Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Our Time at Indian Wells Has Come to a Close

They say all good things must come to an end, and unfortunately for us, that holds true for our time at Indian Wells. We here at The Outer Courts have had a great six days covering tennis's best non-Grand Slam Tournament, but unfortunately Kentucky now beckons once again. We came into this experience unsure about what to expect. To the casual sports fan, the professional tennis tour is a bit of an unknown, a conglomeration of random stops across the world that occasionally seem to be mere holdovers to the big four events where the sports world takes notice.  But after spending this week in beautiful Indian Wells, I can attest, there have been very few more pleasurable sports experiences Drew and I have had than the BNP Paribas Open.  From great tennis, to star player encounters to dealing with the most arrogant media members the world has ever seen, we have had a tremendous experience that sets us up well on the path to becoming the top-notch tennis bloggers we hope to one day be. As we get ready to fly back to cover the NCAA Tournament with the Big Blue Nation, here are five takeaways from our time in the desert:

1. You Will See The Most Bizarre Looking People in the World of Tennis:  Tennis has without question the most absurd grouping of humans that I have ever seen at any sporting event on God's green earth. I used to give this award to NASCAR races, where the strangest pockets of our nation pour out to huddle in a mass, while drinking, partying and revving their engines in ways that bring out the absolute best in people watching. But after spending time in the tennis world, I think NASCAR has found its match. Tennis has by far the most beautiful people in all of sports, as the men and women that play come from all around the world, fit, soaked in sun and wearing few clothes, so as to provide true eye candy for spectators everywhere. But then there is the other half, the greatest selection of oddities this side of a 1930s traveling carnival. Every form of height, weight, age, gender ethnicity, national origin, hair style, skin tone, clothing choice, cleanliness, accent, and intelligence level is represented, sometimes in a bizarre amalgamation that is likely found in no other locale on the planet. The cultural stew that is created has its majority characteristics (generally older, more wealthy, etc), but whatever you are looking for, you will find at a major tennis showcase. If the great flood comes again and Noah is assigned to save the greatest cross-section of humanity, there is no doubt in my mind he will head directly to his nearest ATP/WTA 1000 level Masters event.

2. Everyone at a Professional Tennis Tournament Looks Important:  As part of our media duties, we were able to mingle in the cafeteria area of Indian Wells, ground zero for players, coaches and families to socialize and spend their non-playing moments. Surprisingly to me, most of the best players would spend their free time actually hanging out in this area, eating the delicious yogurt parfait (with blueberries and graham crackers...I had ten) and talking to their fellow competitors. While that helped create sights such as Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic mingling over a salad, it also can leave the onlooker confused, because in such areas, everyone has the look of someone you should know. The event is filled with hundreds of individuals ages 17-60, all fit, trim, tan and in tennis gear, ready to run out on the court and play/instruct. The tennis paraphernalia is ubiquitous, as everyone involved in the sports refuses to dress like a normal human being, instead wearing only tennis playing gear, regardless of whether they intend on playing. The peer pressure to conform becomes immense, leading even Drew and I to ditch our sweaters and jeans and instead pick up tennis polos and shorts. We had to fit in didn't we? I am sure as I grow more accustomed to the tennis scene, I will learn to be able to differentiate between the players, coaches and entourage members to determine exactly who I should spend the most time gawking at during lunch. But for now all I will remember about the Indian Wells cafeteria area is how it looked to the outsider like just one big blur of faceless Nike and Adidas logos.

3. You Should Find a Non-Superstar to Root For:  Our goal at The Outer Courts from Day One was to try and find a non-star player and get behind him, hopefully to magically pull him on a run deep into the bracket. In my view, anyone can root for a superstar who wins at a regular rate, but true character is built by rooting for someone who feels the same adversity we all deal with in life, winning some, losing some and generally having an anonymous existence. Our first attempt at finding that player was to go and see Jack Sock take the court, hoping that his game and personality would match the absurdity of his name in joyful harmony.  Alas, it was not to be, as he screamed, argued and pouted through his match so thoroughly that we didn't feel comfortable giving him the gift of Outer Courts fandom. But his opponent, Ivo Karlovic, struck us as interesting. He was strikingly tall (listed at 6'10", but just as wrestlers have their weight exaggerated a bit...think Yokozuna weighing over 700 pounds...I think Ivo's height may be slightly inflated), had a very reserved demeanor in the face of a loud opponent and even gave us a wry smile as we cheered him on against a crowd pulling for his American opponent. After Karlovic got the victory, we learned more about Ivo and realized that we had found a diamond in the rough.  His Twitter account is dryly brilliant, his sense of humor on tour is legendary and his interaction with the fans helps him win over even the most antagonistic crowd. As we watched him lose to American Sam Querrey, Karlovic still found a way to entertain, making jokes during the match, heading a ball over the net and causing fans in the first few rows to break out with laughter. Now Karlovic's career is not one of superstardom, he has only won four tournaments and all have been in secondary events, but his personality is clearly that of a Grand Slam winner in the game of life. So as the season goes on, I will be watching the draws to determine how Karlovic does, and pulling for his every success. You can have Andy Murray and experience the joy of rooting for a New York Yankee-like mega franchise. But I will take my Pittsburgh Pirates with Karlovic, and he sneaks up and wins the pennant this year at Wimbledon, oh you will see a true Outer Courts celebration.

4.  Meeting an International Superstar is Still Very Cool:  I have already written pretty extensively about my opportunity to meet and interact with Roger Federer at Indian Wells. The excitement of going up to one of the world's biggest athletes and then having him agree to come on my radio show (even if only to say five words...the "Hello Radio Guys, Go Cats!" heard round the world), is a moment I will always remember. But I was also struck with how nice he, and many of the other top names, have been as well. At times part of the ATP Tour rankings seems to be in inverse relationship to the friendliness of the players. While we have met a few players who I can categorically define as "jerks" (I will leave the names out in a spirit of goodwill), virtually all of the players we have seen from the top of the rankings have been wonderful. We had positive interactions with Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Tsonga and Del Potro, and each showcase none of the trappings of great success and fame. In my short career covering sports, I have met many of the best at their trades and they generally have been a mixed bag in terms of personalities you would actually want to deal with on a daily basis. But in tennis, the best of the best seem to also be as close to normal as one could hope in such circumstances. And that to me, is an unexpected positive.

5. Covering Tennis is Not a Bad Gig at All:  Let me be clear. Drew and I in no way consider ourselves part of the tennis media establishment.  In fact, I can actually say that I probably feel as much of an outsider now as I did before I arrived at Indian Wells. With the exception of Courtney Nguyen of Sports Illustrated (who could not have been kinder) and our Tennis Channel colleagues, virtually everyone we met in the media room was either rude or dismissive. It started from the moment we arrived, when a person began yelling that we were in his way (before we had even said hello mind you), to moments before we left when we overheard two reporters talking poorly about those "bloggers from Kentucky" (he didn't think we were experts in the field and wondered if we were so country that we thought "Red Foo was a real star"...I might add that he was saying this while downloading a roll of pictures he had taken of Red Foo playing soccer...but apparently irony is not a word defined in his journalism handbook). The tennis media group is not exactly Mr. Rogers in terms of welcoming us to their neighborhood. But with that said, working in the tennis field is a pretty sweet gig. The pace of movement is so different to what I am accustomed, with everyone moving so much more leisurely and carefree. Part of it may just be the vibe of California or the tennis player mentality in general, but there was no (with the exception of the first person we met) barking orders or acting at a breakneck pace. Covering tennis involves traveling to some of the world's most luxurious spots and watching a game that is actually quite beautiful to see in its highest form. From the grace of Roger Federer, to the surgeon-like quality of Novak Djokovic to the blue-collar intensity of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to the flair of Rafael Nadal, the top mens' players are an absolute joy to watch. And this year's tournament also gave me an increased appreciation of the women's game, which is not only played by some of the more beautiful women in the world, but has an increased athleticism and power that makes it an altogether different sport than that of even ten years ago. To be able to cover that sport, see these places in the world and spend your time writing about something you love...well it is a pretty amazing gig and worth dealing with some of the pretentious blowhards that accompany you on your travels.

So that's it. We are off in the morning to Kentucky and back into the world of college basketball and March Madness. Thanks to the folks at Tennis Channel for inviting us along the way and we hope to be able to join you again for another tournament and more tennis coverage down the road. If you don't remember one other thing that you have read this week, remember this. Always keep your head up, because one day Rafael Nadal could be coming towards you and you don't want to be like Drew, staring down mindlessly looking at the flowers.  Until next time...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Outer Courts Awards

As we wrap up our time here at the 2013 BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, let's reflect on some of our favorite people, places and things from a week of Tennis Channel blogging.

Here are the recipients of the first annual Outer Courts awards...

The Outer Courts' Hottest Topic of Debate


Matt refuses to believe the six cameras around the court are capable of producing an accurate spot in such a short amount of time.  The animation REALLY gets under his skin.  While I also have my doubts, I haven't seen him have such little faith in something since Billy Gillispie was Kentucky's basketball coach.

Honorable mention: How to get back to the hotel from the stadium

Lesson Learned

Don't say "The" when referring to "Tennis Channel"

It took some getting used to, but after our employers threatened to waterboard us every time we say "The Tennis Channel," we learned quickly to call it "Tennis Channel."

Honorable mention: The casino bar at Agua Caliente is not the place to meet women

Favorite Stadium Court Song

Tom Hedden - "A New Game"

I can't get it out of my head.  I guess it's actually my least favorite.

Honorable Mention: DMX - Ruff Ryders Anthem 

Favorite Over-Priced, Impulse Purchase 

Rafa Nike Jacket (Black)

I've never been one to hit the souvenir shop on trips such as these, but something -- probably a poor job of packing for the week -- pulled me toward the shops and encouraged me to spend April's rent on clothes I don't need.

The jacket is really comfortable, though.

Honorable Mention: FILA 2013 BNP Paribas Open jacket; 2013 BNP Paribas Dri-Fit polo; shot of Don Julio tequila

Biggest Disappointment


Before we became official members of the ATP/WTA media at Indian Wells, we were tourists in Los Angeles for an afternoon after we landed at LAX.

Our first stop was Hollywood Blvd. and I've never been so disappointed in my life. I don't know what I expected to see, but what I saw was heartbreaking and worse than anything I could've imagined.

It looked, felt, and smelled like old Vegas.

Honorable Mention: Wi-Fi connection in the media room

Best Meal On Site

Cafeteria's pasta station

It wasn't until I saw Rafael Nadal load up a bowl of fresh ingredients from the salad bar and take them over to the pasta station that I had the courage to try out the move myself. I was intimidated by the whole setup, honestly. But once we saw Rafa work the cafeteria like a veteran and walk off with a delicious-looking, made-to-order bowl of rotini and veggies, pasta became the go-to meal for The Outer Courts.

Honorable Mention: Pre-packaged yogurt parfaits (strawberry, when it's available)

Favorite Match

(1) Novak Djokovic def. Fabio Fognini 6-0, 5-7, 6-2

It was a match we thought would end very quickly after top-ranked Djokovic owned Fognini in the first set. Matt even told one of our Tennis Channel colleagues that Fognini could be the worst tennis player he's ever seen. But things changed once the Italian stallion picked up the support from the stadium court crowd after he went up 1-0 in the second set. The sympathetic roars turned to genuine excitement as the match went on, fueling Fognini to force an unexpected third set. Unfortunately, Djokovic regained control and went on to win the match, but not before Fabio Fognini put on a show in front of one of the larger night session crowds we saw during our time at the tournament.

Honorable Mention: Kevin Anderson def. (4) David Ferrer 3-4, 6-3, 6-3

Favorite WTA Player

Maria Kirlenko

The Russian upset third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska in the fourth round of the tournament on Tuesday.

She's also our favorite Google Image Search of the tournament.

Honorable Mention: Dominika Cibulkova

Favorite ATP Player

Ivo Karlovic

It's no secret The Outer Courts loves Ivo Karlovic. The Croatian sensation impressed us with his towering stature, dominant serve, inability to return, and gut-busting Twitter feed.

We were familiar with Ivo, the tennis player, prior to Indian Wells, but we had no clue how incredibly awesome he is until we saw him up and close and personal here at the tournament. When many of the tour's stars exhibit short tempers and hot fuses when things aren't bouncing their way, Ivo still managed to show off his wit and good spirit, even in defeat.

Honorable Mention: Fabio Fognini

The Outer Courts' Favorite Moment

Roger Federer's Kentucky basketball radio show appearance

"Hey radio guys, go Cats!"

The brief, very brief, sound clip already has its own button on the show's soundboard back home.

Honorable Mention: Watching Nadal's much-awaited return to hardcourt

Thanks for the memories, Indian Wells.

Filming Our First Television Feature

If you see two Kentuckians with a prominent sunburn roaming around the Indian Wells grounds tonight, please come and say hello (no autographs please). It has been a long afternoon for your loyal Outer Courts bloggers as we spent the day filming our first feature for Tennis Channel. The television side of the network decided they wanted to do a feature on the experience and antics of the Kentucky bloggers leaving the Bluegrass and coming into the tennis big leagues.  So Drew and I left the comfort of our computers (and free Diet Coke...a wonderful benefit to the Indian Wells media room) and headed out into the sun to shoot a 2-3 minute feature to appear on the channel. As a bit of background, I have done local television in Kentucky for the past three years, so I have some experience in what it takes to create a "package" for air. Or at least I thought I did. It turns out that what it takes to go on the air in Kentucky and talk about John Calipari or Nerlens Noel (stand in front of the camera, make sure my double crown is not sticking up in the back and then give a "how you doin!" look into the camera) is not quite the same thing that it takes to do a nationally televised produced package on a major tennis tournament. What I thought might take 10-15 minutes (allowing for my verbal slips or Drew making me laugh), instead turned into 2 1/2 hours of intense production.

The premise of the bit was simple...look at these two yokels from the mountains, following the path of the Clampetts and coming to California to hit the big time. Drew and I, dressed in black to both make us look slimmer and indirectly bake our bodies in the heat, were to talk a bit about what we had done during our time at Indian Wells and tell the stories about our meetings with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. It was all good fun, and after some early nervousness, I thought we did a stellar job. But while the meat of the feature wasn't too arduous, the real difficulty came when it was time to film the "natural" shots of us "hanging out" at the tournament. Now I do hope you realize that many of the shows you watch at home include such scenes that are not, at least in the truest sense, "real". If you are watching "The Bachelor" for instance, you will see whatever couple is walking on the beach (usually with the woman madly in love with a person she met just days before, and the others questioning whether she is there "for the right reasons") laughing, giggling or maybe throwing a beach ball without a care in the world. It looks as if it is all spontaneous fun, just two young lovers on a lark at the ocean. But chances are these scenes are scripted, set up, replayed and repeated in order to get just the right perfect shot. A similar thing happened today. As Drew and I were shown "strolling along the grounds," we had to re-tape a number of scenes to get just the right view of our young, care-free nature. As we strolled, in one moment of natural behavior, I pointed to a flag on the stands and asked Drew if he knew what country it was from. He said he didn't (guessing Trinidad and Tobago) and we then had playful banter about how it was probably a place where people all had "Zs and Vs" in their name, and wouldn't allow us in due to diplomacy concerns. It was a B-level joke, but one that seemed to have some connection to the tennis world and so we went with it. The producers particularly liked this dialogue and then asked that we re-create it four times via four different angles. Repeating the joke again and again (Drew still didn't know where the flag was from and I still think tennis players have names that use the rarest of letters in the alphabet), we tried to get the perfect shot to capture this moment. By the time we hit the fifth angle, the joke had become as stale as a Jay Leno monologue and I cringed as I repeated it a final time (we never did figure out what flag was hanging above).

Still yet, the overall experience was one I did enjoy. The producers couldn't have been nicer, even though they were facing much more difficult conditions (imagining lugging heavy camera equipment around in the desert sun). Plus, we got the chance to meet the legendary Bud Collins, who was on the ground having lunch and agreed to talk with us for a few minutes. We mentioned to him that this was our first tennis tournament and asked on camera if he had any advice on how to cover it. Collins noted that his first tournament as a media member occurred in Boston in 1955, and since then he has had a wonderful life of following his favorite sport. I do think he may have misunderstood my question a bit and thought I was asking for advice on seeing tennis for the first time, as he then went into detail on the difference between a forehand/backhand and how a tournament bracket worked (including looking at Drew and noting that "some players are seeded and those are the better players"). But he was extremely gracious and listening to him tell stories about his early experiences was one of the highlights of this trip so far.

As we taped the closing dialogue, Drew and I made reference to a few things that we felt had to get on the air, including our new hero Ivo Karlovic, the obsession the tennis world has for Victoria Azarenka's boyfriend Red Foo (they act at times like he is George Clooney) and Drew's shout out to the woman that cuts his hair at Great Clips. As we finished, an overwhelming sense of accomplishment overcame me. Here was my first nationally televised piece, and I did it without having to make cheap jokes or pull on anyone's heart strings a la Tom Rinaldi. While we don't know when it will air (it will be during one of these 12 hour marathon days of tennis coverage), we do know that it contains a few surprises for you, The Outer Courts fans. Also, we both have bright red sunburns to remind us of the day we sweated in the hot California sun to give America two minutes of the best entertainment that it could ever imagine on the subject of bloggers covering tennis. All in a day's work. Now if you will excuse me, I am going to go see if I can find someone to let me borrow a bit of aloe.

editor's note: Here is the finished product as seen on Tennis Channel.

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.

One Last Day Of Tennis For The Outer Courts

It's with a heavy heart and a suitcase full of dirty laundry that I sit here at The Outer Courts Indian Wells office today, our final day at the 2013 BNP Paribas Open. As much as we'd like to stay here and watch Masters 1000 tennis in perfect weather forever, an early flight back east awaits us at LAX tomorrow morning. Today will be our final day of blogging on The Outer Courts, at least from the comfortable seating in Stadium One, so it's a bittersweet day for us at the tournament.

Mardy Fish and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga just kicked off Tuesday's tennis on the big stage and there are many other exciting matchups on the schedule throughout the day, including appearances from Novak Djokovic, Victoria Azarenka, Andy Murray, Maria Sharapova, Juan Martin Del Potro, and, my new favorite sporting duo, the Bryan brothers. Matt and I are off to film a television bit for Tennis Channel right now, but we'll be stopping by the various courts all day to get a glimpse of the sport's biggest stars, one last time, as we enjoy one last day at the tournament.

The intensity is picking up and crunch time is nearing for the players as the BNP Paribas Open approaches its competitive phase. We'll be back soon with more thoughts and observations from a gorgeous and action-packed Tuesday at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

Part One of Tuesday's Round of 16 Women's Pictures

One of the best parts of the Indian Wells experience is getting to see the best men and women play in the same tournament, on the same courts, usually in consecutive matches. That has been especially helpful for me, because to be honest, I have grown apart from the women's tour in recent years. Whereas seven years ago, the WTA was bursting with personality and seemed to have a leg up on its male brethren, in recent years, I have had a hard time following the game. A big issue for casual fans has been the inability to distinguish a number of the players.  As the game has gone global, the level of play has increased, but it has become more difficult for an American audience to connect with the personalities. I mentioned this to an individual connected with tours here at Indian Wells and he acknowledged the issue but noted that if more people knew the players involved, they would appreciate not only the game, but the personalities as well. I agree.

So I decided to do a little image searching and find the best (aka most interesting) internet picture of the women in the Round of 16. In so doing, I made a deal with myself that I would not resort to simply finding the sexiest pictures of the players. It is no secret that the WTA is home to some of the most beautiful women in the world, and this is also true of the tour's top players. However rather than resort to this easy way out, I went in a different direction, the Round of 16 via the player's most interesting internet picture. We will start with two of the matches being played tomorrow:

Maria Kirilenko vs Agnieszka Radwanska

My Indian Wells crush has easily been Maria Kirilenko, a beautiful Russian who commands attention wherever she goes. Because I will abide by my stated desire to not simply resort to internet swimsuit pictures (although in Kirilenko's case there are many, and they are gorgeous), I will focus on the other major aspect of her non-tennis personality and that is her engagement to Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. Ovechkin was at one time the best player in the NHL, but is now best known for being the best player on the league's worst team. I love Alex because of the tremendous gap in his teeth, but I didn't know until I watched Kirilenko play just how jealous I truly was of him. This picture taken by Ovechkin after the couple's engagement shows that international sports stars can still find ways to coexist in relatively modest means. A small Christmas tree, plain white walls and a plastic Santa Claus suggest a couple that doesn't spent their hard-earned wealth on gaudy trinkets, but instead wants to remain connected to the average American (or in their case, Russian) by celebrating Christmas with what can kindly be called, a Wal-Mart fashion motif. Beautiful, talented and not high maintenance. Kirilenko is my Indian Wells crush.

Her opponent in the next round is Agnieszka Radwanska, a Polish star on the verge of her breakout year. Radwanska's picture is once again simplistic, showing her getting her toes done, not in some high-priced salon or exclusive European spa, but in a room that looks to be located in a municipal building in Newark. Radwanska prefers to have her feet painted not in a comfortable leather recliner, but instead in a 1970's stained baby blue chair, that when she finishes, can be stacked and placed on a cart to stored back in the basement. If trouble comes, Agnieszka will be ready, always keeping a fire hydrant near by in order to prevent a disaster. Radwanska shows herself to be a woman who loves the finer things, but sees no need for creating a fuss, while always remaining prepared if trouble strikes. In a time of danger, Agnieszka is your woman, and I trust her to lead us to safety.

Petra Kvitova vs Klara Zakopalova

My internet journey hit a bit of a road block with Petra Kvitova, a Czech star who may be the most unknown former Wimbledon champion to ever walk its manicured lawn. She has been as high as #2 in the world, yet her internet picture history is relatively weak. In fact, the selection of non-action shots gave me almost nothing to work with. However just as I was about to give up in complete despair, I found this Champion's picture of Kvitova winning the WTA event in Paris. As a prize for the victory, she was given this trophy, which seems to be an ode to a paper cut-out of a spoon. I sat staring at this picture for at least five minutes, trying to figure out whether it was a metaphor for something deeper in life (the world is the blank white space and the outline of the spoon is the global-industrial complex feeding us the information they want us to know?  A college philosophy student somewhere is shaking his head in agreement) or simply the ugliest trophy known to man. I am going with the latter, and the way Kvitova is smiling without mocking, suggests she is a sweet soul who is willing to handle whatever life brings her way.

Her opponent tomorrow is Klara Zakopalova, another Czech, who is currently at the highest ranking of her career. Her photo selection was a bit better, but I chose this one, where she and a friend seem to be hanging out at the worst "Meet and Greet" party ever assembled. The men behind her look to be telling awful stories (probably about global commodities, which I always hear people in suits talking about, but which I think is an actual subject) and she and her friend seem to have escaped and found whatever enjoyment they can have at the moment, mainly taking pictures and standing next to plates. The picture suggests that Zakopalova finds herself in important situations, but never takes herself too seriously...a trait that usually makes for a likable person.

These are just two of the eight matches tomorrow and here on The Outer Courts, we will let you know how they play out. But for now, know this. There is more to the WTA than simply names with lots of "V's and "Z"s. These women have style flair, and oh yeah, they can hit it down your throat if need be.

The World Needs More Bob and Mike Bryan

If you had asked me this morning who I believe is the best duo in tennis, I would've said, without hesitation, the masterminds behind The Outer Courts. That's just my unbiased opinion. Josh and Ari, Tennis Channel's behind-the-scenes digital moguls, would've been a close second.  Again, I'm just calling it like I see it here. That's me looking through my impartial glasses -- that I bought in the BNP Paribas discount optical shop outside Court 4.

But that was this morning. That was before I watched the Bryan brothers versus John Isner and Sam Querrey on Monday night.  Wow, those Bryan fellas are good.

Stadium 2 was packed for the matchup between the No. 1 doubles team in the world, Bob and Mike Bryan, and America's top two singles players, John Isner and Sam Querrey. Together, the four players make up the United States Davis Cup team.  But tonight, that Davis Cup team split up to compete in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open, where Isner and Querrey were finalists last year and the Bryan brothers have yet to hoist the trophy. It was a battle between four of America's favorite tennis players, and as much as the fans would love to see both sides advance, one team had to lose. This time around, it was Isner/Querrey who were sent packing at the hands of what I believe is one of sport's best kept secrets: The Brothers Bryan.

Bob and Mike dominated the match, winning 6-3, 6-3, but the numbers don't tell the whole story. As a casual tennis fan watching them compete for the first time, I was amazed by how great they work together on the court. They've mastered the art of doubles competition and, after watching how they handled Isner and Querrey, I must say it's a shame they don't have a bigger presence in tennis the way casual sports fans see tennis. I'm not saying they're Jordan-Pippen, Montana-Rice, Maris-Mantle, or Bird-McHale, but I think more sports fans should know about the Bryans and what they've accomplished over their careers. In a sport where individuals earn all the glory, recognition, multi-million dollar shoe deals and TV commercials, the Bryans fly under the radar despite owning seemingly all of the sport's doubles records. I mean, they've won more games, matches, tournaments and grand slams than anyone in history; why do I have to fly out to California to appreciate how awesome they are?

It wasn't just what the Bryans did with their racquets, either. I was impressed by how they worked the crowd before, during and after the match. When it came time to sign three tennis balls to hit into the stands, the Bryans signed and hit every used tennis ball in the stadium. They even went to their bags to make sure no tennis balls were left behind. When the court emcee asked what it was like chasing their first title at Indian Wells in the post-match interview, they instead chose to compliment his deep voice -- it really is a great voice -- and asked the fans to applaud him. It's the little things like that, the wittiness and fan appreciation, that stood out to me about the Bryans -- not just their talent.

So, again, why don't more sports fans know about this dynamic duo?  I understand men's doubles tennis doesn't have a huge audience in the U.S., but I want to see more of Bob and Mike. In a world where every household can name every branch on the Kardashian family tree, it's a shame more people aren't keeping up with the Bryans, too.

They picked up a new fan here tonight and I'm a little disappointed it took me this long.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Your Earthquake Will Not Interrupt Neil Harman While He's Talking About Andy Murray

It'll take more than an earthquake to distract Neil Harman while he's on television. Harman was on the Tennis Channel set this morning discussing fellow Brit Andy Murray when a 4.7 earthquake shook up parts of southern California. And like a true TV professional, Harman stuck to what he set out to do without the slightest flinch.

Brett Haber, on the other hand, looked around like Earth was under invasion.

Harman just thought it was a strong gust of wind.

Cheering the Enemy

If there is one thing this Indian Wells experience has taught me, it is that my fandom in tennis is completely inconsistent. What one player does that irks me, another may do and I am entertained. I haven't found myself to yet completely be able to differentiate between the action and the person in a way that is truly unbiased. Take for instance the issue of becoming the modern John McEnroe and acting out on the court during a match.  Growing up, McEnroe was my favorite player and his behavior/personality was certainly a big part of his charm to a young Matt Jones. But then earlier in the week, the American with the most in common with Johnny Mac, Jack Sock became enemy #1 of The Outer Courts. Sock lost to our hero Ivo Karlovic (everyone take a second and give a moment of silence for the wittiest player on tour's exit last night from the main draw) and over the course of the match, his behavior not only was frustrating, it gave me the rare emotion of sports anger. He belittled the referee, popped the ball out of the stadium after a losing point and even mocked the relative slowness of a ball boy's attempt to pick up a wayward shot. I went to the match wanting to root for him (primarily because of the hilarious of his name of course), but instead left satisfied that his behavior had been rewarded with a loss.

But then today I went and watched the tour player potentially most known for his hothead and brutish behavior, Ernests Gulbis, and somehow came away a fan.  In his three set victory over Andreas Seppi, Gulbis portrayed the same childish antics, he punched a Corona sign that was minding its own business and only had the misfortune of being placed on the net, threw his racket against the ground (breaking it in the process) and told one fan to execute an action one might undertake with a straw on one of his covered body parts.  It was terrible behavior and it caused most of the crowd to hiss, boo and root vociferously for his opponent. Yet somehow, I ended up actually pulling for Gulbis during the match's closing moments. Despite all his boorishness, the entire Gulbis package left me entertained and wanting to see more. Even though Gulbis essentially engaged in the same actions Sock did (only difference being the words mumbled under his breath were not English, but instead came off with a heavy Eastern European accent) my reaction to them was much different.

One explanation may be that Gulbis seems to be a character out of a WWE script.  His background is that of an aristocratic Latvian, complete with a mother who is a famous actress. He seems to give absolutely no care or worry in the world as to his public perception and even when the crowd was on him the hardest, his actions showed that he paid them no mind.  I felt as if I was watching the tennis version of Ravishing Rick Rude," walking to the ring and telling all the unwashed masses that their jeers only helped fuel his fire.  Like the best bad guy wrestler, his style was quietly confrontational and I couldn't wait to see what he would do next. In a sport that I can already tell needs the occasional jolt of personality, Gulbis is a bad guy that we can count on to entertain us with his antics, while also adding in the needed spice of great tennis. If this were wrestling, he would be the bad guy you love to hate, and in classic WWE style, it would only be a matter of time before he turns "face" and we all cheer his attitude in reverse.

But that doesn't explain my aversion to Sock. Jack did the same things, has the same tennis potential and even is a member of the good old USA (#MURICA!). Why not give him the same breaks?  It is a question I will reflect on as we move the tour towards Miami. I consider Gulbis a character and can't wait until his match on Wednesday versus Rafael Nadal (must see television). Maybe if I give Jack Sock another chance, he will join the Latvian as a Tour player whose matches I cannot miss.

A Rocky Start to Our Indian Wells Morning

Today is going to be a wonderful day at Indian Wells, with a number of the world's best players in action. Roger, Berdych and Azarenka all take the court, along with a doubles match featuring the Bryan Brothers versus the big hitting duo of John Isner and Sam Querrey. But as excited as I am about the on-the-court tennis, the action really got started much earlier this morning as an earthquake hit the Palm Springs area and shook up my early routine.  Now I understand that earthquakes are a way of life for folks on the West Coast, and a 5.1 shake on the Richter Scale is something that barely causes a yawn for those on the left side of the country. Fair enough. But I come from Kentucky, where we prefer our ground stable and our morning filled with basketball highlights, not seismic activity. And just as I wouldn't mock you if you were in the Bluegrass and came trembling with fear at the sight of a top-flight thoroughbred racing at you on the farm, you shouldn't make light of my first real earthquake experience. In all actuality, while not terrifying, it was slightly disconcerting. When you are sitting in your hotel room, enjoying an early morning beverage (in my case a refreshing Diet Cherry Coke Zero) and all of a sudden it feels as if you are lying on a waterbed with Wynonna Judd practicing her rumba for "Dancing With the Stars," it can throw you off your game. Having the ground shake beneath your feet was unlike anything I have ever felt before and I reacted as any other person going on Twitter and trying to discover what happened.

Twitter of course blew up with people all sharing their earthquake experience and sending the same basic message ("OMG...was that an earthquake?....BRB, an earthquake...Earthquake smh, what will my girlies say?...BEIBER!!!!), and it confirmed that the ground had shaken beneath my feet. With the quake only registering at 5.1 on the Richter Scale, I was able to feel confident that no one was hurt and without such turmoil, I could then brag to my friends about my first truly West Coast experience (I have already purchased my "I survived the March, 2013 Palm Springs Quake!" t-shirt). However the difficulty outside of the stadium was nothing compared to what we discovered inside, as an announcement has just taken place that Rafael Nadal will not be playing Leonardo Mayer, as Mayer has been injured and has withdrawn.  The crowd was understandably unhappy, although not quite as frustrated as Drew who had just completed a "Know Your Underdog" post on Mayer mere moments before the announcement was made.  The Indian Wells organizers and fans are understandably disappointed (everyone loves a little Rafa), but they are replacing the Stadium One action with a doubles match involving James Blake and Mardy Fish.

So overall, not the morning we expected. But as Carl Spackler once said in a similar moment, "in the immortal words of Jean Paul-Sartre, 'Au revoir Leonardo Mayer.'  Already we have survived seismic activity and the loss of a chance to see a world icon.  It only can go up from here.

Know Your Underdog: Leonardo Mayer

As the sport's top-ranked stars hit the courts today in these early stages of the BNP Paribas Open, the tournament's lesser-known players have the opportunity to defy the odds and advance when almost everyone expects them to lose.  We'll get to know these underdogs as they face the uphill battle of standing across the net from the greats.  

Today, it's Leonardo Mayer... 

Leonardo Mayer

Age: 25

Born: Corrientes, Argentina

Height: 6 ft. 2 in.

Weight: 180 lbs.

Plays: Right-handed


Record: 52-65

Tiles: 0

Highest Ranking: No. 51 (June 7 2010)

Current Ranking: No. 64

Today's Opponent

(5) Rafael Nadal

How He Got Here

Defeated Mikhail Youzhny 6-2, 6-3 in the second round

Record versus Nadal (0-2)

Acapulco 2013, lost 6-1, 7-5

Indian Wells 2012, lost 6-1, 6-3

The Rundown

Nadal is playing with that bad left knee, but that shouldn't slow him down from advancing at the 2013 BNP Paribas Open.

Leonardo Mayer, enjoy a beautiful day in Southern California and enjoy your paycheck for reaching the third round.

The Outer Courts Prediction: Nadal

Fun with Fabio

Until tonight, I knew almost nothing about Italian tennis player Fabio Fognini.  I had occasionally seen his name pop up in major tennis tournaments and was aware he was a solid mid-level ATP player, having finished the last two seasons ranked in the top 50. However as far as being noteworthy for his bright headbands and the screams of women that seem to follow him every moment he goes walking through the Indian Wells practice area, I had little knowledge of his exploits. But after tonight's match with Novak Djokovic, I will keep my eye on dear Fabio.  Fognini pushed Djokovic in a way the Djoker is not accustomed to being pushed in opening round encounters. while also creating a match that was one of the two or three most entertaining thus far in the tournament.  Even though he was facing the best player in the world, Fognini was the star, taking the match through three distinct "Fabio" stages:


The first set produced one of the most complete beatdowns this country has seen since Reagan-Mondale in 1984. Over the course of 24 minutes (and it would have been longer, but commercials wait for no man), Fognini put up a performance that led one woman sitting next to me in the stands to say, "has the young man with a goatee every played tennis before?"  On the surface, Fabio would seem to have everything going for him, he is a handsome, fit Italian playing tennis for a living and traveling the world chasing his dream. Normally I would see a person like this and lean towards disliking him (especially when he, like Fabio, has great hair). However the putrid nature of Fognini's first set made me actually feel sorry for the guy, as I thought he was headed for Brandon Knight-level embarrassment (not to change the subject, but if you haven't seen my fellow Wildcat get dunked on tonight, check it was so bad that RIP Brandon Knight was trending worldwide on Twitter).  The 6-0 result was almost an act of mercy, as putting up a bagel against Djokovic happens, and the relative normalcy of that score hides the complete thoroughness of the annihilation that occurred. It was painful to watch and for me, and most of the folks in Stadium One, the thought of another set of the same seemed unnecessary.


As could be expected, after such thorough destruction, the crowd began to actually feel sorry for poor Fabio. Even though he is young, wealthy and has a model girlfriend, Indian Wells took pity, knowing it was watching the complete humiliation of a young man in a public setting. So the crowd began clapping, chanting Fabio's name and even causing The Outer Courts bloggers to hide their press pass, get rid of their objectiveness and cheer loudly for the Italian underdog. I want no man to be humiliated (unless its on YouTube and we can put it on our blog) and thus I was hoping for some small victory for Fognini, a victory in a singular battle to hide the demolition of the larger war. The second set became the set of Fabio, as the fans tried desperately to help him avoid the double goose egg and Drew and I put on our rally caps in support. And miraculously, it worked. After holding off Djokovic in his first service game with a couple of wicked forehands, Fabio hit a down-the-line winner that made Stadium One erupt and Fognini smile with relief. The picture above showcased his mock excitement at having won one game and avoiding walking out with the dreaded double zero. Djokovic's supremacy wasn't in jeopardy, but at least Fabio got the game that could help maintain his dignity and happiness.

Fabio Stage Three:  THE FIGHT

But while we all clapped at Fabio's good fortune and then began to focus on other things (for me it was the amazing array of nose hair coming from the man three seats down from me...what age is it that nose hair becomes something that isn't even worth dealing with any more? I would argue that once it can literally blow in the wind, it is time to take action...but my friend to the left apparently doesn't agree). However Fabio was not done. He strung together a number of big points in a row, broke Djokovic on two of three service games and managed to come back and win a thrilling second set. As nightfall came to Indian Wells, the scene felt reminiscent of a late night match at the US Open, with the crowd rallying around its favorite, and Fabio seeming to be the (surprising) people's choice. Both players exerted maximum effort and after a number of fantastic passing forehands, Fabio won a second set that seemed virtually impossible to steal just one hour prior.

Reality hit hard in the third set, as Djokovic put his foot on the gas pedal and got the victory. But for a few short moments, Indian Wells rocked with the possibility of a huge upset, and the great storyline of Fabio the Magnificent. Granted it wasn't a Disney movie, Fabio actually exhibited somewhat poor behavior on the court, throwing his racket, berating a linesman who called a coaching warning and simply refusing to attempt to go after two drop shots. Rudy he was not. However his charm on the points he did win, allowed fans to forget the hot-headed behavior that occurred at other junctures and cheer the possibility of an amazing upset. It didn't happen, but it was fun watching Djokovic sweat in the process. I am not saying Fabio is my favorite player of Indian Wells, that honor belongs to the great Ivo Karlovic, but I am saying that for one evening, he produced an entertaining match that had my blood flowing. Fognini was terrible, lovable and competitive, all in one three set battle. That ability to produce such varied results is unique, and worthy of praise. So Fabio, wherever you are tonight, stop whatever rock star moment you are having, and know that we here on The Outer Courts salute you. Here is hoping you get a chance to appreciate your performance and maybe even pose with a fake bull once again:

Ivo Karlovic's Loss Is Only The Beginning

A black cloud hovers over The Outer Courts tonight as we leave Indian Wells Tennis Garden after watching Ivo Karlovic's quest for a title come up short.  Our man Ivo lost to 23rd-ranked Sam Querrey 6-3, 6-4 in a second round matchup on the same court we watched him defeat Jack Sock on just days ago.

Matt and I looked forward to this match all day and we made sure we had a seat directly behind Ivo's chair so we could root him on like we've been fans our entire our lives.  We lucked out and met two more Ivo Karlovic fans prior to the match, and together we formed a cheering section that would rival any fan base in all of sports.  Unfortunately, our passionate chants of encouragement weren't enough to push the Croatian Sensation to victory over the American.  Ivo needed a return game, and that, we were unable to provide.

But this isn't the end of our Ivo Karlovic fandom.  In fact, this is only the beginning.  We'll continue to follow Ivo throughout the season and we plan to bring others on board.  The Ivo Karlovic bandwagon is leaving the station and there's plenty of room for everyone.  Punch your ticket, America.  It's going to be a fun ride aboard the Karlovic Express in 2013.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Afternoon in Indian Wells...I am Hot

Notes on a hot afternoon at Indian Wells...

--- The heat has turned up a bit here at Indian Wells, both literally and figuratively. Figuratively, the matches have been closer and there have been a number of near upsets. But literally, I am now officially sweating profusely after going to The Outer Courts. It seemed to make sense at the time. Our blog is called "The Outer Courts", so we go out to the Outer Courts, watch a match and relive the experience. Unfortunately that means spending time in the "elements" which translates into baking in the desert sun. While the weather at Indian Wells is perfect in the shade (80 degrees and breezy), when sitting with the sun on your face and denim covering part of your body (tomorrow will definitely be a shorts day), the novelty of watching a match on Court 7 quickly dissipates. Nothing against my good friends (see again, we tennis media have to say that the players are our friends) Alexandr (the "e" is not needed, nor wanted) Dolgopolov and Carlos Berlocq, but after a hour, I had to leave the bleachers from which I was watching their impressive rallies. The sun shining bright is great in theory, but only in very small doses.

--- I have however been able to see a number of very good matches. Stadium Court One opened with the return of Mardy Fish, who got a big victory over fellow American Bobby Reynolds. Over the course of two hours, the match had that usual ebb and flow that  I have noticed in tennis among those not in the big four (person wins set one, plays poorly in set two and the battle is set three), and it was great to see a somewhat emotional Fish get the victory. After the match, he spoke of battling the demons in his head, a problem I am not sure one hears too many athletes acknowledge. I have no idea beyond the physical issues just what Fish has going on in his head, but I am now even more determined to root for him as he moves on to the next round.  We bloggers also have to deal with the demons as well, although it is usually more mundane issues such as faulty wireless internet or excess flatulence by the people we are sitting around (there is a man in this room who is wearing large sun glasses, thigh-revealing shorts and a baseball cap, who passes more gas than Enron and seems oblivious to the disgusting smells emanating from his body...if he weren't old, I would be upset).  But I salute any athlete who will acknowledge the same and show vulnerability in a world where few will do the same.

---  Andy Murray had a bit of a scare from Russian Evgeny Donskoy, who took the first set from the British star and had Stadium One in a bit of a buzz. Donskoy played with aggression, hitting multiple great passing shots and putting Murray on notice. But the reigning US Open winner settled down, found his game and was able to take the last two sets rather comfortably. The first set won by Donskoy may have been the best tennis I have seen since I have been here and it is unquestionably the highlight of the on-court action. During the changeovers, the Indian Wells DJ seemed to agree and decided it was the perfect time to break out the world-class jams to mark the occasion, giving the entire Stadium a treat with C&C Music Factory's timeless classic "Gonna Make You Sweat." With Finesse Williams' vocals as inspiration, Donskoy and Murray carried the Stadium to a classic first set, before bowing to the inevitable in the last two. Evgeny may have not gotten a win, but he and the Indian Wells crowd will all have those few moments when it looked like he would get a win and we all thought we were seeing a "Thing That Makes You Go Hmmmm."

--- Finally, a shout out goes to Maria Kirilenko, who won a nearly three hour battle over American Mallory Burdette in the scorching hot sun of Stadium Three. I caught the third set of action and Kirilenko was a rock, returning shot after shot consistently, taking advantage of Burdette's impatience on big points. Kirilenko (who is officially my Indian Wells crush) had a loud fan section, including 8-10 guys dressed in club attire and wearing enough hair gel to support an extended season of "The Jersey Shore." Their shirts were tight, their pants were black and their sunglasses were douchey, but they provided a great deal of support as Maria fought to the victory. After the match, she acknowledged them by hitting a signed tennis ball in their direction, but she ignored me, the blogging fan who wanted her to win, but also wanted to dress not like I was heading to Tao. Being from Kentucky, I may never grab Kirilenko's heart like this hard beat-driving group of young men, but I do want her to know if she is reading this, Maria my admiration is just as strong, even if my sweater is not at as tight.

Djokovic is next. We shall return....

Evgeny Donskoy Flirted With The Upset

I thought we were going to see an upset in the second match of the day on Court 1 when 22-year-old Evgeny Donskoy came out hot against fourth-ranked Andy Murray.  The young Russian won over the crowd after taking the first set, but Murray proved to be too much for Donskoy in the second and third sets, which he won 6-2, 6-2.

Had Donskoy pulled off the upset, he would've reached Ivo Karlovic levels of admiration from us here on The Outer Courts.  Matt and I were behind him throughout the entire match as we cheered from the media seating -- I don't care if that's frowned upon -- and played "Guess The MPH" before each of his serves.  (That's a fun game, by the way.)

Donskoy still gets a tip of the cap from The Outer Courts and we won't forget the day he wowed us with his surprising dominance of Murray early in the second round matchup.  

He may be 1-12 in his career and behind 81 other players in the ATP rankings, but he earned the coveted "Hey, I think we like that guy" award from us.

Mardy Fish Wins Battle of America

Two Americans squared off in the first match of the day here in Stadium One and it was Mardy Fish, the 32nd-ranked player in the world, who prevailed in the civil war of second round tennis at Indian Wells.  Fish rallied to win the final four games to defeat qualifier Bobby Reynolds 6-3, 3-6, 6-4.

For Fish, it was his first match back on the ATP tour since withdrawing from the U.S. Open last September.  He has been battling a rare heart condition and wondered if he'd ever play the game again. 

"I've retired fifteen times in my head," he said prior to his return.

I feel a strong bond with Fish after recently purchasing the Mardy Fish edition Wilson tennis racquet at Dick's Sporting Good for $29.99.  He may not know who I am, but he's always with me in the form of a cheap tennis racquet sitting unused and untouched in the trunk of my car.

Today, I was ecstatic to see him win in his return and I feel like the $29.99 was a small price to pay for building that bond we shared today at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

Day 4 of Indian Wells Preview

It's another gorgeous day here at Indian Wells as we begin our 4th go-around of coverage here on The Outer Courts. Yesterday was filled with excitement, with record crowds on the grounds to watch Nadal and Federer begin their tournaments, John Isner surprisingly upset by a resurgent Lleyton Hewitt and the debut of world #1 (and girlfriend of Red Foo, an individual who I was unfamiliar with until yesterday but who now makes me LMFAO) Victoria Azarenka. Today isn't quite as crowded or energetic, but that doesn't mean that the action won't be intense (or at least I hope it is intense, because I have to get out of this media room before I go nuts at the guy behind me who will not stop yelling about bagels). The top four matches that I am looking forward to this afternoon/evening:

1. Djokovic Gets it Going:  One of the stranger rhythms of a big-time tennis tournament is the way the format meanders early, causing some of the top players to debut far after the tournament has actually begun. The action here at Indian Wells began on Wednesday, but the world's #1 male has yet to take the court. That will change today as the man everyone calls "Djoker" (I have noticed a tendency for tennis media to want to give everyone nicknames...but they are all terrible. People refer to Novak as "Djoker" like he is their friend, even though every time I have seen him, he seems to be friendly with a variety of people, none of who are wearing media badges) takes the court for the first time. His opponent is a likable fella named Fabio Fognini, and Italian who is playing the best tennis of his life and who one female photographer in the room called "dreamy." I have learned that Fabio's nickname is "Fogna," which I plan on saying with confidence throughout the match so that everyone will think we are friends. I might even say things like, "last night me and Fogna went out to Agua Caliente, which for  those of you who don't speak Spanish means "Hot Water." Fogna did what Fogna does and the next thing you know, it was off the chain. It was so Fogna."  People will be so impressed.

2. The Comeback Goes Forward:  Former Grand Slam winner and internet world icon Svetlana Kuznetsova is making the same attempt at a comeback from injury as Rafael Nadal, but with much less fanfare. Her win over Jelena Jankovic raised some eyebrows in the last round and now she gets her first top ten test of the season versus Marion Bartoli. It is the final match on the Stadium One court and if last night is any indication, most people will leave before it is over. I must say that I have been disappointed with the Indian Wells' crowd's insistence on leaving the main event women's match midway through completion, causing most of the players to finish with a virtually deserted building. If you have ticket's to the night session, and you are coming to watch tennis, stay! What else do you have to do? We are in the desert...and I know you have nothing better to do. When Drew finishes his last blog post of the night, loyal Outer Courts readers hold on and wait to see the final thoughts I will come up with to finish the evening. You should do the same for these women of the WTA Tour.  Your mothers/daughters expect nothing less.

3. Ivo Karlovic Tries to Make the Magic Continue:  Drew and I came to Indian Wells with one goal...find a lower-ranked player that we could embrace and make the favorite of The Outer Courts. Our early contender is Croatian Ivo Karlovic, who as Drew showcased the other day, has the best Twitter account known to man. He is tall, stoic and possesses the fastest serve ever recorded in a match (156 mph). Add to the fact that he ended the stiff reign of the volatile Jack Sock, and he could be the player we embrace for the entire season. But we need another victory from Ivo to get the train rolling and today he has the chance as he faces another American, Sam Querrey.  Now don't get me wrong. Rooting against Americans is not what I am about. I am not the Jane Fonda of irreverent tennis blogs, ignoring those draped in the stars and stripes (these colors really don't run) and there is very little chance at this point in my life that I will marry, or even meet, Ted Turner.  But when you see a man with wit, talent and a sense of humor, you can't help but respect his game. Ivo has a chance to become an Outer Courts legend today. Seize the day dear Ivo!

4. Your Favorite Arruabarrena-Vecino:  The names of many members of the WTA Tour are fascinating. For most of you, the English alphabet contains few opportunities to visit the majesty of the letters "V" or "Z", as they are utilized far too few times by American families. But on the WTA Tour, these letters are crucial to the nomenclature of the event, with at least half of the players finding a way to include them in their surname. My favorite name so far however is Lara Arruabarrena-Vecino who makes up for her regrettably short first name (Lara) with a last name that is an astonishing nine syllables. I challenge any Outer Courts readers to find a last name anywhere with more syllables or more chances to sound poetic in its repition. Arruabarrena-Vecino sounds like a description of a beautiful sunset or a Spanish artistic style and her tennis game, which at this Tournament included an upset win over another fine name Varvara Lepchenko, seems to be following. She is ranked at the highest point of her career and a win today over top ten ranked Roberta Vinci would be a huge step. For nine syllable last name individuals from around the world (both of them), Arruabarrena-Vecino is carrying their flag and we salute her on this gorgeous Sunday afternoon.

So that's it...your preview guide for the day. Stay tuned to The Outer Courts for more, and watch Tennis Channel, where Drew and I may run onto the set and sing "Justin Gimelstob" to the tune of "Gangham Style"...try it at home. It is fun.

20 Random Thoughts After Three Days At Indian Wells

As I sit here watching Sloane Stephens and Urszula Radwanska in the final match of the day, my mind is racing with several thoughts, questions, and observations from three exciting days out here at the 2013 BNP Paribas Open.

And since I just so happen to have a laptop in my lap, I might as well jot them all down for you, the readers, here on The Outer Courts.

Here are 20 completely random thoughts on this Saturday night in Indian Wells, California...

1.)  It's beautiful out here.

I've mentioned that a couple times already and nothing has changed.  I'm still staring at the mountains and taking in the scenery like it's my last day on Earth.

2.)  The time change is hard on a Kentuckian.

I have been in bed before midnight and up at 7:00 a.m. for three straight days out here in California.  That is nothing, and I mean NOTHING, like my sleep schedule back in the bluegrass. 

There are very few things that would get me up and out of bed at 7:00 a.m. back home. Maybe a flight to Las Vegas or a Waffle House breakfast date with Kate Upton, but that's about it.

3.)  Everyone seems to love Indian Wells.

It's hard to find anyone out here who can name a better tournament in the world than the BNP Paribas Open. The four Grand Slam tournaments will always be the headliners, obviously, but everyone seems to love coming out here for the Masters 1000 event.

If I could go back to my senior year at Madisonville North-Hopkins High School, I would've taken that match against Union County a little more seriously and, who knows, maybe it would've turned into a career on the ATP tour and a stop out here in Indian Wells.

Kidding, of course.  I had a better shot at earning a seat in Parliament than I did going anywhere with a tennis racquet.

4.) Am I hot?  Or am I cold?

I can't make up my mind.  It's a good thing I spent $250 in the gift shop as soon as we entered the gate on our first day.

My family is going to love their gifts once I get everything dry cleaned and tape the tags back on.

5.)  Those massages in the media room look inviting.

Tennis Channel, you picking up the tab on those?

I'll keep the receipts, just in case.

6.)  Stadium court is an incredible sporting venue.

The stadium court seats as many as 16,100 people to watch a single tennis match, and it's currently looking pretty full here on the first Saturday night of the tournament.

Check out this poor attempt at an iPhone panorama shot from my seat...

7.)  To me, it's Ivo Karlovic and then everyone else.

You can have your Rafael Nadals, Novak Djokovics and Roger Federers, I'm sticking by my man Ivo Karlovic.

If this were NBA basketball in the 90s, Ivo would be my Michael Jordan.

8.)  Players always roll with an entourage.

For every tennis player walking from the practice courts to the lounge, there is a Turtle, Eric, Ari, and a Johnny Drama walking two steps behind.

That has to get expensive for the lower-ranked players, right?  They must be bleeding money.

9.)  The cafeteria has some of the best food in Riverside County.

Well done, Indian Wells Tennis Garden.  Well done.

10.)  A 16-year-old girl picked out the music for stadium court.

And I refuse to believe otherwise.

11.)  Rafael Nadal gets more women than me.

I can't confirm that because I don't know anything about his private life, but the girls do a lot more screaming in his direction than they do when I walk by with two glazed donuts and a Diet Coke.

He must have a good personality or something.

12.)  Roger Federer couldn't be nicer.

As Matt wrote in a post below this one, Federer made a brief appearance on the Kentucky basketball postgame show via cell phone while eating lunch before his match Saturday afternoon.

He could've easily told us to get lost, but he was nice enough to say a few words and it made a lot of people happy back home.  That audio clip will get played over and over again from now until the end of time. 

13.)  Can a blogger get some electricity in the media room?

There are seven-billion windmills generating enough energy to power Rafa's SlenderTone electric ab belt for eternity, but there are media members fighting over the two or three outlets along the wall in the media room.

Don't they realize I can't post to Instagram with a dead cell phone????

14.)  I don't understand why fans break out into a slow clap during challenges.

I hate to ruin a good thing, and it is a good thing, but someone should really tell them their applause has no effect on whether or not the ball was in or out.

And how accurate is that fancy ball-tracking contraption?  Until I see lasers along the baseline, I refuse to believe the animated replay.

15.)  Southern California loves a good Stater Brothers.

We're still not exactly sure what a Stater Brothers is or who the Stater Brothers are, but they seem to be on every corner out here.

16.)  America is struggling.

We've seen John Isner, Jack Sock, and Ryan Harrison go down to foreign players in two days of action.

So much for breaking out that American flag body suit next week.

17.)  I couldn't return one of these serves if my life depended on it.

That would be a bizarre scenario if my life ever depended on returning a serve, but I'm certain I wouldn't stand a chance.

The ball moves a lot faster than it's shown on television.

18.)  Someone please tell Landon Donovan where to find Justin Gimelstob.

America's favorite soccer player stopped me earlier today and asked if I knew where he could find Justin Gimelstob.  I wanted to help -- it's the least I could do for him after all he's done for me -- but all I could think about was the YouTube video of celebrations from around the country after his goal in the 2010 World Cup.  So, instead of helping him find out where he needed to be, I stuttered and mumbled something that wasn't even English under my breath.

Way to go, Franklin.

19.)  That guy from LMFAO is really that guy from LMFAO.

Redfoo is running around Indian Wells dressed the same way we see him in music videos.  I've always wondered what he's like out of character, now I know he's never in character.  That's just him.

Sorry for party rockin', I suppose.

20.)  I think I'm cold.

Yeah, right now I'm cold.  This is so confusing.  I'm going to put Dad's Father's Day present back on and head inside.

See you back here Sunday morning.