By Jennifer Knapp
INDIAN WELLS, California -The BNP Paribas Open has a long-standing reputation amongst other tournaments, fans, media, etc. for fantastic ATP doubles fields year after year. It’s a place where you are apt to see many of the top ranked men’s singles players pairing up with friends and or fellow countrymen along with the top doubles specialists in the world – something for everyone. The fact that most of the matches are played on the smaller show courts gives the ever passionate crowd the opportunity to see some of their favorite players up close and personal – and that is worth the sometimes very long lines to secure a coveted seat in the stands.
As a long-time attendee of the tournament, I have seen some absolutely amazing doubles over the years and I made a conscious decision this year to watch as many matches as I could manage to fit in while I was in town. Seeing that Saturday’s doubles’ schedule on Court 7 included such names as Andy Murray, Milos Raonic, James Blake and Mardy Fish, I made that my destination and knew that once I found a seat, I was committed for the afternoon. Thankfully the one I found was in the shade. Just for the record, Court 7 with a capacity of 2,200 was packed the entire afternoon and the only way to get in was for someone to come out. No joke.
First up was Feliciano López and Milos Raonic versus 3rd seeds Mahesh Bhupathi and Daniel Nestor. López and Raonic teamed up in the desert for the first time in 2011 but did not compete last year. Bhupathi and Nestor, a newly formed partnership this year are both former number ones and Nestor, the oldest player in the tournament at 40, is a 4-time winner (2006, 2005, 2002 & 1996) with Mark Knowles. Powerful serves versus experience and finesse. And neither team disappointed with only one break of serve in the entire match. The energetic crowd clearly appreciated the level of tennis being played on court and were absolutely mesmerized by Raonic’s multiple 140+ mph serves which included a 144 that was nearly impossible to see. Bhupathi and Nestor’s reaction was priceless as they held their hands up to the sky, smiled and shook their heads. Lopez’s strong serving (he and Raonic combined for 15 aces) and net play definitely made a difference in the score lines they won the match 6-4, 7-6(4)
Anyone standing in line that thought they would be able to get seat in-between matches was quickly disappointed as the packed crowd was anxiously awaiting the next match featuring Andy Murray and Jamie Murray versus the 5th seeds, Robert Lindstedt and Nenad Zimonjic (another new partnership in 2013). It was Andy’s first hard court match since the Australian Open and the crowd was anxious to see the 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist and U.S. Open Champion up close and personal. On paper, Lindstedt and Zimonjic were clearly the stronger pair with 64 doubles titles between them but on court, it was a different story. Another seeded team goes down in the first round as the Murray brothers end up on top, 6-4, 4-6, 10-4.
Andy took some time after the match to sign quite a few autographs. I have to say that seeing the total exuberance on the children’s faces after he signed their ball, ticket or program was absolutely precious. The Indian Wells tournament is also known for providing fans with better access to the players and the smaller courts are the best place to capitalize.
Up next were local fan favorites and long-time friends James Blake and Mardy Fish (in his first match after 182 days off tour) taking on the Spanish pair of David Marrero and Fernando Verdasco who are fresh off of 5 tour titles together in 2012. Mardy and James took control of the match early and it was clear that they were comfortable on the court together. With the majority of the full-to-capacity crowd behind them, they cruised to a somewhat routine win 6-4, 6-4. It was so great to see both of them healthy and back on the court in Indian Wells.
So, after 3 matches and about 5 hours, my time on Court 7 was done for the day. Without a doubt, it was worth every single minute! One day down, four to go.
On a side note – check out this great video that the BNP Paribas Open team shot with Robert and Nenad a few days ago…. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jp5-_G9D5o
Jennifer Knapp is covering the BNP Paribas Open for Tennis Panorama News. Follow the updates on twitter at @TennisNewsTPN.