After nearly a week of competition in Southern California's most [choose your superlative] sporting event, fans at the BNP Paribas Open have seen the surprising and the predicable, the frustrating and the charming. Through last night, 263,112 people have swarmed across the 88 acres of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, and by the time the tournament champions are crowned on Sunday, more than 450,000 people are expected to see the best players in the world ply their trade.
Surprisingly, mind-blowingly, Thousand Oaks native and UCLA product Marcos Giron, made it into the third round of a tournament that is second in prestige only to the four grand slams. It's a professional vantage with which Giron is not remotely familiar. He has tried to qualify for this tournament several times before making his way into the main draw this year. He said, "It's good to hear the Bruin eight-clap," and that he never expected to go this deep into the two-week affair. L.A. Times sports columnist Helene Elliott asked him, "Did you even bring enough clothes?"
Predictably, the quality of tennis has been superb, even though some of the top seeds lost their first match, including former U.S. Open champ Sloane Stephens, former Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova and Stefanos Tsitsipas, the youngest player ranked in the top 10. Predictably, Serena Williams defaulted last night and questions persisted about Nick Kyrgios' extreme mood swings and questionable manners. Predictably, the rent-a-cops are bored because everyone is so well-behaved in Indian Wells.
Frustratingly, the lines at the food concessions and to get into the parking lots can tempt you to forgo good behavior. Diners have table-service options, but at Nobu, Spago and Wally's Desert Turtle you might have to choose between the appetizer or making the car payment. Two tennis-pro friends met here for a few days of tennis last week, one from Sonoma and one from Tucson. They were so appalled by the cost at the food court that they repaired to the parking lot and sipped wine from the cooler in their car. "I'm not paying Larry Ellison $14 for a glass of wine," said Sonoma. Ellis, the grand pooh-bah of Oracle, owns the BNP Paribas Open.
Fans observe a hitting partner warming up a tour player on a practice court.
Like everywhere in Southern California, the desert has experienced unseasonable rain this year, awakening a colorful super bloom of wildflowers. The wet, cool weather also has unleashed a plague of moths the size of mockingbirds. They fly in the faces of the fans, and swarm the courts where frustrated players have turned their rackets into fly swatters. Leave it to the utterly charming Naomi Osaka, defending women's champion and world ranked No.1, to learn a life-affirming lesson from an insect infestation. After winning her match Saturday night, she was asked if the moths were a factor.
"It was impossible not to see them," she said, launching into typical Naomi-speak. "But, like, other than being on the baseline and stuff, it's not -- like, I don't know. Like, when you're serving and then you see, like, three moths right where you're about to serve, then you feel bad. You're like, 'should I kick them off?' But, like, they're already dead. So I don't know. I don't want to say it was annoying because they're still like 'animals' or 'insects,' but, yeah, it was a little bit annoying."
World-ranked No. 3 Alexander Zverev makes his fans happy.
Photos: Ellen Alperstein