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Sat, April 20

Column: Like tennis? Watch 2017 Paribas Open

From very humble beginnings in 1976, the now largest ATP Tour Masters 1000 and WTA Premier combined event — known as the BNP Paribas Open held in the city of Indian Wells, California ­— is right around the corner.

March 6th through the 19th are the dates to check right now if you’re to come watch the best singles and doubles players - men and women - compete for titles in what in known as the 5th Grand Slam or to others the West’s “U.S. Open.”

For us here in Prescott it’s a hop-skip and a jump or a 4 1/2 hour drive to Indian Wells, which is in the Coachella Valley or Palm Springs area of California. It isn’t out of the question to drive over for the day and then drive back, although that might be pushing it for some - I did It for a finals match a few years ago.

This tournament that began 41 years ago was then held at the Mission Hills Country Club and they kept it for 5 years. As it expanded it went to the La Quinta Hotel, then the Hyatt Regency and has set up camp at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden since the year 2000 where it has become the premier tennis event in the world in many, many ways.

Larry Ellison the owner has spared no expense to create probably the best tennis experience players, fans, media and even non-tennis playing spectators could hardly imagine or want. There’s something for everyone and he and the staff for this special event continue to somehow make it better and better.

The grounds for the BNP Paribas Open sit on 54 acres which creates a very spacious area for their 29 championship courts, eight of which are stadium courts. Stadium 1 seats 16,100 spectators, the 2nd largest tennis stadium in the world. Two years ago another permanent stadium was build that seats 8,000. Not a bad seat in the house. And all eight stadium courts have the “Hawk-eye” challenge system on every one of their match courts, and not even the 4 majors can say that.

Over and beyond great match viewing there are 8 acres of outdoor exposition space. You want to kick back for a while, grab something to eat or drink, shop, take a nap on the shaded grassy and treed lawns...it’s there. Want to keep an eye on what’s happening on the surrounding match courts - just keep an eye on one of the many large TV screens showing you what’s taking place. Looking for a racquet to buy - piece of cake. Not only can you talk to the top professionals and manufacturers, you can demo the racquet, and if you want - buy it and have it strung while you wait or pick it up later.

Entertainment isn’t just tennis and the healthy and active people who attend have an array of that type of enjoyment. Normally there’s a group playing each afternoon and evening in one or both of the 19,000 sf. shade structures. You can get autographs signed by top pro’s at different locations each day, listen to current and past top professionals and industry leaders interviewed by people like Wayne Bryan each afternoon - you can even ask them questions during those interviews, not to mention many prizes they give away.

Want to people watch - this is the place. Last year over 430,000 people attended this two-week event, keep your eyes open for well-known celebrities.

The cost to attend is as expensive as “free” for the first 2 days of qualifying matches to $30 - $50 for grounds passes through the quarter-finals. Now if you want great seats, you’d better go to the website at bnpparibasopen.com.

There’s a lot more to see than you might think, a great press room, broadcast booths, fine dinning restaurants, spacious locker rooms, a 6,000 sf. commissary, indoor and outdoor player work out areas and a multitude of player practice courts for you to observe how the players drill and ready themselves for their matches.

Each men’s and women’s singles draw brings in the best 96 players in the world. Every top player from Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic will be playing. Serena and Venus Williams, yep - and all the other women super-tennis-stars as well. The top 32 teams in doubles will round-out what the game of tennis is all about. The only thing missing is mixed doubles, something that might happen in the future.

And yet there’s more rapped around this special happening. A multi - college tennis tournament, Tri-Level Amateur Championships, go to the website to see their times and schedules.

Could you just sit back and watch this on TV? Yes, but it’s not the same at all. You don’t get to see the greatest players, up-close and personal; the excitement and roar of the crowd; a close view of each player from the front row of each stadium court, practicing, at their best or otherwise. The up and comers - who’s the next great player? Wouldn’t you like to say you saw Federer or Rafa in person, Serena or Venus...before you can’t? It’s nice that we have that chance, so really - why not?

Know I’ll be there again, so maybe we can meet up and share the experience.

Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 40 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or choward4541@gmail.com.

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