Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Indian Wells Day 6 Early Morning Thoughts

Our final day in Indian Wells has begun and the setting couldn't be more perfect. 85 degrees, sunny, gorgeous mountains in the background and a media room that still looks at us like we are infected with the bubonic plague. It is a wonderful day to finish up our Indian Wells trip and a chance to give a few early morning thoughts:

--- The match I am potentially most excited about today is the Mardy Fish vs Jo-Wilifried Tsonga encounter opening the day on Stadium One.  From the moment that Fish acknowledged he was battling "demons in his head," I became a fan and I am hoping he can get what would be a huge win at this stage of his comeback.  Tsonga has also long been one of my favorite players, primarily because he looks like a NFL linebacker trapped on a tennis court. The lumbering physicality with which he plays is in such contrast with most of his opponents, that his matches take on a "bull in a china shop" mentality.  Two nights ago, as he played his opening match here at Indian Wells, Drew and I were at a restaurant and the television was on a Tsonga match. An older lady sitting behind me looked at her husband and said with some horror, "every time he hits a ball, it makes me scared."  I know what my older friend means. Watching Tsonga play is akin to watching Russell Crowe play Hamlet off-Broadway.  It feels uncomfortable, unnatural and slightly draining as it occurs, but because of his talent, he is able to somehow pull it off in an admirable fashion. With two of my favorites battling, my allegiances will be severely torn.

---  After his scare against Fabio last round, Novak Djokovic takes the court again today against Bulgarian, Grigor Dimitrov. Djokovic has been one of the most prominent figures around the Indian Wells grounds, even taking the time to play soccer in a courtyard in front of the fans. Djokovic's playful personality is well known, but his ability to interact with fans and bask in his stardom in a non-arrogant way has been very impressive to me. That seems to be a theme of the top players in the world. While some significantly less talented ATP players walk around with a constant chip on their shoulder, shunning those around them and coming off as unapproachable jerks, the Big 4, Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray each showcase a winning personality even while being mobbed by fans. Part of it may simply be the comfort that comes with having world-class talent and no need to justify your existence to the masses. Or it may just be that their talent is irrelevant and some people are simply nice and some are grade-A pricks. Whatever the answer, as much as any sport I have ever covered, I am impressed with the personalities and behavior of the créme de la créme of the tennis world.

--- People watching at Indian Wells continues to be world class. With the sun in full effect these last few days, the viewing public here can generally be divided into two groups: (a) those who put on thick layers of sunscreen/wear massively oversized floppy hats and (b) those that have hilarious sunburns.  Part of it is surely the desert environment in which we currently reside, but the amount of sunscreen used by members of this crowd is truly comical. It is hard to take someone seriously when they are speaking with confidence on the relative merits of Federer's backhand with a huge glob of white lotion dangling from their nose. But nothing will keep some in this group from protecting against harmful UV rays. Yesterday, while watching a doubles match on an outer court, I saw a man walking from person to person, offering to rub sunscreen on the shoulders of those in the crowd...with no strings attached. While this would have most certainly creeped me out (who would willingly want to touch unknown people's skin...and more to the point, who would want a stranger rubbing all over them, especially one with such excitement and zeal?), amazingly I noticed at least two people who took him up on his offer to get a shoulder sunscreen rub. Maybe it is just the laid-back vibe of California, or simply the necessity of avoiding turning into a human radish, but the desire to avoid excessive sunlight (defined by the patrons here as "any" sunlight) clearly causes people to engage in relatively bizarre (at least to this outsider) behavior.

We are off to tape our first segment for Tennis Channel and looking forward to letting the television viewers at home know what we have been up to. We will let you know how it goes, have a live running diary of a match later this afternoon and more mirth and hilarity as the day goes on.  Stay tuned.