Folks who know me know I am a tennis geek. It’s the one sport at which I am at least so-so. I am miserable at most others. (Okay, I’m not bad at ping-pong and squash, but they’re related.)
I’m also a huge fan of the game, so I have been attending matches most of my life at such venues as the US Open and Wimbledon, and lesser spots like UCLA, even watching them endlessly on the Tennis Channel from places like Doha and Rotterdam. But I had never made the two and a half hour trek from L.A. into the desert for the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, aka the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
Yesterday, however, thanks to the kindness of an attorney friend with a pair of spectacular leftover box seats, I got into the pajamamobile with Managing Editor Aaron Hanscom and highed us down to the low desert to ogle some top-level racquet play.
Oh, what I had been missing.
Forget Wimbledon, forget Roland Garros, forget the scorching hard courts of Melbourne, Indian Wells is THE place for tennis today. The stadiums, old and new, are fabulous, the palm-lined grounds gorgeous, the atmosphere exciting yet relaxed, the March weather heavenly, the margaritas free flowing and the food exceptional. Well, I assume it’s exceptional. There is now a Nobu pop-up restaurant in the grandstands, but the lines stretched to the Mexican border, so we passed. Besides, we could get plenty of sushi in L.A. We were there for tennis.
And tennis we had, great tennis, about twelve nearly consecutive hours of it. We watched four top ten players in the world play, Andy Murray losing to Milos Raonic, Stan Wawrinka losing to Kevin Andersen and the great Roger Federer breaking the trend and defeating Tommy Haas. Interspersed were some terrific women’s matches, but I was waiting for my personal favorite, Novak Djokovic, to play.
The magnificent Serb — who had been world number one for a couple of years to be recently overtaken by Rafa Nadal, who has been having problems of his own lately — hadn’t been at the same peerless level he was in Fall 2013, when Djokovic won 25 matches in row, many of them against top ten players. But I was hoping he would return to form.
Due to a remarkably long women’s match Nole, as he is called, finally appeared on the court at 10:20PM to battle the surging Croatian Milan Cilic, who stunningly dismissed Djokovic in the first set 6-1. By this time it was nearly 11PM and, groggy, I had visions of flying off the freeway somewhere west of Magic Johnson’s beloved Morongo casino. So we left. But as we drove home, Aaron kept tabs on the rest of the match on my iPhone. Not unpredictably, the DJoker turned it around and won 6-2, 6-3, setting up a possible Federer-Djkovic final.
If it happens, that should be a classic. Too bad it will only go three sets, because Indian Wells is just a 1000 Masters event. Three out of five are played at the slams. Speaking of which, Tennis.com’s Peter Brodo recommends that the BNP Paribas Open be made the fifth Grand Slam. I’m right with him.
Before I end, kudos should go to Larry “Oracle” Ellison for sparing no expense in making the Tennis Garden so fantastic, and to the Ukraine’s Alexander Dolgopolov who, now in the semi-finals, is standing tall for his country against Putin on the courts, even if our administration isn’t anywhere else.
And… don’t forget to teach your kids tennis, or get someone else to do it. It’s the best life sport there is. And play yourself. Just think, besides that extra fitness boost you get over golf, you won’t have to run into a retired Barack Obama on the course.
Tiger Woods once called Roger Federer the greatest athlete in the world.
But that was several years ago, before Federer eased out of his friendship with the scandal-ridden Woods.
More importantly, it was also before Federer won his seventh Wimbledon today (tying Pete Sampras’ record), his seventeenth grand slam victory overall (already record-breaking), elevating him once more to number one in the tennis rankings, a position he has now held for 286 weeks and counting (again breaking Sampras’ record). All this at the age of thirty, almost thirty-one, when most tennis players are supposed to be heading out to the country club farm or learning how to do TV commentary à la Joh McEnroe (non pareil in the area).
The match he played today against the unfortunate Andy Murray was one of Federer’s best. Several shots and rallies, including one deft net approach curveball to win the second set, will be replayed by tennis aficionados into the future.
At the moment, Federer again looks unstoppable. Of course, that could change. He has terrific competition, some of the best in the history of the sport, from Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.
But even if it does, what Federer has accomplished over his career, from the initial victory over the waning Sampras back at Wimbledon in 2001 until today, is quite remarkable. It’s easy to agree with Woods that since 2001 he has been the greatest athlete alive. There is, however, a yet greater claim to be made.
He is the greatest of all time — not just in tennis, but in all sports.
What? Greater than Michael Jordan and Rafer Johnson and whoever else you might want to put on the list? Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb? Jesse Owens? Roger Bannister? Pheidippides?
Well, we all know it’s impossible to assess the comparative greatness of athletes in different sports across different eras and that this is the ultimate in biased assertions (and, yes, I admit to pro-tennis bias — a sport I have been playing since the age of six and still play, three times a week, in my sixties), but I will try to make the case.