US Open stars fall to Indian Wells, struggling to attract crowds

Indian wells, California. – Without teenagers and Daniil Medvedev in the draw, this tournament will certainly not be a repeat of the US Open.

Medvedev, so cool and withstanding the pressure on his way to his first Grand Slam title last month in New York, looked set to continue at the BNP Paribas Open on Wednesday.

He led Grigor Dimitrov by one set and two service breaks in the round of 16. But tennis remains an unpredictable game, and seeded Medvedev strayed under the desert sun as Dimitrov, playing patiently and daringly just at the right times, grabbing wins in eight straight games, then holding on. good to complete the surprise, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.

“Impossible until it is possible, I guess,” Dimitrov said in a TV interview.

But if it’s not the US Open, it’s not really the Indian Wells tournament, either. This event, typically held annually in March, has grown in size and stature under the leadership of its spendthrift owner, Larry Ellison, becoming the tour’s most popular and prestigious stop after the four tournaments of the Grand Slam and the end of year tour finals.

In 2019, 475,000 spectators came to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden for nearly two weeks of the event, filling the stadium’s courts and the upscale restaurants that overlook them. In recent years, the tournament has generated an estimated annual economic impact of over $ 400 million in the greater Palm Springs area.

But in March 2020, it became the first major international sporting event to be canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The decision, which ultimately was Ellison’s appeal, turned out to be the right one. While there were skeptics when the decision was announced just before the qualifying tournament, other leagues and events quickly followed as the scope and threat of the pandemic became clearer.

“We thought they were crazy at first for canceling it,” long-time fan and Long Beach tournament participant Krystal Meier said in an interview last week. “How could anyone have known what was going to happen?”

This year, the BNP Paribas Open has been moved from March to October, and although the prize money is about the same as in 2019, the power and the atmosphere of the stars is not.

According to tournament officials, attendance is on track to be about half of what it was in 2019. The date change is certainly a factor. Many seasonal residents have yet to arrive in the area, and regulars who have made March attendance a tradition clearly weren’t ready to embrace October.

The decision to require vaccination of all spectators may have limited the total number while reassuring some fans. “When we saw that everyone was going to get their shots, we definitely felt better about coming,” Meier said.

But there are still underlying concerns about attending mass events and traveling too far from home. Over 87% of spectators in 2019 were from outside the Palm Springs area.

Another reason for the decrease in crowds is surely the changing of the guard in tennis. The tournament is missing the two biggest stars in women’s football (Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka) and the three biggest stars in men’s football (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic).

Federer, 40, and Nadal, 35, are recovering from injuries and announced the end of their 2020 seasons in August. Djokovic, 34, is resting and recovering after losing to Medvedev in straight sets in the US Open final last month, a loss that kept him from becoming the first man to complete a Grand Slam in singles since Rod Laver in 1969.

Dominic Thiem, who won the men’s title here in 2019, is also injured. He, like the other high-level absentees, is still present at Indian Wells. As a nod to the obvious, the tournament organizers put life-size images of each of them on a wall behind Stadium 2 with the words “We miss you”. He became a magnet during the event, with fans posing for photos alongside the photographs.

Posing next to flesh-and-blood players has been much trickier due to pandemic restrictions, which have resulted in a ban on official autograph sessions. (Informal signatures have always taken place.)

None of the women’s singles quarter-finals in New York have reached the quarter-finals here, with surprise Open champion Emma Raducanu losing in her opener to 100th-placed Aliaksandra Sasnovich.

The much more experienced Medvedev fared better with his disturbing mix of attack and defense, and he performed very well against Dimitrov until he took a 4-1 lead in the second set. .

But Dimitrov, the Bulgarian seeded no. 23, which is opportunistic enough to change the momentum. At 30, he has yet to reach the heights that seemed his destiny, given his elegant playing on all terrains. But he remains a dangerous opponent, and after showing flashes of good form at the San Diego Open the week before Indian Wells, he lifted his game on Wednesday as Medvedev fell.

“He definitely flipped the switch,” Medvedev said. “It’s not that I started to miss everything and that I really like playing badly. I still maintained a certain level, if you can call it that. In as many matches, it would be enough to finish the match. “

Once in rallies, Dimitrov almost exclusively cut his one-handed backhand on the stretch and waited – and waited – to take big risks with his forehand. Most of them called in the last set, and he took a 5-1 lead as Medvedev rarely expressed his displeasure by breaking a racket between his first and second serves (he double faulted ) and losing his serve for the sixth. time.

“It shows how slow this court is and the conditions are more like clay, I would say, which I don’t like,” Medvedev said.

Dimitrov also quickly lost his serve, as he tried to finish the upheaval at 5-1, but he didn’t falter to 5-3, falling in love and throwing both arms in the air.

Even though the sky above him was typical of Indian Wells – clear and azure blue – what was happening on earth was anything but business as usual.

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