Originally Published: February 18, 2010 11:53 p.m.
Where can you go to see all of the top men and women singles and doubles tennis players at one setting if you live west of the Mississippi?
The only place I know of is the BNP PATIBAS Open, the first Masters tournament of the year held at Indian Well, Calif. It starts March 8 and runs through the 21st.
With 300 of the best men and women players converging for these coveted titles, you can have a ring-side seat and practically rub elbows with the present champions watching them practice, train and play on the sunken to grandstand courts within the majestic grounds or on the second largest stadium court in the world.
The players list includes people like Roger Federer, Kim Clijsters, Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova, among others, and includes everyone who's healthy except the Williams sisters who have boycotted this tournament since an incident several years ago.
The tourney known to many as, Indian Wells, celebrates it's 35th anniversary. It has roots that have gone back to many different sites in the Palm Springs area, but now also it's 10th anniversary at the present site the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
Former owners Charlie Pasarell, Ray Moore, George Mackin, Bob Miller, the United States Tennis Association, Pete Sampras, Chris Evert and Billie Jean King were pleased to announce this past year the sale of the tournament and site to Larry Ellison, one of the world's wealthiest people for an amount rumored to be close to $100 million.
Ellison who has an estimated $27 billion fortune, says he's passionate about the game of tennis, loves to play it, watch it and looks forward to hosting the greatest players in the world at the Tennis Gardens.
This world-class tournament is now noted as the most attended tennis venue other than the four majors with over 330,000 people making their way past the ticket booths. This means an enormous chunk of change for the hotels, motels, eateries and ancillary businesses around Coachella Valley.
But it wouldn't keep growing and pulling more people to tell others just how much fun it is to be there in person if the organizers weren't doing things pretty dog-gone well.
The exciting and fan friendly atmosphere has clean grounds, nice shops in which to browse and autograph sessions with big-name players from the present and past.
For you old timers, Bud Collins - the tennis' walking encyclopedia - will interview many players from the past for eight days starting on March 11 with open question and answer time.
If you live in the southwest, it's a no-brainer to take a few days and become part of the tennis scene - in person.
Ticket prices vary from $10 to $80 throughout the week, with day and evening sessions. You can go on line at: bnpparibasopen.org or call 1-800-999-1585 to see what works for you.
Food prices on the grounds are reasonable, but unless you have friends who live in the area that are willing to let you stay with them.
Getting a room, especially near the midway point of the tourney, might cost you a small fortune.
For tennis players who really enjoy the sport and all that it has to offer, this is a real tennis happening you don't want to miss.
Take it from your local pro.
Don't forget, this weekend is the women's pro tournament down at the Surprise Tennis Center, in the Valley.
The finals will be Sunday, singles starting at noon, followed by Prescott's Nannette Oately's wheelchair exhibition and then the doubles final.
Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 35 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-445-1331 or email@example.com