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Sat, Jan. 18

Tennis Column: Camelot at the BNP Paribas Open

In the world of tennis kingdoms, the BNP Paribas Open, held in Indian Wells, Calif., is a real-life Camelot.

The BNP Paribas Open is owned by Larry Ellison, managed and developed by Charlie Pasarell and Raymond Moore, and directed by Steve Simon. Money-man and tennis enthusiast Larry is very much behind the scenes, so Charlie and Ray have continued to play the part of King Arthur; together they have for 37 years built this tournament into an empire that now boasts the most-attended tournament outside the four major Grand Slams.

With prize money of $1 million to both the men's and women's singles champions; all eight courts installed with Hawk-Eye line-calling systems; the second-largest stadium court in the world; immaculate grounds; easy parking; and the most fan/player-friendly environment possible, this has to be the Holy Grail of the modern tennis world. On top of that are 16 practice courts with lots of viewing to watch the players and coaches get ready for battle, a grassy outdoor workout area, tented indoor gym, game and relaxation area.

Media from the world over cover this event, and have the same luxury accommodations as the players. It is an absolute joy to cover this event, with its great access to the players, impressive working and viewing conditions, a remarkably well-designed indoor/outdoor cafeteria with a healthy selection of food choices, and nearby reasonably priced overnight accommodations.

Now, add in the eight acres that makes up the Tennis Garden Village with food, drink and entertainment; the Garden Club Courtyard with restaurant and bar; the plaza shops; and four new video walls, and even non-tennis players have a memorable time.

Attending this event is truly an experience you'll love, tennis aficionado or forced tag-along. It's truly addicting.

But it couldn't be done without the Champions Volunteer Foundation and the hundreds of men, women and teenagers who cover each aspect of the tournament. And the benefits to the community in additional revenue directly related to this event last year was $289 million.

The Knights of the Round Table include all the top players in the world for both men (ATP) and women (WTA) in singles and doubles.

It's great to see Novak, Rafa and Roger and Caroline, Maria, and Victoria in singles, and Huber and Raymond or the Bryan brothers in doubles. But behind the scenes there's a very special table just outside the players cafeteria that holds its own court, and Bob Larson (of "Bob Larson's Daily Tennis News") presides on a daily basis.

At any given time you'll find the likes of former and current players, coaches, writers, authors - almost any type of tennis-lover-icon sitting and discussing the past, future or present with Bob and his illustrious company.

This past Saturday afternoon, the table consisted of the great Poncho Segura (90), Allen and Nancy Fox (coach/author/player), writer Richard Evans, Vic and Melody Braden (coach/author/player), Steve Bellamy (Tennis Channel founder), and Robert Lansdorp (coach).

As the players stroll by, many of them drop over to Bob's table and pay homage to the people who have in the past half-century helped mold this sport to what it is today.

To be the fly on the wall there was a moment I'll never forget.

Bud Collins, who is normally a solid part of this group, was unable to attend the tournament this year due to recent leg surgeries, was sorely missed, though he still wrote a nice article about Charlie Pasarell in the official program.

I'd be remiss to not mention the one and only Mary Caprielian, who is in charge of media hospitality. Mary takes such good care of all the media folks, and especially the people who hang at Bob's table. Mary has been with the tournament pretty much since it was brought to the Palm Springs area, and she is better known than some of the players in the draw.

As the tournament winds down, it has once again been a banner year for all involved - players (with more prize money in a down economy); fans (with a service friendly and upgraded facility); volunteers (who help make this the place to come) and owners (who can bask in the pride of a job well done).

We can all sit back and look forward to another great finals and what next year will bring to and for the BNP Paribas Open... maybe a small draw of mixed doubles?

Chris Howard is a local USPTA tennis professional who has been in the tennis and health industry for more than 35 years. He can be reached at 642-6775 or choward4541@q.com.

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