Open delivered no major surprises on the courts—but it did deliver sweltering temperatures for fans and players alike, as well as record attendance figures, thanks to the return of Serena Williams to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden for the first time since 2001.

Almost all of the top-seeded players in both the men’s and women’s singles draws are still competing, while four American players made it into the second week of both draws—exciting news for local fans: On the women’s side, Serena Williams, Sloane Stephens, Coco Vandeweghe and Madison Keys are still alive, while on the men’s side, survivors include John Isner, Donald Young, Steve Johnson and Jack Sock.

The competition will heat up as the tournament moves into its late rounds this week—and the weather forecast calls for continued high temperatures, which makes staying cool and hydrated a challenge for everyone. The longest lines found on the grounds were often for the spectator water-filling stations.

Saturday brought also brought traffic gridlock, as attendees tried to squeeze into overflowing parking lots. Tournament officials reported that Week 1 set a new record, with 241,884 spectators attending the matches.

Scroll down to enjoy a photo retrospective of last week’s BNP Paribas Open experience.

Published in Snapshot

The last time current world No. 1-ranked Serena Williams, winner of 19 Grand Slam tennis titles, stepped onto the Stadium 1 court at the BNP Paribas Open was in 2001. She was 19 and about to play for the women’s singles championship.

“I was looking to take another title. I was ready,” Williams wrote last month in TIME when she announced her decision to return to the BNP Paribas Open after a 14-year self-imposed exile. “As I walked out onto the court, the crowd immediately started jeering and booing. In my last match, the semifinals, I was set to play my sister, but Venus had tendinitis and had to pull out. Apparently, that angered many fans.”

After 14 years of healing after that unfortunate, racially tinged incident in 2001, Williams walked back onto that court at 7 p.m., Friday, March 13, with determination and trepidation. Those in the traditionally late-arriving desert crowd rose as one and cheered wildly to welcome her back. Williams, clearly overwhelmed by emotion, seemed strangely reserved. There were no smiles, really, and she offered just one brief wave to the fans. In fact, we learned later, she was struggling not to cry.

“It was an emotional time,” Williams shared in her Tennis Channel post-match interview. “I didn’t expect to start tearing up. The crowd was just so amazing and so nice. I just didn’t know what to expect.”

She and most of the tennis pundits running around the Indian Wells Tennis Garden certainly didn’t expect the highly competitive match that followed, against No. 68-ranked Monica Niculescu of Romania. Relying on an unorthodox style of play, Niculescu pushed Williams into a sometimes awkward but always resourceful game, which ended in a 7-5, 7-5 victory by Williams.

Thus ended a week of heightened anxiety—and somewhat unnecessary mystery for everyone involved with the tournament, as the return of Serena Williams had everyone on edge. Serena was invisible to most as the week progressed. Her first onsite practice session was held behind locked doors on Stadium 1. While names like Sharapova, Federer, Djokovic, Murray and Nadal practiced publicly and interacted with fans—keeping with the routines that make this tournament renowned as one of the most laid-back in the world—no announcement of Williams’ presence was made to fans or members of the media, who were kept at bay by posted security guards. She surfaced briefly for a pre-match interview session, and then went back into hiding.

Meanwhile, the anticipation built. “The kids are so excited to finally get a chance to ball-kid for Serena,” said Rick Mozzillo, lead chair person of the tourney’s Ball Kids Committee. “The kids had to sign up for that shift a month ago, and we didn’t know that Serena would be playing that day at that time. So the lucky ones who get to work it kind of won a blind lottery.”

Meanwhile, the PR department laid out restrictions for coverage and access to the big match, the type of which are usually only instituted for the championship match—if at all.

“We were outsiders,” Williams wrote in the opener to her TIME about returning to Indian Wells. That’s how she characterized the status she shared with her sister Venus and the whole Williams family back in 2001.

Hopefully, the healing continues, and she and her family can enjoy what today makes the BNP Paribas Open one of the best stops on the pro tennis circuit each year.

Scroll down to see images from Serena Williams’ return to the BNP Paribas Open.

Published in Snapshot

Hardcore tennis fans arrived early on Monday, March 9, to take advantage of the free-entry policy in effect during the first and second days of the 2015 BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. While there was a lot of tennis action for them to enjoy, not much of it involved the sport’s big names.

Some of the game’s stars—like Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Serena Williams—have not yet appeared to prep for the tournament, which begins main-draw play on Wednesday, March 11. The big names who had arrived—including Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka, Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic and Daniela Hantukova—worked out on the main stage of Stadium 1 surrounded by thousands of empty seats, because the doors to that court were locked all day, while thousands of diehard fans roamed the pathways nearby.

In an email, the Independent asked J. Fred Sidhu, of the BNP Paribas Open media relations team, why this area was kept off limits.

“The main stadium is open to fans at the start of main draw play,” Sidhu said via email. “It is something that has always worked for the tournament. There is really no official reason. Fans have plenty of opportunities to watch practice on the outside courts.”

Fair enough … but it was unfortunate that most of the top-flight players practiced out of sight of the fans who admire them so.

As the temperatures rose past 90 degrees, the WTA women’s qualifying draw completed first-round action in the battle for unseeded players to grab a spot in the final qualifying draw. Women’s play continued today, while men’s qualifying action got under way.

However, the biggest news of the day came when tournament officials announced that top-ranged Serena Williams would end her 14-year absence from Indian Wells when she takes to the Stadium 1 court at 7 p.m. this Friday, March 13, to begin her quest for a third BNP Paribas Open women’s singles championship.

Published in Snapshot

On Friday, March 14, the women’s singles semifinals at the BNP Paribas Open were played under relatively cool and star-filled skies at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Both matches were decided in straight sets, with Agnieszka Radwanska moving easily into the finals, and Flavia Pennetta overcoming a stiff challenge from 2014’s best women’s player, Li Na.

On Saturday, it was the men’s turn on the Stadium 1 Court. First up in the ATP singles semifinals under the blazing noon sun was the pairing of No. 7 Roger Federer and No. 28 Alexandr Dolgopolov; Federer won convincingly. During the next match, temperatures on the court pushed well past 90 degrees, and the brilliant sunshine glared into the eyes of both players when they were serving. John Isner and Novak Djokovic battled hard through three sets, with Djokovic finally pulling away to deliver a fans’ dream matchup when he faces Federer in the finals on Sunday.

No matter how challenging the conditions get for the pros, they have help: The BNP Paribas Open “ballkids,” whose job is to tend to each player’s needs.

“Our ballkids figure out the players’ idiosyncrasies so they can service them as well as possible,” explained 2014 BNP Paribas Open ballkids director Adam Jasick. “‘Do they want two towels, or do they want the balls here?’ There’s more complexity than you would imagine.”

Candidates for the tournament’s 400-member ballkid corps must be between the ages of 12 and 20 and undergo a minimum of four 2 1/2-hour training sessions before moving on to a court. One of the toughest tasks to learn: the choreography of team actions involved in retrieving and redistributing the balls when the pros are serving. That activity and others are overseen by 75 ballkid-team coordinators who range in age from 21 to 80.

“The coordinators provide the ballkids with what they need to make sure they can go out and be successful,” said Jasick. “They turn our kids into superstars and make them the best ballkids on the tour.”

In the tournament’s first week, when the tennis action is spread over nine stadium courts during both day and night sessions, the demand for ballkids is greatest. While most of the kids come from the Coachella Valley or elsewhere in Southern California, teams of trained participants come from as far away as Fairbanks, Alaska. During that first week, the ballkids are rated on their performance and attitude, with the best performers invited to stay into the second week of play. Further judging results in the selection of the elite corps of four ballkid teams who work during the semifinals and finals matches.

Joshua Phillips, of Palm Desert, is a veteran at the tournament. So what’s his favorite part of being a ballkid?

“I like to get out of school,” joked Josh. “It’s really cool. I started five years ago, and it’s nice to work my way up. And this year, I’ve gotten so close to the players. It’s a nice opportunity.”

His most memorable moment to date? “I was working a nightshift last year, and all these moths just started landing on the court,” recalled Phillips. “The chair umpire called time and asked us to pick up the moths, but I didn’t want to touch them. I wasn’t much help. I got maybe two off the court.”

Ballkid teammate Emon Shaaf, of Rancho Mirage, is also a five-year vet. The most memorable moment of his tourney experience involved one of his tennis idols.

“I was in the men’s locker room,” explained Shaaf. “And I had to use the bathroom. So while I was in there, I looked to my left, and there was Roger Federer. I was surprised.”

More great tennis action—and an unusual public moment of recognition for the ballkids—were yet to come. On Sunday, the day began with Flavia Pennetta facing Agnieszka Radwanska in the women’s final. Unfortunately, toward the end of the first set, Radwanska injured her left leg and succumbed quickly to Pennetta’s aggressive game.

Next came the much-anticipated faceoff between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic—and it provided all the thrills and tense moments one could want in a top championship match. After splitting the first two sets, Federer battled back from one break down late in the third set to force a tiebreaker. However, Djokovic regained control and grabbed the trophy by overwhelming Federer at the end.

Prior to each of the finals, the Ball Girl of the Year and Ball Boy of the Year were introduced to the crowd in Stadium 1. Winning ball girl Ally Ryan from La Quinta stepped in to flip the coin to determine the first serve in the Pennetta-Radwanska match before posing for photos with the two players. At the start of the Djokovic-Federer contest, ball boy Drew Matthews was honored in the same fashion, with renowned tennis champion and TV announcer John McEnroe getting into the photo op as well.

But once the balls started flying, everything was once again as it should be for these ballkids: They faded into the background as they did their work.

“The greatest compliment the kids can get is not to be recognized,” Jasick said. “The hope is that nobody realizes the kids are there—and then they’ve done an excellent job.”

Original version posted at 2 p.m., Sunday, March 16; revised version posted Tuesday, March 18.

Published in Snapshot

As the 2014 BNP Paribas Tennis Open moves into the fourth round, many big names on the men’s side have tumbled in the heat and swirling breezes at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

Only five of the Top 10 players have survived. Among those already heading home are No. 4 seed Tomas Berdych, No. 9 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and most shockingly, No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal.

But Team Fed remains in the game.

That’s the name the worldwide tennis media has given to Roger Federer and his coterie of coaches, family and friends. This year's No. 7 seed and a four-time BNP Paribas Open champion, Federer is a perennial fan favorite. He is lionized by legions of loyal fans who track his every move around the expansive Tennis Garden grounds. For them, Coachella Valley’s two-week tennis fest is a chance to enjoy all the pleasures of “Club Fed”—and it doesn’t matter whether Federer is scheduled to play on a particular day or not. In fact, a Federer day-off practice session provides devotees with an opportunity to get even closer to their idol.

Roger Federer was slated for a 4 p.m. workout in Stadium 8 one afternoon this week. Almost all of the other players, even top seeds Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, practice on the practice courts. Seems logical, right? However, spectator space on these courts is limited—so Federer often practices in an open stadium.

How popular is Federer? The stadium was 90 percent filled an hour prior to his scheduled practice start time. When he finally rolled up in his cart, 15 minutes late, an overflow, standing-room-only crowd awaited him.

As soon as he began walking into the stadium, murmurs turned into a swelling round of applause. Fans lucky enough to find themselves along side his path of entry excitedly held out pens and objects to ask for an autograph.

“Hi, guys. Not now; maybe later,” he said, smiling.

He moved onto the court—as the applause surged and then subsided—before picking up a racket, grabbing some balls and starting to volley with his hitting partner. Silence surrounded him as his legion of followers, many sporting baseball caps with Federer’s trademark script logo, soaked up these special moments.

“Roger is the best athlete ever,” declared one young fan. “Tennis is the most difficult game, because it is one-on-one, and Roger is the greatest player and gentleman.”

As the practice session wore on, seemingly no one in the crowd left—not until Roger was finished.

For Club Fed, the fervent hope is that he’ll be the last man standing at this BNP Paribas Open.

Scroll down to see a photo gallery.

Published in Snapshot

Page 2 of 3