The 2017 BNP Paribas Open is in the books. Roger Federer (men’s singles), Elena Vesnina (women’s singles), Martina Hingis/Yung-Jan Chan (women’s doubles) and Rajeev Ram/Raven Klaasen (men’s doubles) have been crowned champions, and another exciting year of tennis in the desert has come to a close. BNPParibasOpen.com looks back on 30 things we learned.
1. The Indian Wells Tennis Garden is a destination like no other. Czech Tomas Berdych put it best: “It’s a shame that we cannot include this as a Slam.” From the remodeled Stadium 1 to a 50% increase in square footage to the addition of such foodie hot-spots as Wolfgang Puck’s Spago, the BNP Paribas Open — set amidst the sun-kissed Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains — sure feels like a major. No wonder the ATP World Tour Masters 1000/WTA Premier Mandatory event is both a fan and player fave.
2. The Group of Death may have been the toughest draw in the history of the game. Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Del Potro — 45 Slams among them — and young guns Nick Kyrgios and Sascha Zverev all in the same quarter of the draw? Seriously? “I don’t think that will ever happen again,” said Zverev. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” echoed Andy Murray, who was happy to be on the opposite side of the draw, though he would exit early anyway. “It’ll probably be one of the toughest sections of a draw of all time.” In the end, only Mr. Federer would survive.
3. Vasek Pospisil is no No. 129. It’s not as if he was an unknown. After all, the Canadian had reached the 2015 Wimbledon quarterfinals and was once ranked as high as No. 25. But he’d since fallen to No. 129, and no one saw Pospisil — who spent his off-season training not far from the stadium site — straight-setting world No. 1 Andy Murray 6-4, 7-6(5). “It’s an amazing feeling,” he said. “To beat the No. 1 player in the world is incredible. It’s the biggest win of my career.”
4. Roger Federer is ageless. Now 35 and some 18 Grand Slams into his two-decade-long career, the Swiss maestro is again playing on a level all his own. You can talk all you want about the #NextGen stars-on-the-rise, but the sport’s GOAT remains a dominant presence. Consider this: with Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic’s Miami pullouts, Sir Roger has a legitimate shot at a return to No. 1 in 2017.
5. Kayla Day is 17 and fierce. Few had heard of the fresh-faced Southern Californian prior to the event, so you’ll forgive us if we were taken aback when the fearless teen shocked No. 32 seed Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in the second round and pushed 2016 Roland Garros champ and world No. 7 Garbine Muguruza to three sets. We get the feeling we’ll be seeing more of her in the near future.
6. Nick Kyrgios is a freakish talent. He’ll serve you off the court. His whiplash forehand is among the biggest weapons in the game. But it may just be his big-man (think 6-foot-4, 187 lbs.) athleticism that impresses most. Über coach/commentator Paul Annacone went as far as to tell BNPParibasOpen.com that the unpredictable Aussie is the best young talent he’s seen in the gamesince a certain Swiss named Federer first joined the tour. This from a guy who’s coached both Fed and The Great One, Pete Sampras. Though he’d pull out of his quarterfinal match-up with Roger due to illness, Kyrgios had some run in the desert. In the crowded Group of Death, he downed fellow young gun Alexander Zverev, before stunning Novak Djokovic for the second time in a matter of weeks.
7. Venus Williams loves tennis. At 36, you’d think the seven-time Slam titlist might be slowing down. But she’s as determined as ever to climb her way toward the top of the sport. Williams rallied from a set down against longtime rival Jelena Jankovic 1-6, 7-6(5), 6-1 — saving match points — and Peng Shuai 3-6, 6-1, 6-3 to reach the quarterfinals. “I feel like I’m the most joyful now, honestly,” she said. “I’ve clearly loved the game. You have to, to play this long, to deal with the pressure and to put in the amount of work that it takes. But I definitely feel like I’m peaking in terms of the love level.”
8. Svetlana Kuznetsova is a better, more complete tennis player at 31 than she was when she won Roland Garros at 23. Some eight years removed from her last Grand Slam title, the Russian is playing with a renewed sense of purpose. Experience and perspective may be her most effective weapons. “When you’re so young and you get to the top of the game, you don’t value it so much,” said the Muscovite, who advanced to the final with a steely 7-6(5), 7-6(2) victory over 2016 US Open finalist Karolina Pliskova. “When you play a couple of years at 20, 25 in the rankings, and then you make it back to the Top 10, you value it so much more with the effort, what you’ve done, what you achieved.”
9. Rafa vs. Roger is a rivalry unlike any the sport has ever seen. It was the matchup we all hoped for: Nadal-Federer XXXVI. And when it came to pass in the Round of 16, the buzz, the hype, was otherworldly. When they take the court together, the world all but stops spinning. Tennis’ own Lakers-Celtics/Yale-Harvard/Army-Navy/Hatfield-McCoy/Montague-Capulet, it’s a matchup of contrasts, and one to savor. Mere weeks after topping the Mallorcan in Melbourne for his record 18th Slam title, Federer downed Nadal again in straight sets 6-2, 6-3. But Rafa still holds a 23-13 advantage in career head-to-heads.
10. Jack Sock is coming into his own. With an aggressive game plan that saw him go big with the forehand, come in when at all possible, and stay cool in the heat of battle, the Kansan — now the top-ranked American man at No. 18 — played his way into the first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 semifinal of his career with his first-ever Top-5 win (d. Kei Nishikori 6-3, 2-6, 6-2). Said ESPN’s Chris Evert: “I don’t know anybody that I could say is quicker than him as far as his movement, and I do think he has the best forehand in the game.”
11. Taylor Fritz has a big upside. The former US Open junior champ, who grew up a mere two hours from I-Wells in Rancho Santa Fe, scored the biggest win of his young career — a Top-10 triumph over No. 6-ranked Marin Cilic in the second round. Only 19 but already a husband and father, the ever-athletic Fritz has weapons galore. “Words can’t describe it,” said the #NextGenATP star, ranked No. 136, of his win over the Croat. “My whole family was there. It was amazing.”
12. Roger Federer does a mean push-up. We found this out during his Q&A session with a lucky group of kids, when the 18-time Slam champ — unprompted — got down on the floor with his young inquisitors to flash some muscle. Team Bucie — the colorful tandem of Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova — also faced the aspiring journalists. There were no push-ups, but we were treated to some arm wrestling and dance moves.
13. Tommy Haas has a second career. In his first year as Tournament Director of the BNP Paribas Open, still-active touring pro Tommy Haas — he of a career-high ranking of No. 2 (2002) — dazzled in his new role. Not only did he fill in for a last-minute exo upon Nick Kyrgios’ withdrawal (in which he defeated Vasek Pospisil), he earned the backing of his fellow players. Said Brit Johanna Konta, “It’s great because he’s still very much in touch with a player’s perspective, but he also has that bird’s-eye view in terms of fan engagement.”
14. Elena Vesnina has a career in singles. The 2016 Olympic gold medalist (with Ekaterina Makarova) has long been a force in doubles, but at 30 she seems to be finding her groove in singles, too. Last year, the Russian reached the Wimbledon semifinals and cracked the year-end Top 20. And in Indian Wells, she defeated World No. 2 Angie Kerber and home-country favorite Venus Williams back-to-back to reach her first BNP Paribas Open final, where she went on to best Svetlana Kuznetsova in a three-hour marathon 6-7(6), 7-5, 6-4.
15. Madison Keys is back. Following a four-month injury layoff (wrist), the American returned to Indian Wells with low expectations, confiding that she wouldn’t have been surprised if she only won one set. Instead, she pushed through to the fourth round, where she finally succumbed to Dane Caroline Wozniacki 6-4, 6-4. “Being able to hit pain-free — it’s great,” said Keys, who’s reunited with coach Lindsay Davenport. “That’s definitely been a big blessing for me.”
16. Michael Chang is a passionate guy. The Hall of Famer and three-time Indian Wells champ (1992, 1996, 1997) returned to accept the Alan King Tennis Passion Award, named in honor of the late actor/comedian, who was so closely associated with the BNP Paribas Open. “This tournament is so close to my heart,” said the Californian. “It was just like playing in my backyard. For me to come out here and have all the crowd support — family, friends — it was easy.”
17. Rafa and Roger carpool to the office. This we found out prior to their highly anticipated fourth-round Group of Death clash, meeting XXXVI, when the two living legends shared a golf cart from practice court to center court. Can you imagine LeBron James hitching a ride with Steph Curry to the arena? Only in tennis.
18. Doubles is a tough game. Eighteen of the Top 25 singles players in the Emirates ATP Rankings entered the Indian Wells men’s doubles draw — Andy Murray, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Tomas Berdych, Grigor Dimitrov, Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev and Juan Martin Del Potro included. Incredibly, none survived to reach the semis. Instead, the title went to birthday boy Rajeev Ram and partner Raven Klaasen.
19. Martina Hingis still has game. Already a Hall-of-Famer with five Grand Slam singles titles to her credit, the 36-year-old Swiss can still bring it on the doubles court, too. She joined Taipei’s Yung-Jan Chan for a successful run at the women’s doubles title, defeating Lucie Hradecka/Katerina Siniakova in the final 7-6(4), 6-2.
20. Don’t call Yoshihito Nishioka a loser. Technically, he was inserted into the main draw as a lucky loser — that awkward/antiquated term for a player who loses in the qualifying rounds but still advances to the main draw when another player withdraws. The Japanese upstart, ranked No. 70, sure made the most of his opportunity. Nishioka scored upsets of 19th seed Ivo Karlovic and 13th seed Tomas Berdych in reaching the Round of 16. He pushed Wawrinka to a third-set tie-break in the quarterfinals.
21. Pablo Carreño Busta is no clay-court specialist. The European-bred dirtballer showed some versatility in the desert. At No. 23 the third-ranked Spaniard behind only Rafael Nadal and Roberto Bautista Agut, Carreño Busta looked at home on the hard courts of Indian Wells, where he reached the first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 semifinal of his career.
22. Coachella Valley sunsets are killer. The views around the grounds of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden never fail to awe — especially when the desert destination is bathed in burnt-orange hues of a Southern California sunset.
23. Sloane Stephens has a future in TV. Making the most of her time away from the court (foot injury), the American subbed as an on-air personality for the Tennis Channel. Her candid Q&A’s with the likes of Grigor Dimitrov, Dustin Brown and Bethanie Mattek-Sands were a delightful surprise. Whether she’s swinging a racquet or quizzing her colleagues, she lights up the screen.
24. Novak Djokovic’s streak couldn’t go on forever. The Serb came in riding a 17-match win streak in Indian Wells, which included three straight titles. Chasing his sixth BNP Paribas Open title, Djokovic was knocked out of the Group of Death by Nick Kyrgios 6-4, 7-6(3), his second loss to the 21-year-old Aussie in a matter of weeks.
25. With all this fan adoration, tennis superstars are likely to get a big head. (Watch Video)
26. The women’s game is wide open these days. With the likes of Serena Williams, Petra Kvitova, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova sidelined, opportunities abound on the WTA Tour. And as Angie Kerber and Garbine Muguruza discovered, there are plenty of players looking to capitalize (see: Vesnina vs. Kuznetsova final).
27. There’s no lack of star power in I-Wells. Among the celebs whom were spotted courtside at the BNP Paribas Open were: Leonardo DiCaprio, Charlize Theron, Landon Donovan, Bill Gates, Phil Knight, Mike Tyson, John Hamm, Suzanne Somers, Rod Laver, Larry Fitzgerald, Donna Mills, Jason Collins and Boris Kodjoe.
28. The college game is alive and well. The BNP Paribas Open Collegiate Tennis Challenge presented by Oracle featured the top men’s and women’s players from Baylor, USC, Cal, Oklahoma, University of South Florida, Tulsa, SMU and Purdue.
29. Some players will do anything to get to Indian Wells. Coming off the rain-delayed Monday final in Sao Paulo, which he won for the third straight year, Pablo Cuevas took a circuitous route to the California desert. He flew back home to Uruguay, then on to Santiago, then on to Los Angeles, before traveling by car to Indian Wells. Most of the men’s field had already been here for days; Cuevas didn’t arrive until Tuesday, exhausted. But the jet-leg didn’t stop him from reaching his first-ever ATP World Tour Masters 1000 quarterfinal.
30. Donald Young still has the fire. He’s struggled with the pressure (and criticism) that comes with being in the spotlight. But the American seems to be at peace more than ever. At the BNP Paribas Open, he charged past compatriot and No. 23 seed Sam Querrey (who was coming off the Acapulco title) and No. 14 Lucas Pouille of France. “It’s what you work hard and compete for,” said Young, who reached the fourth round for only the second time in 34 Masters 1000 appearances. “You can either be bitter, go away, get a regular job — which isn’t bad — but I love tennis. I love playing. If I’m off the court for two, three days, I miss it. What else is better to do? I just don’t want to waste my God-given ability. You just don’t quit your job if you have a couple of bad days or a bad year. I’m happy.”