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Soaking in the sights and sounds at Indian Wells as the obvious happens

Andy Roddick, Kim Clijsters and Roger Federer win early-round matches at BNP Paribas Open, as first weekend affords ample opportunity for people watching.

March 13, 2011|Bill Dwyre
  • Andy Roddick watches his backhand return to opponent James Blake during a 6-3, 7-5 victory on Sunday at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.
Andy Roddick watches his backhand return to opponent James Blake during… (Paul Buck / EPA )

Sunday was a tennis day of wine and roses in the desert. Little of great news value happened in the BNP Paribas Open, yet the time spent was delightfully palatable.

It was a buffet of sights and sounds and smells. The main stadium, which holds 16,100 and where lots of obvious stuff was happening — Andy Roddick, Kim Clijsters and Roger Federer winning early-round matches at Indian Wells — seemed to be matched in activity by the world outside its walls.

With the temperature in the mid-80s, just short of uncomfortably sweltering, it was a time to walk the grounds, find a tree and take a nap. There were moms and dads and blankets and kids in Crocs everywhere. The hero of the moment was the ice-cream scooper in the concession stand next to Court 2. The lines never eased up and neither did he.

For adults without kids, the prime viewing was not from those $250 boxes down low in the big stadium. They were at one of the outdoor bars, with TV sets carrying all the action and the breeze and the booze equally refreshing.

Tennis tournaments are strange things. The closer they get to their important endings, the less buzz there is and the fewer people are around to watch. In a two-week event, such as this one, the best time for sights and sounds and close matches and people watching is the first weekend. Soon, as players are eliminated and brackets draw down in numbers, what happens in the big stadium is all that happens.

Sunday, if you wanted to see feisty tennis, you had Francesca Schiavone, the Italian who won the French Open a month before her 30th birthday, after a long career of grinding, trying and falling short. She was the first Italian woman to win a Grand Slam tournament, and instead of saying thanks for the nice gift on the way out, it became like her fountain of youth. She beat Aliza Cornet, 6-2, 6-3, and has become very tough to beat.

There was Roddick, playing his United States Davis Cup teammate, James Blake; falling behind in the second set, 3-0, after winning the first, and then doing what he does so well — figuring out what he needs to do to win, which he did, 6-3, 7-5. Then, Roddick and Blake spent their post-match news conferences praising each other.

Clijsters needed three sets to squeeze past Sara Errani of Italy, 6-3, 2-6, 6-4, then said her feet felt like clay, but that part of that was "I played a tricky player who played a good match."

Then there was Federer. They always play a kind of regal entrance music when players come out onto the main court, the kind of music that makes you think of crowns and red carpets and men sitting on thrones. With Federer, unlike many of the unkempts who travel the tour, that always seems appropriate. Sunday, as he often does in early rounds, he did just enough, beating Russian Igor Andreev for the fourth time in four matches, 7-5, 7-6 (4).

Then there was Stanislas Wawrinka and Nikolay Davydenko. Neither are well-known, both are among those with a chance to win a Grand Slam some day, and neither was giving an inch out on Court 2, well away from the concrete Taj Mahal and the bigger matches.

Wawrinka is probably best known for sharing the Olympic gold medal in doubles for Switzerland with Federer, although that night in Beijing, when Federer played like a man possessed, your cousin Vinny could have shared that gold. Davydenko, unfortunately for him, is best known for the match he played in a little tournament in Poland where all the bets were voided afterward. Lots of money had come in on Davydenko's opponent — ranked well below him — after Davydenko won the first set and before he defaulted with an injury.

The tennis tour investigated and penalized a couple of guys ranked about No. 345, who were playing poker on their laptops.

When it ended, after 2 hours and 40 minutes and three sets, the victorious Wawrinka had won 105 points, Davydenko 102.

Since it was a day for a walk in the park, a stop to watch Ryan Harrison was in order. Tennis is always looking for the next big thing, the next Johnny Mac or Rafa or Roger. It is an eternal process.

Harrison is an 18-year-old American who had a nice run at the U.S. Open that included a stunning victory over veteran Ivan Ljubicic. He won his first match here and was playing No. 22 Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.

Harrison prevailed, 6-3, 7-6(4), making his deepest penetration into an ATP Tour Masters event. That, coupled with Donald Young's advance Saturday, gave fans of U.S. men's tennis new wrinkles for the future.

Those who make the big jump are never shrinking violets. Harrison certainly is not.

"I have complete intentions of winning Grand Slams and being No. 1 in the world and being a Davis Cup leader," he said. "That's what I want to do with my career."

And so it went, on a day where the looking was as good as the finding.

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