Indian Wells, Calif. — More than $100 million spent in the California desert, tennis center with two main stadiums, dozens of courts, giant video walls, restaurant-lined courtyards and murals honoring past champions. A temple was built.
But the favorite spot of many players at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden is the only place where nothing was built for the tournament.
It’s the player’s lawn. A large rectangular natural lawn just inside the west entrance serves as an outdoor gym, social space, soccer field, meditation center, makeshift TV studio, and children’s playground, sometimes all at the same time.
“It’s funny, but when a lot of us think of Indian Wells, it’s the grass,” 2019 French Open runner-up Czech star Marketa Bondrusova said as he headed to the grass on Friday afternoon. said.
With dramatic views of the Santa Rosa Mountains, the lawn sits in the flow of player traffic and is a transitional space between the restaurant and practice courts.
“I love it. I don’t understand why so many tournaments don’t do this,” said strong Danish player Holger Loon, who at age 19 is already in the top 10.
It is not without similarities. Miami, now held at his rock stadium, cavernous hard At his Open, Maine, home of the Dolphins can hold
However, Indian Wells’ grass is unparalleled and, unlike most player areas, is in the public eye, making it extremely rare. Fans flock to adjoining areas called “enclosures,” chasing autographs and photos, and filling the bleachers and elevated walkways that form the boundaries on either side of the lawn.
“It’s a zoo,” said Marijin Balu, IMG Tennis’ chief agent and vice president, as he watched fans observe player behavior and players observe fans.
Part of the concept is borrowed from golf, says Charlie Passarel, the driving force behind the creation of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
Pasarel, 79, grew up in Puerto Rico and was a top-tier tennis player in the 1960s and 1970s, playing for UCLA and the Tour. But he made a bigger impact as director and entrepreneur of his tournament business, establishing and developing his events in Indian Wells with his partner Ray Moore, a retired South African tennis player. . Built on barren land at an initial cost of $77 million, Tennis Garden opened in 2000 and hosted years of tournament grandeur before being sold to software billionaire Larry Ellison in 2009. provided a safe environment and ensured that the event remained in the United States.
Pasarell said the tournament was one of the first to feature practice sessions.
“It reminded me of going to a golf tournament, going to the practice range, seeing the players hitting the ball, setting up the stands and announcing the players’ names,” Pasarel said. “I always wanted to do it here. The players liked it, but some, like Martina Navratilova, wanted to keep the practice private.”
The lawn was an extension of the open-access philosophy, but Pasarell admitted that the space was created “a little by chance.”
“We had this area, and all of a sudden, players started using it as a place to do roadworks and stretches,” he said. I started kicking, so I set up a soccer net.”
Years after the Tennis Garden opened, it continued to expand. Pasarel said he had a serious proposal to build another show court on the lawn.
“I said, ‘Don’t touch that grass!'” said Pasarell. “They said we could build a really nice clubhouse court there, so I said, ‘This is really important.’ And I was able to convince them. loves the area and has evolved into something great for tournaments.”
Grass has been used for competition. It’s often pick-up football. Rafael Nadal scoring in the 2012 tournament In a game that also included Novak Djokovic.
But above all, spending a few hours being used to warm up for practices and games, and seeing players and their increasingly large support teams come and go is a real sense of how the game has changed.
Warm-up is now dynamic. Full of quick footwork combined with hand and eye challenges. Canadian Bianca Andreescu, who won her Wells title with the Indians in 2019, was balancing on one leg, leaning forward and catching her small football ball with one hand on Friday. The imposing Belarusian Alina Sabalenka, who won this year’s Australian Open, was running alongside fitness trainers and throwing medicine balls at each other.
Pierre Paganini, Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka’s longtime brain fitness coach, popularized this approach and tailored the exercises to fit precisely the complex demands of tennis. The emphasis was on repeating short bursts of speed and effort to mimic the rhythm of the match.
During Andreescu’s warm-up, she swiftly moved through a series of cones of different colors, reacting to her coach Christoph Lambert’s call for ‘red’ by quickly moving to the red cone.
“It’s more professional,” said Michael Russell, a former tour-level pro who now coaches world No. 5 Taylor Fritz. Some people take 15 minutes. Some of them may be 30. But there’s a lot more preparation and a bigger team as well. “
Reflecting that, players often moved across the lawn in small groups, usually in groups of four.
“We have a physio, a strength and conditioning coach, and a coach,” said Russell. “Before it was just a coach, but three or he had a team of four and used the physio provided in tournaments. to be able to hold something.”
The added support extended not only my career, but my working hours. “It’s getting longer and longer,” said Thomas Johansson, the 2002 Australian Open winner and coach of Romania’s Sorana Cirstea. We left at 10:20, arrived at 10:35 and ran back and forth a couple of times, waved our arms a little before we were ready. I start warming up at 9:30, it’s a different world now, I know how to eat, drink, train and recover so I’m positive but I have to find a balance No. You can’t live with tennis 24/7.
But at least life on the lawn isn’t just about tennis. This is where American up-and-comer and former youth quarterback Ben Shelton can throw a football at his 60-yard mark. It’s where Belarusian star Viktoria and her 6-year-old son Leo of his Azarenka can run around freely with other players’ children and players like his mother’s friend Oz his jabber. Where Vondrousova can juggle soccer her balls with the team.
“Today’s record was 84,” she said Friday. There was no match that day, but we decided to spend some quality time at the pro tennis version of the park.
“Thank God we didn’t build on it,” Pasarel said.