YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


No. 1 Rafael Nadal and No. 2 Roger Federer play in rare double header at Indian Wells

The opponents at the BNP Paribas Open mattered less than the double marquee billing. These two superstars share the same session about as often as kings share thrones.

March 16, 2011|Bill Dwyre
  • Rafael Nadal of Spain hits a return during his victory over Somdev Devvarman during the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells on Wednesday night.
Rafael Nadal of Spain hits a return during his victory over Somdev Devvarman… (Gabriel Bouys / /AFP/Getty…)

After a day in the Palm Springs furnace, a cool breeze blew in Wednesday night, and with it came a double dip of tennis delight in the BNP Paribas Open.

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer were playing in the same session. Nadal is No. 1, Federer No. 2. Both are superstars with 25 Grand Slam victories between them, Federer with 16. Each is a major draw. Each sells tickets easily without the other.

Having them play in the same session, unless they are playing each other, is almost unprecedented. It happened last October in another men's tour Masters Series event in Shanghai, and it happens about as often as either misses an overhead. Veteran tennis observers could not recall anything similar to this, certainly not in the majors.

But there it was, Nadal taking on unheralded Somdev Devvarman of India, followed by Federer playing the last U.S. player standing, male or female in this event--18-year-old Ryan Harrison. The opponents mattered less than the double marquee billing. These two superstars share the same session about as often as kings share thrones.

It was tennis' version of a hot fudge sundae with a side of banana split. Or, as old-time baseball player Johnny Logan of the Milwaukee Braves used to say, it was pie a la mode with ice cream.

It isn't that Nadal and Federer, or any of their superstar predecessors, object to sharing a stage. It's just that the marketing of the sport, and the seeding of the brackets to separate the best players until the end, dictate that never the twain shall meet--at least until the final.

But for tennis fans with Wednesday night tickets, the planets started to fall in line when nine of the top 10 singles players in the world signed up to play doubles here.

There are several reasons for that. This is a two-week tournament and the every-other-day singles schedule allows for some free time.

As tournament Director Steve Simon said, "Most of them would rather play doubles than practice."

Doubles are more palatable now because they play a super tiebreaker, rather than a third set, which can turn into a grueling, energy-sapping endeavor. Nadal and Federer, who will never play doubles in a major, both have played it here before, and Nadal won last year with teammate Marc Lopez.

Also, next year is an Olympic year, where there is a gold medal for doubles as well as singles. Federer won that in Beijing and is playing here with his Swiss partner, Stanislas Wawrinka.

But for Simon, the bonanza of extra appearances by this superstar pair also brought headaches. He has to schedule with players' rest in mind, as well as contracted TV positions that demand a men's singles match. Add doubles to that mix and you've got a calculus equation. Simon put all the elements into the hopper Tuesday afternoon, and out came Wednesday night's buffet feast.

The first of the two main courses was quite enjoyable for a nearly packed house in the 16,100-seat Indian Wells Tennis Garden Stadium. Remember, this is the Southern California desert, it was a Wednesday night, the average resident's age is 92 and they roll up the streets at 9 p.m. Still, the place was rocking as Nadal battled newcomer Devvarman, a qualifier who became the first player from India to ever reach the fourth round at Indian Wells.

Devvarman, No. 84, acquitted himself well, keeping Nadal on court for more than an hour just to win the first set and finally yielding, 7-5, 6-4. When it ended, Nadal got a standing ovation, changed his shirt to a chorus of female shrieks, and, as is his tendency, made sure to praise his beaten opponent.

The Federer-Harrison match was no less compelling.

The night session had drawn 14,261, about 1,200 more than this session last year, and added to the day session's 16,304, you had a 30,565 feather in tennis' cap.

The night crowd cheered loudly for the efforts of Harrison, who took Federer into a first-set tiebreaker but lost it. The fans stayed around until Federer broke Harrison for 4-2. The youngster survived three match points at 3-5, but Federer served it out at love. Final score, 7-6 (4), 6-3.

The expected had taken place, but that didn't make this any less of an unexpected night in tennis.

Los Angeles Times Articles