Of the innumerable icons and stars that have graced the courts at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden over the years, no one singular player has had a more profound impact in shaping the legacy of the BNP Paribas Open than Roger Federer.
The legacy that Federer leaves behind in Tennis Paradise speaks for itself. As a five-time BNP Paribas Open champion and the all-time winningest men’s or women’s player in tournament history, success has never been hard to come by at Indian Wells for the global tennis icon. Much like his career in totality, the Swiss Maestro’s unique mix of grace and dominance awed spectators in the desert for more than two decades.
In addition to his on-court triumphs, Federer’s legacy and impact off the court in the desert has been equally as impactful. Appearing at 18 tournaments over the course of his career (another tournament record), the 20-time Grand Slam champion continuously won over crowds in Tennis Paradise not only with his beautiful play on-court, but also with his equally personable presence and character around the grounds.
From his initial breakthrough onto the ATP Tour in the early 2000s to success in his later years, victory at Indian Wells has followed Federer throughout his entire career.
Federer’s first title in the desert came in 2004 in the midst of a breakout year that saw the Swiss international also claim three Grand Slam titles at the Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open. Federer’s maiden title in the desert was highlighted by a thrilling 3-set win over Andre Agassi in the semifinals, followed by a dominant straight-set win over Tim Henman in the finals.
Federer’s next two trips to Indian Wells were just as successful as his 2005 and 2006 titles gave him the esteemed honor of making him the first player to ever three-peat in Tennis Paradise. A fourth title in 2012 made him the tournament’s winningest champion at the time, surpassing American legends Michael Chang and Jimmy Connors who each hold three Indian Wells trophies.
After missing the latter portion of 2016 to recover from knee surgery, Federer’s 2017 season was nothing short of remarkable. His 2017 Grand Slam wins in Melbourne and London were sandwiched by a dream run to his fifth Indian Wells title, where he took down countryman Stan Wawrinka in the Swiss vs. Swiss final. Today, Federer co-holds the title for the most ever titles in the desert alongside fellow all-time great Novak Djokovic.
“Roger’s win in 2017 is a moment I’ll never forget,” said current BNP Paribas Open Tournament Director Tommy Haas. “For him to do that at age 35 was incredible and you could just feel how special the energy was at that year’s tournament.”
Federer also ends his career as a four-time BNP Paribas Open finalist, having lost in the championship match in 2014, 2015, 2018 and 2019. All three of those losses went to three sets.
While Federer continuously dazzled on the courts in Indian Wells year in and year out, his energy and presence around the grounds was infectious. His incredible talent on the court was impossible to miss, but some of his signature moments in Tennis Paradise were characterized by his positive energy and humility off the court.
“As a Tournament Director, seeing Roger Federer in the draw was the best feeling in the world,” Haas said. “When he’s there you just knew things were going to be running smoothly, and you knew fans were going to be happy.”
Take this example from 2017, where Federer took time out of his championship run in the desert to hold an impromptu press conference with local schoolchildren.
His ability to connect with fans (no matter how young) through his genuineness and professionalism arguably made him stand out in Tennis Paradise even more so than his electrifying on-court abilities.
Between doing push-ups with local Coachella Valley students on the floor of the Stadium 1 press conference room and pouring his heart and soul into a musical rendition, there was never a dull day at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden so long as Roger Federer was present.
There is no denying the hard truth: Roger Federer’s presence at the BNP Paribas Open and the sport as a whole will be deeply missed, and creates a void for players and spectators alike that will not easily be filled.
“We have so many great memories of Roger at our tournament,” said Haas. We are hopeful that sooner rather than later we will be able to get him back in the desert as a fan and ambassador of our great sport.”
As the winningest player in BNP Paribas Open history officially steps away from the sport after this month’s Laver Cup in London, the chapter closes on an integral part of Indian Wells’ legacy. The countless incredible moments that Federer produced in the Coachella Valley will forever be a part of tournament lore.
Roger Federer will not only be remembered for his accomplishments in Tennis Paradise, but for how he always carried himself with an unmistakable aura of poise, grace and humility throughout his many triumphs.
And for that, all we can say is thank you, Roger.