Paradise in the Desert: The BNP Paribas Open
There are two non-negotiable commodities in the desert: water and shade. And at the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells CA, otherwise known as the fifth grand slam of tennis, there is a premium on both. Tennis Paradise, they call it, both players and fans alike (the WTA and ATP women’s and men’s pro organizations have voted it tourney of the year four years running). 2018 marked the Desert in Full Bloom campaign, and for things to blossom, as they have at this elegant venue claiming the second largest tennis stadium in the world (second only to Arthur Ashe in New York City), plenty of water is in evidence. As fans enter, several special Britta water filling stations greet them. Beware the long lines however, as the water dribbles out like crown jewels. Some just opt for the generic chlorinated water fountains next to it. Don’t worry; you’ll be back many times.
Where the liquid flows profusely, however to quench another kind of thirst, is at the tulip-shaped white tent that beckons you front and center at this scenic tennis venue. It is Moët and Chandon’s island oasis where three kinds of unique champagne may be acquired, affording you the trifecta: liquid and shade and tennis on the big screen. Yes, for the price of a bottle, you may lounge for one hour on the round couches in individual tulip-shaped cabanas that shade you from the blistering 98-degree heat. But it is the official champagne of the Paribas Open, and why wouldn’t it be, with a French bank offering most of the $8 million in prize money for this Masters 1000 event. The winners receive, along with a giant check, a coveted 1000 points to their rankings.
This year saw a young upstart, 20 year-old Naomi Osaka, American and Japanese, win for the women; and crowd pleaser, Juan Martin Del Potro win the men’s title in a stunning three setter replete with two nail-biter tiebreakers over last year’s champ, Roger Federer.
After your hour is done, you will be in search of more shade, which is an easy find, as this year the Tourney Director, Tommy Haas (former ATP player) and owner, Oracle billionaire, Larry Ellison have seen fit to plant even more palm trees, 62 more than the already existing blissful lines of them, more flowers, more grass, and two even larger tented shade areas, which have been astro-turfed. Even the other grand slams do not have a pretty green rug covering the dreaded miles of cement in the food court. Many shade trees dot the two real grass lawns where fans relax on blankets with their Igloo coolers nearby. Not bad for the 400,000 fans who descend on the beautiful natural landscape of this desert empire for two weeks. The sunsets, seen even from high atop Stadium 1, as the red-hot orb sinks behind the steep pointed peeks of the Santa Rosa Mountains are spectacular but brief in splashes of pink and orange that are lost to darkness in a matter of minutes.
Then, between day and evening matches its time to indulge in one of the 20 restaurants populating the two stadiums and grounds. This is not necessarily about fast food and hamburgers here, though it can be. There is a Nobu and a Wolfgang Puck and a Wallys Desert Turtle, all of which have counters by the window where you can sit to watch one match similar to a seat courtside, for the price of $150 plus a meal tab. Remember: shade bears a premium, add a serving of ‘cool’ with that and you’ll happily wait your turn in line for the privilege. If you’d like to redeem yourself from your extravagances, the Pierros Pizza offers the best maple and bacon brussel sprouts I’ve ever tasted. You will have satisfied your greens quotient for the week!
If you like table tennis, the Audi tent features two all glass tables, at which you can sign up for 10 minutes of play, which is about as much exercise as you can stand in 98 degrees. It may be the only place in the world where you pray desperately for a cloud.
A crowd favorite? The kiss cam, which zeros in on unsuspecting couples during the odd game changeovers and hovers until they honor us with public amore. Desert in Full Bloom, they are not kidding. This tennis smorgasbord offers unlimited tennis day and night, and one grounds pass ticket gets you into it all. On the 17 practice courts, you can often see the marquis players hitting against each other early in the tourney, and effectively see what would be a semi or quarter final match up, Del Potro vs. Lopez or Chung vs. Sock.
A crowd favorite is the night the Bryan Bros band (with Counting Crows drummer, Jim Bogios) plays rock and roll on the center courtyard. The twins, from California, a righty and lefty, are the most successful doubles duo in ATP history with over 115 wins in their career, which includes 16 grand slams. One plays keyboard and one guitar, which according to their father, Wayne, whose band inspired them, they have played since they were three years old. They draw a huge Bryan Bro's fan club crowd that sways and dances under the silhouettes of whispering palms and gets ready to kick off another spectacular tennis event in the desert at notably, the players treasured tournament.