Sunday, October 10, 2021 - Leylah Fernandez and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova play a Round 3 match at Stadium 1 on day 7 of the 2021 BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, CA. (Michael Cummo/BNP Paribas Open)
34-year-old Andy Murray got the better of 18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz in a high-octane, three-hour puzzle of a tennis match out on Stadium 1, proving that while the new guard is slowly encroaching on the top prizes that the likes of Murray, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have kept to themselves for so long, there’s still a ways to go.
The Spaniard fought valiantly and wowed the crowd with his dynamic movement around the court, but the veteran Murray’s change in spins and heights kept Alcaraz off balance. Young guns Felix Auger-Aliassime (2nd appearance), Jenson Brooksby (1st appearance) and Brandon Nakashima (2nd appearance) all fell against more experienced opponents as well, as the tricky desert conditions challenged the inexperienced and rewarded those who are more accustomed to Indian Wells tennis.
Speaking of tricky desert conditions, the sun is one of them! Pure, unfiltered sunlight is projected for the rest of week at the BNP Paribas Open, and crowds on Sunday were grateful for any shade they were able to find, often moving with the shadows on the main courts for a respite while they watch their favourite players compete.
This goes for players too.
There are many ingredients that make for a watchable tennis player.
Quality of tennis, intensity, overall focus, hot shots, emotion… or any combination of the aforementioned traits. However, a tennis player that you simply cannot help but root for takes an X factor that not everyone has.
It’s safe to say that after her Saturday night upset win, Leylah Fernandez certainly has it.
In her three-setter against No. 9 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the Canadian found a way to engage the crowd from start to finish. Her demeanour – confident and competitive but never cocky – drew them in from the start. Maybe they had watched one of her epic matches at the US Open this year, or heard stories of her heroics and wanted to see what all the fuss was really about. Either way, they got what they came for.
One particular moment, a break point with Pavlyuchenkova serving for the first set, an incredible hustle to a drop shot followed by a no-look passing shot sent half the crowd to its feet. Then, a second later, Fernandez raised both her hands to the air, as if to implore the rest of the jubilant Stadium 1 to join in – and oh, how they did.
LATE NIGHT LEYLAH#BNPPO21 pic.twitter.com/DZlsHN4iD4
— wta (@WTA) October 11, 2021
High bounces, slow skid, thin air, hot weather – these are the conditions that players have to deal with at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, and each player is making the small adjustments to their game needed to manage the unique conditions in the Palm Desert. But there are a few players who are doing a bit better with their adjustments than other.
“The conditions are desert, so the air is pretty dry,” said Matteo Berretini, seeded No. 5 and a first-time Masters 1000 finalist in Madrid this year. “The ball is flying sometimes but the ball is so slow, courts are pretty slow, so it’s a little bit tricky at the beginning, but then you get used to it.”
The likes of Elina Svitolina, Iga Swiatek, Jelena Ostapenko, Berrettini, Stefanos Tsitsipas and more have all seen some of their best career highlights come on clay – and though movement on the slippery crushed brick surface is a world apart from that on hard courts, the way the ball moves off the BNP Paribas Open courts has made life familiar (and better) for those players.
These players either enjoy long, physical points or they like the time that the slow surface allows them to unleash their shots – and sometimes they like both. Don’t be surprised if you see one of the above players walk away with the trophy in a week’s time.