INDIAN WELLS, California – Hate to leave Indian Wells, but the Transcontinental Double of American tennis rolls on to Key Biscayne, Florida, the next stop. They’re a tempting pair for the racket-flapping laborers on the men’s and women’s tours, moving from the western desert to the Atlantic shore, with the champs here – Caroline Wozniacki and Novak Djokovic – still looking hungry for more.
An international attendance record for tournaments other than the four majors was set by the 350,086 who reported for viewing duty at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. For the first time the BNP Paribas Open filled the principal stadium Sunday with 16,754 devotees watching a No. 1 win a title (unshakable Wozniacki beating spunky Marion Bartoli, 6-1, 2-6, 6-3) and a No. 1 losing one (Rafa Nadal falling to extra-confident Novak Djokovic, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2). For several years, this tournament has surpassed all but the four majors in attendance.
It seems to me that the Indian Wells Tennis Garden leads the world in taking care of the customers. I mean if you get weary, just find a patch of grass amid shade trees and take a nap. You won’t be arrested or ordered to keep off the grass. They’ve got 54 acres to work with, and the scene gets lovelier every year.
Under Larry Ellison’s fortuitous ownership, in its second year, there is now funding for improvements that are unique in the world of tennis. The Indian Wells Tennis Garden’s BNP Paribas tournament is the first to have all competition courts wired for the Hawk-Eye challenge system and is the first to have an internal network of entertainment. There is a large studio where the entertainment is produced , unlike any other sporting event. Scripts are written daily, there are producers, directors and custom content for each large video screen. This tournament is leading the way, ahead of all others in the world.
Unfortunately, what the fans were hoping for, a Nadal – Federer final, just missed.
“Just a bad day at the office,” said Roger Federer. But he was smiling. The Lord of the Swings doesn’t rant and rave, even when losing twice in one day (a very rare occurrence for him). He was removed in the semis by Djokovic, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, despite some majestic shotmaking. And then, paired with Olympic gold medal partner Stanislaus Wawrinka, lost the thrilling doubles final to Xavier Malisse and Alex Dolgopolov – a Belgian-Ukrainian lineup – 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 10-7.
It was terrific seeing the best guys dip into doubles, a rare undertaking for the high and mighty, nine of the top ten players were involved in the competition and played to full stadiums. Dolgopolov (keep your eye on him) and Malisse hooked up for the first time and overcame the home favorites, the Bashing Bryans. Can you believe that those extraordinary Californians, Bob and Mike, have never won Indian Wells in 13 starts?
It looked like a game of musical rankings as Djokovic stopped No. 2 Federer and No. 1 Nadal. Thus Djokovic – winning his 20th straight singles match – replaces Fed at No. 2, and has his dangerous eyes on Nadal.
It recalls the three-man derby of 1981 through 1984 when John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl were fighting it out at the Nos. 1-2-3. But McEnroe didn’t let go of No. 1.
“My serve was the trouble,” said Rafa, who was not so imposing at 42 per cent. Djokovic agreed, and came through in probably the most dramatic game of the tournament, the 9th of the second set. It took Novak 6 set points and 5 deuces to finally close it out. Nadal had a break point that could have turned it around, but the Serb banged a winning forehand.
With the match even, Djokovic was swept by a “superhuman feeling.” A chorus of Serbian teen-age girls in the balcony were singing his praises, and swiftly, on a torrid 6 game run, he led 4-0 in the decisive third. “It was euphoric,” said he, dropping a word seldom used by an athlete.
Good natured as ever Nadal, having missed a month to the hamstring injury that may have cost him the Australian title, and illness, praised his foe and said he felt lucky to get to the final. “Back to work in Key Biscayne,” he said of the Sony Ericsson Open, “and we’ll see who is number one at the end of the year.”