I was trying to act as if it wasn’t my first time. Cool. Confident. Relaxed. There I was, sitting six feet away from tennis icon and my tennis idol – ROGER FEDERER – one of the most famous athletes of all time, and a genuine nice guy. I was wearing my press credentials proudly around my neck as I was called on to ask him the first question of his second round press interview after he walloped Stephane Robert in just 51 minutes on a hot night at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California.
“Roger, you were moving amazingly well out there. Great match tonight. How are you feeling? How’s the knee?” I know what you’re thinking. That’s the best you could come up with? Well, when Roger Federer is looking at you from six feet away, yes, that was the best I could do. He looked right at me, only me, as he gave me his thoughtful reply.
After they moved on to the next journalist’s question, I don’t think I heard another question after mine. I was, for the first time in my life, dazed and star struck. I’ve met Sinatra, Pavarotti, Liza Minnelli, Dean Martin, and a host of other well-known celebrities. They, too, were great, but none could compare to being face to face with King Roger.
He glided into the media interview room for his post-match press conference just as he glides on the court. Just before sitting down, he smiled at everyone and said, “Are you all waiting for me?” Yes, there is no one else I would be waiting for, I thought to myself.
Dina Malloch, my good friend and “official trip photographer” was seated right next to me, snapping away as Roger answered my question. After the interview was over, we walked out in disbelief, both confessing to be a bit shaken. We had been six feet away from our tennis god. He spoke to us. Life would never be the same. There’s a reason his initials are RF – they are the middle letters of the word PERFECT – and that pretty much sums up Roger Federer.
But let’s go back to the beginning…
We excitedly arrived at the Miramonte Resort, a short distance from the Indian Wells Tennis Gardens. The smell of sweet orange blossoms permeated the well-maintained hacienda-style property. It was heavenly. For the next two mornings, we started our day playing in tennis clinics at another exquisite resort – LaQuinta – before heading over to watch tennis.
Billionaire Larry Ellison of Oracle fame owns the Tennis Gardens. He has made great improvements to this tournament, including major renovations to the main stadium, putting shot spot on every court in the stadium, installing lots of Brita water fountain stations to refill water bottles, and providing great dining choices including Nobu and Chop House on the well-planned and easily navigable grounds.
In addition, he brought in fresh young blood – ATP player Tommy Haas – to be the tournament director for what is considered to be the “fifth major” after the four actual tennis majors – the US Open, Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon. There was one thing, however, that even Larry Ellison couldn’t improve – the weather.
Typical temps for early March are in the low to mid-80s; however, this time the mercury hit the mid to upper 90s the entire four days we were there with no cloud cover. Most were sitting in the stands with towels covering them (including me) because we would have burnt to a crisp. The exception was Dina, whose golden brown Syrian skin remained unaffected. Really? Not fair!
Great fun. Great times. Great tennis.
Of course, the heat did not stop us from watching matches all day and all night. As we had tickets to the day and night sessions for four days, we saw the flamboyant Italian Fabio Fognini beat the number-seven seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and the adorable Vasek Pospisil (affectionately called Popsicle by the fans because no one wants to pronounce his last name) impressively attack the defensive skills of world number-one Andy Murray, resulting in the biggest upset of the tournament. We cheered with thousands of fans for an injured Venus Williams to come back from the brink of a beatdown by Jelena Jankovic – and she did. We rooted for the young underdog from Great Britain, Kyle Edmund, who, for several games, was getting the better of world number-two Novak Djokovic. We giggled at the great showmanship of Frenchman Gael Monfils as he took on the big serving, giant American John Isner. Great fun. Great times. Great tennis.
Incidentally, the weather had a positive effect that made Dina and I very happy. The heat and dry desert air causes the tennis ball to fly even faster in the air and makes the court play very fast. PeRFect conditions for King Roger’s game. He loves fast courts – the faster the better.
Back to reality
Regrettably, we had to leave after our four days of tennis nirvana to head back home to life and reality, but Roger would go on to easily beat his longtime nemesis Rafael Nadal in the round of 16; he got a walkover when his opponent in the quarter-final, the dangerous Nick Kyrgios, was not able to play that day; he played another strong match to defeat American Jack Sock in the semi-final, and he convincingly beat his Swiss compatriot, Stan Wawrinka, to take the title. Even at the ancient tennis age of almost 36, King Roger reigns once again.
If you’re a tennis fan and like traveling to see your favorite tennis stars, I highly recommend going to the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, which takes place every March. From the many amenable volunteers to the people who sit next to you in the stands, the atmosphere is friendly, accommodating and fun. You get to see your favorite players practicing in an easy, non-stress environment. The outer courts are well-designed and within close proximity of each other and with shot spot, they offer an exciting, more intimate atmosphere. Attending the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells is a special trip to a very special place and one I will not soon forget. I highly recommend putting this trip on your bucket list.