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BIG TIME TENNIS IN THE DESERT By Mark Hollis

Last month I had the opportunity to take in the highly anticipated appearances of tennis greats: Serena Williams (#11), Venus Williams (#49), (#) Novak Djokovic (#1) Rafael Nadal (#3) and Roger Federer (#4) at the BNP Paribas Open Tennis Tournament in Indian Wells California. The venue itself was exceptional and had many side courts and stadiums that tend to create a labyrinth for tennis fans. The weather was amazing averaging 70 degrees, while the rest of the country was experiencing inclement weather from snow to rain. The practice courts were busy with players honing their skills prior to taking the counts and allowing fans who could not afford the stadium tickets to see the elite players practice. There were a great many celebrities in attendance from boxer Mike Tyson to Zak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys. But regardless of who you were, you couldn’t help but feel excited for what was to come.

The hopes of seeing Serena were dimmed when during her match with Sabine Muquruza (#19) she began experiencing fatigue and dizziness and had to withdraw from the match. It was later determined that she was feeling the effects of a viral infection. Her sister, Venus however, played well and made it all the way to the quarterfinals losing to finalist Angelique Kerber (#5). The number one women’s player, Naomi Osaka (#1), led a disappointing loss in the round of sixteen to Belinda Bencic (#20). In the final, the Womens Championship was won by Canadian teenager Bianca Andreescu (#23).

On the men’s side of the tournament there was a lot more drama. World number one, Novak Djokovic lost in the third round to Phillip Kohlschreiber (#41). It was also great to see a favorite of mine, Gael Monfils (#19), play as well as he did before injuring his Achilles tendon prior to his match with Dominic Thiem (#5). Most of the fans were waiting for the big rivalry match between Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer. The match did not come to fruition as an injured Nadal pulled out of their scheduled semifinal allowing Federer an automatic entry into the final. Roger’s opponent for the Championship was Austrian Dominic Thiem, a grinder of a player known for leaving it all on the court. As one commentator stated, “You need to bring your hard hat when playing Dominic.” True to fashion the final was hard-fought with Thiem winning the Men’s Championship in three sets.

One take away is that many fans don’t realize how hard the players hit the ball, especially the women. Serena has been clocked at 128 mph and her sister, Venus at 129 mph. Australian Samuel Groth hit the world’s fastest serve at 163.7 mph and Roger Federer at 145 mph. How on earth, you ask yourself, are they hitting the ball so hard and keeping in the court? It’s was mind-boggling to watch.

Tennis is a great sport and the players are some of the best athletes in the world. I had a fantastic time at the event and plan on putting the BNP Paribas Open on my watch list for 2020.

Game, set, match.