Friday, March 25, 2016

On crummy motels, heat, Vika, etc. in Indian Wells

Eventual champion Victoria Azarenka begins
 a warmup session by tossing a football.
 Photo by Paul Bauman
   Random observations after spending three days in the middle of the second week at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, a suburb of Palm Springs:
   —The area features numerous swanky hotels. Then there was my motel in lovely Indio. I don't want to say it was cheap, but across the street was Silva's Radiator, and around the corner was the Riverside County Detention Center (they can't just call it a jail). Nothing says "resort area" like barbed wire.
   —I've attended the BNP Paribas Open annually since 2009, and I still can't get used to the "o" being silent in Coachella Valley, where the Palm Springs area is situated.
   —You don't have to be Dr. Oz or House to figure out why there's a pharmacy on seemingly every corner in the Ca-chell-a Valley. Because of the year-round warm weather, Palm Springs is, above all, a retirement community. 
   —Overheard as a female fan talked on her cellphone: "I want you to call your kidney guy for an appointment in two weeks." See what I mean?
   —Even in March, the temperature reaches the high 80s and low 90s in Indian Wells. Players have to be in phenomenal shape to battle for up to three hours; it's tough just to sit in the afternoon sun and watch the matches. Memo to self: Don't come here in July.
   —In fact, the players are unbelievably fit. Unlike their golf counterparts, pro tennis players can't afford to have an ounce of fat since their sport places a premium on movement and endurance.
   —When the sun goes down, though, the temperature is ideal.
   —It doesn't get any better than when you're sipping an ice-cold lemonade in a shaded seat, watching the best tennis players in the world in a beautiful setting and listening to The Beatles ("Drive My Car," "Good Day Sunshine," etc.) on the PA system during changeovers or between matches.
Stan Wawrinka's one-handed backhand
is the most beautiful shot in tennis.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   —Creedence Clearwater Revival ("Proud Mary") and Eric Clapton ("Layla") work, too. My wife hates CCR, but she teaches school and stayed home in Sacramento.
   —OK, so I'm old, too. But not retirement age yet.
   —The tournament volunteers are very helpful and friendly, contributing to the relaxed atmosphere.
   —Stan Wawrinka's one-handed backhand is the most beautiful shot in tennis. Richard Gasquet's, Dominic Thiem's and Philipp Kohlshreiber's are pretty sweet, too. 
   —It isn't just John Isner's 140-plus-mph (225-plus kph) first serve that's a weapon. In a 6-4, 7-6 (4) third-round victory over Adrian Mannarino, the 6-foot-10 (2.08-meter) Isner's second delivery consistently bounced over the head of the 5-foot-11 (1.81-meter) Frenchman, who grew increasingly frustrated.
   —In the next round, 5-foot-10 (1.78-meter) Kei Nishikori saved a match point in his 1-6, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (5) win over the ninth-seeded Isner. With his tremendous hand-eye coordination, the fifth-seeded Nishikori blocked back several of Isner's first-serve rockets to pull out the tiebreakers.
   —Two kids clamored for Nishikori to throw them a souvenir after he beat Isner. Nishikori tossed each of them a towel, and both kids ran off without saying thank you.
   —Eighteen-year-old Alexander Zverev, a 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) German whom Rafael Nadal touted as a possible future No. 1, also is impressive in the interview room. Zverev displayed candor, maturity and impeccable English after losing to Nadal in the fourth round. When asked about blowing a putaway volley while holding match point, Zverev admitted, "I missed probably the easiest shot I had the whole match." Regarding the possibility of reaching No. 1, Zverev asserted, "This is painful right now, but it doesn't change anything about the process."
   —Memo to "journalists": Please ask a question. "Talk about ... " and "Your thoughts on ... " are not questions.
   —By the way, when did "journalists" become "media members"? Why use two words when one will do, except to sound like a pompous jerk?
   —It didn't take long for 13th-seeded Gael Monfils to exhibit his renowned athleticism in his 6-3, 6-4 victory over Federico Delbonis in the fourth round. Monfils hit a seemingly impossible backhand with the ball behind him and won the point.
Alexander Zverev, 18, was impressive in the interview
room as well as on the court. Photo by Paul Bauman
   —Delbonis, who stunned second-seeded Andy Murray in the third round, has a bizarre hitch in his service motion. The 6-foot-3 (1.91-meter) left-hander from Argentina starts to toss the ball, brings his arm back down, then goes through with an unusually high toss. Didn't bother Monfils, though.
   —Novak Djokovic stood up several hundred fans who packed Practice Court 2 for his scheduled session at noon on Wednesday, a day off for him. By 11:30 a.m., the stands were almost full, and by 12:30 p.m., most of the fans gave up and left. Hey, Djoker, if you're not going to practice, don't sign up for the court. If something comes up, have someone in your entourage call the staff so the fans can be notified. As one of them said at 1:15 p.m.: "(Tournament officials) say he's still going to show up but his coach doesn't know when. Very considerate. Without the fans, you're nothing. Remember that." 
   —Just then, Victoria Azarenka arrived to warm up for her match that evening. The 26-year-old Belarusian, who lived in the Phoenix area for many years, began by running pass patterns along a baseline, catching footballs tossed by a member of her entourage and throwing them back. The 49ers might want to take a flier on her in next month's draft.
   —Djokovic went on to win his third straight Indian Wells title and record fifth overall. Azarenka upset Serena Williams for her second BNP crown. That morning, tournament director and CEO Ray Moore opened his big mouth about the women's tour. 
   —Former Stanford star Nicole Gibbs, who reached the fourth round as a qualifier, has the greatest stare in tennis. When displeased, she lowers her head and shoots daggers from her eyes. 
   —Gibbs is feisty, too. Two years ago, in a loss to fellow American Louisa Chirico in the second round of the FSP Gold River Challenger in Sacramento, Gibbs stomped on her racket because she didn't like the string tension. 
   —Players engage in a lot of wishful thinking when they challenge line calls. They're wrong about 90 percent of the time. Often, it's not even close.
   —Players weren't the only celebrities in the BNP Paribas Open. After one match, a woman insisted on having her picture taken with charismatic chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani.
   —Fans could putt on a small green set up by the Indian Wells Golf Resort in the shopping area of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, the site of the BNP Paribas Open. One guy was taking practice swings and intently studying his putt. Hey, Bubba, putt the ball already. This isn't the Masters. 

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