I had heard repeatedly that the BNP Paribas Open was THE tournament to go to because of it's laid back atmosphere and access to the players. This year was my first time at the tournament and I was extremely excited to go and test this hypothesis. My conclusion? They were so right.
The tournament, outside of having amazing facilities situated in one of the most beautiful areas in the U.S., gives you access to the players that you could only dream of. I was constantly pinching myself trying to make sure I wasn't dreaming as I would bump into players like Feli, Jo, and Isner just walking around on the grounds.
So please, let me do the honor of showing you around the tournament, starting with the facilities.
This year, the BNP Paribas Open added a 19,140 sq. ft. shade structure in the East Village which covers an area the size of three tennis courts! But, it doesn't just provide shade, it also features a bar, great food, a music stage (where the Bryan Brothers played), as well as information towers and four video walls so you can keep up with all the scores and the schedule of play.
Of course, if you don't want to head to the shade structure, there are plenty of places to find shade around the grounds.
Of course, it's not a tournament without an official Corona Tent, and this tourney has several, one within the Emirates Garden Club, where you can grab a beer when you've are a little weary of the hot desert sun.
Now, if you like the sun and want to do a little sunbathing while catching some tennis, then head on over to the big screen with your suntan lotion and kick back in a lawn chair.
The Stadium Court is absolutely gorgeous. This year they improved it by replacing of all the existing seats in the lower bowl with new seats, adding new HD televisions to all eight Stadium Gates, installing a new audio system, and repainting the entire exterior of the venue.
The practice courts are the most accessible I have seen at a tournament, especially for a Masters 1000 event.
And now for the most unique (and best) part of the tourney.....the field.
As a fan, you are literally only a stone's throw away from the players as they play soccer, frisbee, or do their warm-up or cool-down routines after practicing. There is plenty of room to take pictures and get autographs. The only exception to that rule is when Rafa is there, but even then your chances are pretty good.
This really is the premiere tennis tournament for true tennis fans. It's completely laid back - the players are relaxed, you'll be relaxed, AND you have an excellent chance to meet your favorite player and get an autograph or three! So if you can get here, do it! I promise you won't regret it.
Hope to see you next year!