“Welcome to Tennis Paradise”- the all-pink banner that stands out above the grassy field used by tennis players to warm up and, sometimes, to play football, makes it clear where you are. It is the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, in the heart of the Coachella Valley that each year hosts one of the most beautiful tournaments in the world. Or at least he tried: the BNP Paribas Open was the first tennis event canceled due to the pandemic in 2020, when within hours of the start of the tournament, players were told they could not play. Now, 19 months later, they have (almost) all returned to this patch of Californian desert in this unusual autumn location to pick up where they left off.
It’s arguably the most pre-pandemic tournament tennis has seen since that fateful March 8: once you cross the gates, none of those restrictive measures that have rocked the world in the last year and a half are in place. No social distancing, no obligation to wear masks, outdoors or indoors, no limit to capacity in addition to the one imposed by the emergency exits and by the firefighters who limit the sale of tickets to 2.5 times the number of parking spaces available in the car parks. But the pandemic has nevertheless left its mark, even if less visible: masks are very common, although they are not mandatory, and in the ground we note the absence of younger fans, given that the double vaccination obligation required of all spectators and staff members has automatically left all children under 12 outside the gates which cannot be vaccinated. Apart from this, the rite of autographs and “seflie” has resumed, in which the players are happy to participate, especially the one who is undoubtedly tournament superstar, US Open champion Emma Raducanu.
As soon as spectators began to be present on the ground (on Mondays and Tuesdays of the first week, during the qualifiers, admission is free) his training was scheduled on Practice Court 1 or 2, that is, on the fields normally reserved for higher-profile players. This is because they are the most difficult to reach and because they have stands built around the three sides in order to give fans the chance to see the heroes at work. And the good Emma, certainly not yet accustomed to her role as a star, did not hide her embarrassment at having several hundred people crowded in the stands for her training. I smiled at each applause, greetings to the people who called her from the off-screen, a notable difference compared to the icy indifference of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer who have been accustomed to crowd baths for years.
A stone’s throw from Practice Court 1, on the grass of the space reserved for physical warm-up, an atmosphere almost like a first day of school even if these racquet wanders had already met in New York a few weeks earlier. Steve Johnson wants to stop Gael Monfils, who has just arrived from Sofia’s defeat to Jannik Sinner, to find out how he feels as a married man; despite being in California in the middle of the NFL season, the soccer ball wins hands down on its oval colleague in the preferences of the tennis players, so much so that we meet Salvatore Caruso who, with a bag on his shoulder, goes towards the training field kicking a ball like Oliver Hutton.
Football sorties aside, Caruso managed to overcome the qualifications for the second time in a row in an ATP tournament. After accessing the main draw of the San Diego Open and the beautiful first round with Fritz, also in Indian Wells “Sabbo” has passed the two rounds of the cadet draw returning to play the first round of a ‘1000’ after the last appearance at the Monte Carlo tournament. Qualification also for Roberto Marcora, who won the derby against Matteo Viola, already good at arriving in California at the last moment and getting the better of Thanasi Kokkinakis in the first round. Nothing to do instead for Andrea Arnaboldi, defeated by the Argentine Renzo Olivo, after he had managed to recover from a set and a break behind, dragging the match to the third set.
In the women’s tournament only one Italian player has already made her debut in Indian Wells: lucky loser Jasmine Paolini played and won her first round match against Japanese qualifier Mai Hontama 6-0, 3-6, 6-2. After a magnificent first set, in which she was furious from all positions on the pitch, in the second set she began to suffer from the cross-country rhythm of her opponent who started to move her, taking advantage of the service and immediately opening the corners for her flat shots. . At 3-3 Paolini tried to change pace by introducing more arched parables and also closing some good shots on the fly, but unfortunately some mistakes were fatal and allowed Hontama to equalize the score. After having suffered five consecutive games, however, Paolini managed to stop the bleeding by hoisting himself on the heavy 4-1 in the decisive set, then ending the game with authority holding his last two batting rounds. “I wasted a lot of energy before the tournament looking down the list hoping to make it to the draw. Then finally the good news of the repechage after a very low game, and today despite a bit of swing it went well and in the third set I was able to find all the energy I had and I did it”Jasmine told us after the match.
The Belgian Elise Mertens will be in the next round for Paolini, seeded No. 14 of seeding, which he has already met three times (including once eight years ago in a junior tournament in Austria) without ever managing to win. “She is a very strong player, in shape, she is there to go to the Master. But I’m not in a bad moment, I hope to play like today and above all to pour all my mental energies into the match. If I can do that, I can have a good chance, even if it also depends on how she plays “.
Indian Wells men’s and women’s qualifiers draw with updated results