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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

There was no Indian Wells Tennis Garden back in 1996. That’s when I started covering what’s now known as the BNP Paribas Open. Back then, the tourney was held at the Hyatt Grand Champions.

The tournament’s champions come and go, but some of the folks responsible for what the tournament has become are here to stay. In this case, a hippie tennis star from South Africa, and a girl from Boston who taught herself tennis by hitting a ball against a backboard, were instrumental in bringing what is now the BNP Paribas Open to its current glory.

The hippie is Ray Moore, the Tennis Garden and tournament CEO, and the girl is Dee Dee Felich, assistant tournament director and the former senior VP.

In 1981, Felich, then 23, arrived in Palm Springs to meet her new boss, Charlie Pasarell. He was working on a new tennis tournament at Mission Hills. The tourney was called the Xerox Grand Champions.

“Everyone was on their hands and knees sorting out numbers and letters for the scoreboards, so I joined the group and did whatever needed to be done,” remembers Felich.

When the tourney moved to the La Quinta Resort, Pasarell and Felich had a miniature office. She’d have to go under the table to pick up a call when they were both working the telephones—and they’d back into each other every time they had a visitor!

When the tourney moved to the Hyatt Grand Champions, Felich used her lunch break to breast-feed her newborn son in a hotel room. There was no time to go home.

Once, she recalls, the desert wind was so strong that it was knocking the advertisement plaques off of the courts.

She asked: “What now?!” Pasarell told her: “Hold on!”

She’s still holding on, decades later.

“I may not be doing as much facility ops, as we have a whole team for that, and they’re the best in the business, but we still pitch in whenever we are called upon,” says Felich.

In the mid ’80s, Ray Moore became Pasarell’s partner in what would become the fifth-largest tennis tourney in the world. Over the years, the Indian Wells event climbed up right behind the Grand Slam tournaments: the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

In 2009, Pasarell sold his dream tournament to billionaire Larry Ellison. The package included the Tennis Garden as well. The rumored price, never confirmed, was $100 million.

Today, Moore is the man in charge, reporting only to Ellison. Moore is an impressive businessman—with a surprising other side.

The first time I walked into his Tennis Garden office, some 10 years ago, there was a sign at the door that read: The Hippie. Hanging on the wall was—and still is—a John Lennon self-portrait!

“Lennon signed it,” Moore proudly grins while gesturing toward the framed drawing. “I bought four autographed pieces; the other three are up in my house.”

During his career as a tennis player, Moore was heavily into music, as well as Zen and other spiritual stuff. He was introduced to meditation by his tennis pal Torben Ulrich.

Years ago, Moore took Torben’s son Lars to a Deep Purple concert. It left a lasting impression on the kid. Years later, that kid, Lars Ulrich, co-founded a band called Metallica.

There is a framed picture of Metallica in Moore’s office, too. Lars Ulrich dedicated it to Amanda, Moore’s daughter. He wrote: “You know, your dad is indirectly responsible for all this!”

There is one thing Moore hasn’t yet accomplished, he told me: He has not yet played tennis with Larry Ellison. The flamboyant owner of BNP Paribas Open is an avid tennis player.

For time being, Moore is a happy CEO, because Ellison has poured tons of money into the tourney’s infrastructure. As a result, according to Moore, the BNP Paribas Open may soon surpass the French Open and Wimbledon in attendance.

“My goal is to get a half-million people to attend our tournament during its two weeks in March,” Moore says.

If the Indian Wells tennis tournament were to eventually surpass all four Grand Slams in size and attendance, what would happen then? Only time will tell.

The BNP Paribas Open takes place Monday, March 3, through Sunday, March 16. For more information, visit www.bnpparibasopen.com.

Published in Features

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