I just returned from my fourth year in a row attending the amazing Indian Wells tennis tournament. Each year has been special in its own way, but my 2014 experience was, well, can I just say incredible? Or awesome? Or amazing?
For one thing my friend and I decided a few months ago to splurge and purchase a package that gave us tickets to every session of the entire tournament. In past years I only attended the 2nd & 3rd rounds, so this in itself was very exciting. Of course, knowing I had tickets through the final gave me all the more of a burning desire to see Roger Federer reach the final. And he did!!!! But I'm getting ahead of myself. Oh, first let me warn you. The pictures in this post were taken by me and I am not a good photographer; in fact, I am pretty bad. It took me several days to even realize that the two devices I was using could focus in closer, so some look far away (I was, in fact, a lot closer than the first few pictures appear). In a future post I will use pictures taken by my good friend who is an excellent photographer. But this will have to do for now.
Let me start with some of the most special highlights for me (of course, realizing that highlights and Roger are synonymous in this case). My first priority, other than Roger's matches, were watching his practices because that's where you can get really close. That means, though, getting there about an hour early and sitting/standing in the blaring sun. But hey, that's totally worth it. The first day he was practicing on a back court, which was unusual. I managed to worm my way into a front row view over the fence. When he finally arrived he was accompanied by none other than Stefan Edberg, who was only at the tournament for a very limited time. I was very excited to realize that they were going to hit together, and soon Stefan was about 20-30 feet away from me hitting back and forth with the great Federer (and getting quite sweaty I might add). That was very cool, knowing I would probably never see something quite like that again. I was very pleased when they switched sides after a while and Roger was just a little ways away from me. I was just drinking it all in.
The next practice session was one of the coolest tennis experiences I may ever have. I read in the morning that Roger was going to be practicing on stadium court 8 rather than a practice court in the later afternoon, one of the small outer courts that basically have seats right on the court. I knew that would be a good one, so I got there very early and got a seat in the second row. Though he was 15 minutes late on top of that, it was well worth the wait. He brought with him Edouard Roger-Vasselin, ranked #43, to hit with him. After their warm-up I realized they were going to play a practice set. He soon moved to the side I was sitting on and they were playing a full-out set. Now this may not sound like a big deal, but the difference between just practicing and actually playing a set are extreme because in a practice set they are playing full-on tennis. To see the great Roger Federer play his beautiful forehands and backhands at full strength, serve with full force, run and slide in defense, and see it all from basically on the court is breathtaking. I really couldn't believe I was witnessing it. Watching his actual matches are always amazing, but that it from quite a ways up in the stadium; this was a completely different experience that I will always feel privileged to have witnessed, one of my favorite experiences of my time at Indian Wells.
I also got to be quite close to him when he did his Tennis Channel interview at their desk outside the stadium. We just happened by and noticed him sitting there, so of course I quickly got as close as I could. The interview was almost finished, and I couldn't hear what he was saying anyway, but soon he left the platform and started signing autographs. I was a couple people back and couldn't get my hat in there to give to him, but I could see him very close. In fact, my husband and also a member of my tennis club told me later that they saw me in the crowd on Tennis Channel. I could tell I wasn't going to get his autograph, so my friend grabbed my hat, went a little farther down the line, shoved her way in and stuck it right under his nose. She said she felt kind of rude, but I'm sure Roger is used to it; and he did sign my hat! When she came back and proudly displayed it I was so excited! It's now sitting on my desk at home where I work so I can see it all the time. And it was very fun to get to see him so close-up in that setting.
One last practice story was a practice I wasn't even planning to go to, but when it came right down to it I just couldn't resist. I saw he was going to be practicing in the new Stadium 2. Since the place of his practice had been changed not a lot of people were there when I first got there. I got a seat in the front row at the end of the court. When he came in he came to my side of the court and I got this close shot (above). He walked right underneath me to pick up a ball. Too bad I couldn't stop him for a quick picture with me in the middle of his practice, which is a goal I haven't yet achieved.
This post is getting long and I haven't even talked about matches yet. I figured out I watched nine singles matches and three doubles matches with Stan Wawrinka. The doubles were really fun. I realize that the first two weren't available on TV or stream, so getting to see it at all was special. And we had good seats in Stadium 2 for both of the first two doubles matches. It's very different watching him play doubles compared to singles because he is so much more relaxed, smiling a lot, talking to Stan, slapping hands after every point, and basically just enjoying himself. There were some funny moments like when Stan beaned Roger in the back of the head. Even though they lost in the semis I wasn't too sad about that since he would then be able to fully concentrate on the final, but I was so glad I had been able to have the added bonus of seeing him play several more times in a different type of environment from normal matches. And I think it was also a positive experience for Stan, who was pretty down after his loss in singles. He seemed to really enjoy himself.
As for singles, watching Roger play live is always an amazing experience. For most of them I wasn't too stressed as he was playing very well, the best I have seen him play in a long time. The only one I was really nervous about was the semifinal; since he had gotten so far I so badly wanted him in the final. After the first six games, though, he was in cruise control and I knew my dream to see him play all the matches was going to come true. The shot in this link from that match against The Dog was so exciting; the crowd was on their feet screaming and cheering, as was I: http://www.atpworldtour.com/Media/Video-Landing/*/Tennis/Media/Videos/Uploaded/2014/3/15/Indian-Wells-2014-Saturday-Hot-Shot-Federer.aspx
The final was an incredible experience. Of course I very much wanted Roger to win, but with the way that he played such amazing tennis, the atmosphere of the crowd, and knowing that he was back to the form that his fans have been longing for made the very close loss not too painful. And the excitement of him breaking back as Djokovic was serving for the match was just awesome to experience live. I was very proud of him for making it so far and playing so well in such an important tournament.
Oh, and before I close, during two of the singles matches I was able to spot his twins, Myla and Charlene, in box seats hidden away. I could see them across the way with my binoculars, sitting with Mary Joe Fernandez and their nannies. I would watch them between points during the bits of time they were there. They are adorable little girls and seem very well behaved. Another added bonus to my wonderful time.
The experiences I had during my week-and-a-half at beautiful Indian Wells are something I will treasure always. The hard core Federer fans will know how much these close up encounters mean and how much they will be cherished. For any who have not had an opportunity to see him live I highly encourage you to make it happen; you won't be disappointed.