Tuesday, March 5, 2019 - Rafael Nadal is introduced during the Eisenhower Cup Presented By Masimo at the BNP Paribas Open in Stadium 2 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California. (Jared Wickerham/BNP Paribas Open)
Leave it to a forward-thinking tournament owned by a forward-thinking tech mogul to push the envelope. Innovation, after all, has been the default modus operandi in and around the Indian Wells Tennis Garden since Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison took the BNP Paribas Open reins a decade ago.
New/renovated stadiums. Hawk-Eye replay on every court. An infusion of on-site dining options, including Nobu and the Michelin-starred Spago. Meticulously manicured and flower-filled grounds. #NextGen contested video games on the big board. A string of Tournament of the Year nods from both the ATP and WTA.
So it came as little surprise that the Masters 1000/Premier Mandatory tournament would host an inventive, one-night-only event showcasing Rafael Nadal and some of his most exciting ATP brethren. The Eisenhower Cup presented by Masimo, a Tie Break Tens event, pitted eight players — Nadal, Stan Wawrinka, Marin Cilic, Milos Raonic, Dominic Thiem, David Goffin, Gael Monfils and Taylor Fritz, aka Rafa and Friends — against each other in a fast-paced, knockout format consisting of 10-point tiebreak matches. The eight-man field was divided into two round-robin groups in Stadium 2.
Just how different was this event? The server was determined playground style — by a rock-paper-scissors shootout. When they weren’t in action, players kept loose on stationary bikes. DJ-spun music echoed throughout the stadium during breaks in play. And there was some courtside heckling from the participants themselves.
“You have to be fast out of the blocks and start quick,” said Cilic of the newfangled format. “Anything can happen in a few points.”
Cilic was an 11-9 winner in the first matchup of the night against Goffin.
In the end, it was the power-serving Raonic who walked away with $150,000 in prize money, but the night wasn’t really about the champion. The event also served as a benefit four local charities: Eisenhower Medical Center, Bighorn Golf Club Charities, Family YMCA of the Desert, and Patient Safety Movement Foundation.
“It’s always a pleasure to be able to give back to something you love,” said Cilic, the 2014 US Open titlist. “For us, it’s a simple thing to entertain the crowd, hit the ball around and try to give our best. Out of those things, we can make something great. It’s a special night to help out in a charitable way, especially for this region.”