As tennis fans gear up for the 2018 BNP Paribas Open, we look back on 10 indelible moments in Indian Wells, from Fraulein Forehand to Pistol Pete and beyond, the triumphs, the upsets, and the ones that got away.
1. COURIER AND FIVES: 1991 was a heck of a year for Jim Courier. Armed with a punishing inside-out forehand and an unbending will to win, the mop-topped Floridian would capture the maiden major of his Hall of Fame career, winning the first of two Roland Garros titles. But when Courier, now 47, looks back on that pivotal year, he surely points to Indian Wells as the place where it all began. The American would score no less than three Top-10 wins in the desert en route to the title, to that point the biggest of his career. He took out world No. 2 and fellow Bollettieri boarder Andre Agassi in the Round of 16, before storming back from a two-sets-to-one deficit to oust Frenchman Guy Forget in a grueling three-and-half-hour final, 4-6, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(4).
2. THE FUTURE IS NOW: Steffi Graf was already 21 Grand Slam singles titles into her Hall of Fame career. The German would add her then-Open Era-best 22nd and final only months later at Roland Garros. Serena Williams, meanwhile, had yet to chart her first. However, Graf would get an up-close-and-personal glimpse of the future in the 1999 Indian Wells final, as the 17-year-old Williams outpunched her veteran opponent in three thrilling sets, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5, erasing a 4-2 third-set deficit in the process. Little did we know then that Serena would one day catch and surpass Graf’s major trophy count.
3. BE LIKE MJ: American Mary Joe Fernandez needed two hours and 42 minutes to seal the title in1993, saving a pair of match points to overcome one of the sport’s most tenacious retrievers, Amanda Coetzer. Standing at a diminutive 5-foot-2, Coetzer was pound for pound one of the tour’s toughest outs. But Fernandez, nearly three years removed from her last title, simply refused to back down against the South African and prevailed, 3-6, 6-1, 7-5(6). Coetzer would return to the final the following year,only to fall short again, this time against Steffi Graf, 6-0, 6-4, while Fernandez would add her second Indian Wells title in 1995.
4. MISSED OPPORTUNITY: It was the match point that got away. With a trip to the 2016 quarterfinals on his racquet serving at 5-3, 40-30 in the decisive third set, and on the verge of becoming the youngest man to reach the Elite Eight in Indian Wells since Michael Chang and Andre Agassi in 1989, it looked as if 18-year-old wunderkind Alexander Zverev would seal a shocking upset of three-time titlist Rafael Nadal. Then came the muffed forehand volley, his inexperience on the sport’s biggest stages perhaps costing him the trophy. Said the disappointed German of the textbook sitter, “I missed probably the easiest shot I had the whole match.” Nadal would claim the next four games and the match, 6-7(8), 6-0, 7-5. Zverev has since shot up into the Top 5 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, but remains winless in three head-to-heads with the Spaniard.
5. PETE VS. PETR: On the same court upon which he won his first-ever ATP singles match as a 16-year-old upstart, top-ranked Pete Sampras edges scissor-kicking Czech Petr Korda in the 1994 final, 4-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, in three hours and eight minutes. “He really deserves to be No. 1 in the world right now,” said Korda after the five-set loss. It was the first of two consecutive titles in the desert for the Californian, who would down lifelong rival Andre Agassi in straight sets in the ’95 final.
6. A STREAK BEGINS: Novak Djokovic wins the first of three consecutive ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles in Indian Wells, beating Roger Federer in the 2014 final, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(3). Djokovic (’14-’16) and Federer (’04-’06) remain the only players to reel off three straight in the desert, each owning a tournament-best five titles overall. Federer, who reached the title tilt without dropping a set, saw his career head-to-head advantage against the Serb cut to 17-16.
7. MIRACLE MATCH: A year after falling in the first round of qualifying, Elena Vesnina returns with a vengeance, shedding her reputation as a doubles specialist once and for all with a gutty performance against Svetlana Kuznetsova in the all-Russian 2017 final. Claiming the three-hour marathon, 6-7(6), 7-5, 6-4, the Olympic gold medalist (doubles, 2016) erased deficits of 4-1 in the second and 4-2 in the third to nullify her countrywoman, a three-time runner-up in Indian Wells. It remains the biggest singles title of her career. “She won because she was more aggressive than I was,” explained Sveta. “I was too passive.”
8. THE COMEBACK: Kim Clijsters and Lindsay Davenport twice met in Indian Wells finals, with Clijsters winning on both occasions. But it’s the 2005 final that the Belgian remembers most fondly. Sidelined the previous year by a wrist injury that would lead to a pair of surgeries, Clijsters returned to the Coachella Valley as if she hadn’t missed a beat. Davenport appeared destined for her third tournament title. After all, she had obliterated Maria Sharapova, 6-0, 6-0, in the semis and was rolling. But despite falling behind 0-4, Love-40, in the opening set, the athletic Clijsters battled back to triumph, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.
9. MICHAEL’S MOMENT: Michael Chang played some of the best tennis of his career in Indian Wells, where he bagged three trophies (’92, ’96, ’97). The Californian has said that the title in ’96, the same year he rose to a career-high No. 2 in the world, was the most special. And for good reason. The Chinese-American not only took out Stefan Edberg in the second round, he bested rival Andre Agassi in the quarterfinals, rallying from a set down on both occasions. He then defeated Dutchman Paul Haarhuis in a heated (on-court temps soared to 117 degrees) final, 7-5, 6-1, 6-1. “Michael had an answer to every one of my shots,” said Haarhuis. “Against him, you feel like you hit what would be three winners against other guys, but the ball still comes back.”
10. AN UPSET FOR THE AGES: It was only a second-round affair, but to Vasek Pospisil it might as well have been a final. That’s how it goes when you’re trying to resurrect a career that has seen you fall from a career-high of No. 25 in the Emirates ATP Rankings to a lowly No. 129, a qualifier more accustomed to backcourt wins on the Challenger circuit. The Canadian came into the 2017 BNP Paribas Open a paltry 3-20 against Top-10 competition, but on this night, he would score the biggest win of his career — an aggressive, go-for-broke 6-4, 7-6(5) upset of world No. 1 Andy Murray.