Indian Wells Tennis: a newbie’s guide

I just got back from three days at the Indian Wells tennis tournament, or as it’s officially called, the BNP Paribas Open. It was my first year to attend, and I’m already planning to go back next year. This post gives my newbie’s guide to the tournament and why I think it makes an excellent getaway for tennis lovers.

 BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells

The Indian Wells tournament, owned by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, is an ATP Master’s 1000 event as well as a WTA tournament, and nearly all the top pros participate. It’s a great place to see your favorite tennis pros in action while you enjoy typically great weather in the Palm Springs area. A contender for the so-called “Fifth Slam,” Indian Wells offers tennis fans a chance to see their favorite pros in a smaller venue that nonetheless has great “creature comforts.”

Getting There

You can fly into the Palm Springs airport, which is about 20 minutes from Indian Wells, but a lot of people go through Ontario, as the prices are much cheaper. And, since Ontario is served by Southwest, there’s more flexibility if you need to change your flight (for example, to stay one more day and see just a few more matches). The Ontario airport is about 1.5 hours away from Indian Wells. Once in the Palm Springs area, there are plenty of hotels in every price category. Your hotel may even offer a shuttle bus to the tournament venue, which will help you avoid traffic and parking lots that are sometimes far away from the tennis courts.

The Indian Wells Tennis Garden

The IW Tennis Garden is spacious but walk-able. The main stadium lies at one end, and the food court at the other end. They plan to build a second stadium next year. The ground-breaking for Stadium 2 occurred while I was there, in fact. Plans look exciting, and improvements will likely generate even more interest in this tournament — at least that’s what Ellison and others are likely counting on.

Indian Wells Tennis_groundbreaking

Show Courts and Practice Courts

There are eight show courts at Indian Wells, and early in the tournament you can see great matches on all of them. Later on there are fewer matches, so they don’t use all the courts all the time. Until the construction of the new stadium, you have been able to enter the tournament grounds with your Stadium 1 ticket, then wander to any of the other courts on a general admission basis. This policy will still be in effect next year, although since Stadium 2 will have reserved seating, there may not be general admission spots there in the future.  

Another distinctive aspect of Indian Wells is the fact that practice courts are located right by the show courts. So you can see your favorite pros working out or warming up for their matches. I got to watch Federer practicing one day, and Nadal the next.

Shopping and Dining at Indian Wells

If you want to take a break from watching tennis, there are other ways to amuse yourself without leaving the Tennis Garden. In addition to the large store that showcases every major brand of tennis apparel, plus tournament souvenirs, Tennis Warehouse has a store, and Fila (a tournament sponsor) also hosts its own store. There are numerous smaller shops set up as booths surrounding the larger structures, so tennis shoppers will find plenty of ways to spend money.

The BNP Paribas offers a variety of food and beverage options. They have a large food court with lots of different vendors and a central bar sponsored by Corona. There are monitors scattered around, so you won’t miss important points. The food court is also the location for the stage where different tennis personalities make appearances, or where bands play – including the Bryan Brothers’ Band.

My favorite place to eat is the Emirates Restaurant – it’s the only air-conditioned restaurant on the property, and you have to  show a ticket for a box- or suite-level seat in order to enter. If you are sitting in one of these sections, drop by the restaurant when you arrive and make a reservation for lunch or dinner. It’s nice to get out of the sun for a while, even if the restaurant décor consists of travel posters for places to which Emirates flies. They have a good salad bar, and TV monitors will help you stay on top of the matches in progress.

Indian Wells Tennis_Emirates restaurant

BNP Paribas at Indian Wells – a tennis fan’s perfect getaway

If you love tennis, make plans to attend this tournament. Tickets are sold out for finals weekend this year, but if you’re not concerned about price, you can probably find them on Craigslist, eBay or with a ticket broker. Next year, however, there’ll be even more options with the additional stadium they’re building. Then you just need to decide whether to go early in the tournament, so you can see a greater number of players and variety of matches (including men’s and women’s doubles), or whether to go later, when the top competitors will be squaring off against each other.

You could just take your racquet, golf clubs and credit card, and settle in for the entire two weeks. Maybe I’m onto a good idea here . . .


Indian Wells Tennis_Nadal practice



Image credits: Rafa Nadal facebook page, Anne Rosales

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