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Sat, Jan. 18

Tennis Column: Indian Wells tournament now more fan friendly

This year, the 5th largest attended tournament in the world the BNP Paribas Open, held at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in California, has raised the bar by increasing its prize money to $1 million to both the men's and women's singles champions.

Prize money for all rounds has increased to more than $11 million total, which gives all participants the attention they deserve. It has been noted by both the ATP and WTA tours when many business ventures are not as strong as in past years. This increase makes a positive statement to the current state of tennis.

The top 96 women's and men's players in the world will kick off the BNP Paribas Open March 7, then start the main draw and first rounds March 8. The tournament will finish with a singles and doubles championship Sunday, March 18.

Prior to that, the women compete March 5-6 and men 6-7 with qualifying rounds of 48 players each, that are vying for 12 spots in the main draws.

The cost to watch the qualifying rounds is free. The only fee is $10 for parking. During that same time frame, many of the top players will be using the 16 practice courts to ready their games for competition, while getting used to the desert conditions.

Daily general admission for most of the week ranges from $35 to $50 per ticket - but to get specific pricing, go to or call 1-800-999-1585 for more information.

It seems every year this special event takes place, the goal to improve the fan experience exceeds the previous event, and it shows in number of people attending, player comments, positive media press and local community excitement.

When you think it can't get any better, somehow it does.

This year, four new practice courts have been added as well as a new shade structure the size of three tennis courts, a new audio system and most all of the facility repainted. Last year, all tournament courts had the Hawk-Eye replay technology and video displays put in - the first tournament in the world to do so on every match court.

While in the court yard, you can kick back and watch three match feeds at one time. Not a bad way to relax, eat a wide array of different foods and just about any type of drink you can imagine.

Different stages are set up for a wide variety of entertainment, bands, Bud Collins interviews and autographs with present and past players.

You want to buy the latest racquet, get it strung, purchase a neat, new outfit, hat, T-Shirt, memorabilia or sign up for a tennis trip to one of the majors? The Indian Wells Tennis Garden has all of that and more.

Celebrity sightings are also abound during this tournament. Sure you're going to see the top players and coaches in the world, but when in California, it's a Hollywood kind of scene and you will walk past your fair share of TV and movie personalities.

Going to the 2012 BNP Paribas Open, which is only about a 4 hour drive from Prescott, is a "tennis happening". If you haven't gone in the past, you don't know what you're missing. It's our U.S. Open, and the players are still healthy early in the season, very little wear and tear.

It's crazy tennis madness, fun, exciting, breathtaking, inexpensive, ECT., and if you aren't there it will really disappoint the rest of us that will be looking for you.

So, make your plans today and we'll sit and have a beer together while asking Bud Collins a few questions we'd like answered.

Like, "Did you really know the inventor of the game, Major Wingfield?"

Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 35 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or

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