Indian Wells emerges as worthy U.S. Open host; more mail

Wednesday March 12th, 2014

Indian Wells' 8,000-seat Stadium 2 debuted to rave reviews this year at the BNP Paribas Open.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports

Streaming matches from the BNP Paribas Open over the past few days, I've noticed players and umpires remarking how unbelievable Indian Wells Stadium 2 is. One umpire even asserted that it could be center court at any other tournament. That got me wondering: Given the remarkable amount of year-over-year investment at Indian Wells, at what point does it become the premier venue in the United States? And, assuming the trend continues for the next 10 years, does the USTA/ITF ever reach a point where they have to at least consider moving the U.S. Open there? That seems like the obvious end game for tournament owner Larry Ellison.
-- John Dugan, Memphis, Tenn.

• Funny, I mentioned this on Twitter the other night and the responses were passionate on both sides. My suggestion: Once every five years, move the U.S. Open to Indian Wells. You can access a tremendous, TV-friendly facility. You tap into the West Coast and a whole new suite of fans, media partners and potential sponsors. The courts would require no resurfacing. Assuming the dates don't change, there will be complaints about the desert heat in late summer. But it's not as though hot, humid days in New York are uncommon.

If this is really the U.S. Open and not the New York Open, why not rotate the site the way golf does? Especially now that Ellison has essentially gifted tennis with the facility, for which I've received, unsolicited, many glowing e-mails and tweets.

NGUYEN: Behind the scenes at Indian Wells

Some drawbacks? The first is tradition, which sounds silly to some of us, but it's a strong force to others. (It's the reason why tennis still clings to best-of-five sets even when so much, including player health, militates against it.) In New York, the U.S. Open accommodates 700,000 fans; from hotel space to parking to catering, can Indian Wells handle this scale? (Response: If it's smaller -- the BNP Paribas Open is expecting 420,000 in attendance this year -- who cares?) The U.S. Open just embarked on capital improvements at the tennis center. Is it fair to then say, "Glad we're getting covered courts, but you can use them only four out of five years"?

Finally, there's a balance-sheet evaluation. Money sloshes through the U.S. Open. The common turnstile fans are not the focus; it's the suites and the hospitality tents and the folks who arrive in driven black Escalades and helicopters and depart to Greenwich or the Hamptons. Will the monied crowd still buy the suite and catering service in the Coachella Valley?

Again, I say once every five years, it's worth a potential shortfall to take the U.S. Open on the road. Whatever the case, Ellison's Indian Wells -- which is clearly the Fifth Major -- has stirred up the status quo. Which is seldom a bad thing.

I give up trying to figure out these young Americans. But I know you can! Multiple choice: Which American ends the year in the top 60?
A. Jack Sock
B. Donald Young
C. Steve Johnson
D. The field (Bradley Klahn, Rhyne Williams, et al.)
E. None of the above
-- Jeff, Lexington, Mass.

• To continue our discussion from a few weeks ago: For U.S. players, cracking the top 60 isn't as easy as it used to be. Time was, you could pick up some wild cards, hoard points at the U.S. events, win a round or two at a Grand Slam tournament and ... presto. These days, with no events anymore in such cities as Los Angeles, San Jose, Calif., Philadelphia and Scottsdale, Ariz., it's considerably tougher.

As for your list, I suppose Sock is the knee-jerk choice, but, at No. 102, he trails Klahn (No. 64) and Young (No. 81). Just 21, Sock has a top-shelf forehand. To invoke scout speak, he has the most upside. (Though I wish he had a bigger motor.)

I haven't given up on the 24-year-old Young, either. He will not be winning majors. But on talent (and speed) alone, you'd like to think the top 60 is a reasonable destination.

I'd include Johnson (No. 119) with "D" and add 21-year-old Denis Kudla (No. 106). I can't even countenance "E." For guys who are maxing out their talent and have the misfortune of playing during a low-water mark for American men, their results will be scrutinized more than they should be.

I would add, too, that it's interesting you didn't even mention No. 117 Ryan Harrison. Two years ago, he was climbing the ladder and even made the U.S. Olympic team. The 21-year-old's results have obviously stalled. But don't give up hope just quite yet.

I don't get it. The players gripe about the lack of an offseason, but then they go ahead and sign up for the International Premier Tennis League from Nov. 27-Dec. 14. I can see why some of the lower-level or retired players would be interested from a financial standpoint, but it seems ridiculous for top players like Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray. Is more money that essential for them? Next time they complain about the lack of time off, it is going to fall on deaf ears. And the next time they have to miss a Grand Slam tournament or can't make it through the season without plenty of aches and pains, my response will be, They deserve it. I'm disgusted by their hypocrisy.
-- Kris, Norwalk, Conn.

• Kris has highlighted a number of problems with the IPTL, which I addressed in last week's mailbag. How do the same players who complain -- not unreasonably -- about the demands of the calendar spend what little offseason they have playing tennis far from home? And given the physical demands of the sport, how do players justify adding more miles to their tires?

In defense of the IPTL, maybe this really shakes up the model and becomes the first domino, as it were, in rethinking the entire enterprise. Different scoring system. Different media offering. Different markets. And, for the top players, it's about more than the paycheck. This is a way to really build a brand in Asia. Not unlike the Indian Wells improvements we discussed in the first question, this has made a lot of folks nervous. It will be interesting to see if this offseason league will be a real disruption.

Mary Carillo's rant about on-court coaching during Coco Vandeweghe's first-round match at Indian Wells was legendary. I sure echo what she said. On-court coaching, in its current form, makes women look inferior, weak, helpless and needing a man to get their job done. Change it or get rid of it.
-- Dave, Jersey City, N.J.

• I still eagerly await the supporting evidence from the WTA that fans like on-court coaching. Let's call it what it is: a cynical gimmick that was devised to appease a telecom sponsor. The notion that fans are fond of it -- much less demand it -- insults us all.

JENKINS: On-court coaching needs to go

I got a kick out of this tweet from ATP No. 11 Milos Raonic:

How does it work when a lucky loser replaces a seed who has a bye, as was the case with James Ward taking Juan Marin del Potro's spot at Indian Wells? Does the lucky loser automatically get the ranking points and money from a first-round win?
-- Miles Benson, Hudson, Mass.

• Here's the ATP Tour's Greg Sharko: "Ward will receive 10 first-round points, since he lost in his opening match with a bye, plus 16 lucky-loser points for a total of 26 points. He will receive second-round prize money of $16,000."

Do you think Eugenie Bouchard will make a Grand Slam final in 2014?
-- Darren, London

• I would give you 4-1 odds on that. Bouchard has will to match skill, solid self-belief to match solid strokes. I'm not sure she's quite there yet, though. I need to see more data points on clay and grass. But after seeing her reach the semifinals at the Australian Open, it's not crazy talk to speculate whether the 20-year-old can do a round better at one of the next three big events.

Any thoughts on Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer playing doubles at Indian Wells? It doesn't seem right to me that they get into the draw when they want a bit of extra work on court. I'm a huge Federer fan, but with how tough it is for the doubles specialists to eke out a decent living, doesn't it just seem a bit callous? The big guns obviously aren't entering for the prize money, but it does take potential winnings away from those who really need it.
-- Seth, Ottawa

I love when the top singles players compete in doubles. I wish more tournaments altered the format to accommodate the stars.

As for the notion that they are taking money off someone's plate, I go libertarian here. Where does it say that X number players are entitled to make a living as doubles players? I look at this much the same way I look at big-time comedians popping into the Laugh Factory and bumping the struggling stand-ups.

Shots, miscellany

• To zig where others zag: The Big Four has not been dissolved just quite yet. Sure, the gap is closing. Nadal lost to Alexandr Dolgopolov at Indian Wells, where 20-year-old Jiri Vesely, Radek Stepanek and Alejandro Gonzalez also took sets off the Big Four. Murray and Federer both reside in the unfashionable (for them) rankings zip code of 6-10. Stanislas Wawrinka's victory at the Australian Open marked the first time since 2009 that an "outsider" won a major title. Yes, Federer is 32; Djokovic hasn't won a Slam in his last four attempts; Murray hasn't been the same since winning Wimbledon last year; and Nadal's delicate health always makes him vulnerable.

But easy on the obits and necrology. If the Big Four has been deposed, it implies a cohort of successors. And where are they? Young players such as Grigor Dimitrov, Raonic and Jerzy Janowicz are promising, but they still need to show consistency, as do the likes of Ernests Gulbis and Dolgopolov. By Sunday night in Indian Wells, a slumping Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych were both out; Del Potro was a non-starter because of his wrist injury. David Ferrer is slowing down. Wawrinka has looked terrific in 2014, but he's pushing 30 and spent the past decade with his nose pressed to the glass.

It's one thing to say that "Fedalmuric" isn't the force it once was. But we still have to see more from the rest of the field.

• Speaking of Dimitrov: He put on a show Tuesday but lost to Gulbis.

• What a tournament for No. 66 Lauren Davis. The 20-year-old from Cleveland scored the biggest win of her career last week, upsetting No. 4 Victoria Azarenka in the second round of Indian Wells. She backed it up by beating Varvara Lepchenko. Then, faced with a winnable match against qualifier Casey Dellacqua of Australia, she retired because of a gastrointestinal illness.

• Regarding last week's discussion of Federer and Berdych playing at a brisk pace and how this contrasts with that of certain colleagues, an ATP source notes:

-- At ATP events a player is allowed 25 seconds between points; Grand Slam and ITF rules limit this to 20 seconds.

-- From the rules of tennis on continuous play: The maximum time starts from the moment that one point finishes until the first serve is struck for the next point.

-- The chair umpires at all ATP events use a Panasonic Toughbook tablet with the ATP scoring program that has a stopwatch built into the system. The stopwatch automatically starts when the chair umpire enters the score.

-- The ATP protocol for the chair umpire is to enter the score into the program as soon as the point is "confirmed." The chair may delay inputting the score until he is sure that there is no challenge or, on clay, a request for a ball-mark inspection. The correct technique for calling the score is to avoid trying to announce over the crowd noise. At the end of a great point, the chair should enter the score, wait for the crowd noise to dissipate and then call the score. When there is no crowd involvement, the chair should enter the score and then announce the score.

• Can the top players identify each other as babies?

ESPN is running a competition on Wimbledon's behalf to design the official poster for 2014. It's open only to North and South American fans and the winner gets a three-day trip to London and Centre Court tickets. Chris Evert, John McEnroe and All England Club chairman Philip Brook are the judges.

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