For spectators, tennis in America is always an interestingly partisan experience. Americans seem to require a narrative of a ‘goodie’ versus a ‘baddie’ – and of course local players fall instantly into the former category. But even if the two players on court are Eastern European women of whom the fans haven’t heard and whose names they cannot pronounce, they still find it necessary to pick a side.
Thereafter their favourite gets constant cheers of ‘go get her’ and ‘you’ve got this’ while her opponent gets, at best, silence; at worst, boos.
Of course, everyone has their favourite players, whether that’s to do with their style of play or their personality, on or off court. But only in America do you find this need to root for one player over another in every single contest. Only in America does there seem to be no possibility of simply watching – and enjoying – a pure sporting contest in which both players are applauded for their winners.
That said, if you are going to watch live tennis in America, the tournament in Indian Wells is the place to do it. For two weeks, the Masters1000/Premier Mandatory men’s/women’s event dominates the town and its surroundings. Hotels are full of tennis fans, shuttle buses run constantly between hotels and venue, and order-of-play notices and draw sheets are readily available and endlessly discussed.
The American hardcourt swing in March, which takes in the Masters1000/Premier Mandatory tournament at Miami as well as the one in Indian Wells, is the only time the ATP and WTA Tours are in the same place at the same time for their top-level events. That gives them a different feel from the rest of the circuit, a slightly less intense vibe, perhaps.
The tennis centre at Indian Wells itself is not just a beautiful setting, but the perfect size: you can wander around without feeling crowded, and you can watch all the world’s top players, on both match and practice courts. Views on the show court are excellent while on the ‘outside’ courts you can get properly close to the players; for example, it was easy to see why Belinda Bencic is making waves after her return from injury. Her team have clearly got her in fantastic physical shape and she was running down even the heavy hitting of top seed and defending champion Naomi Osaka.
In the men’s event, Roger Federer looked the most likely winner throughout, but fell just short as seventh seed Dominic Thiem produced an excellent performance. Federer sailed through Miami, though, beating an ailing defending champion in John Isner comfortably in the final.
In Indian Wells there was a surprise women’s winner in Bianca Andreescu, the 18-year-old Canadian tipped for super-stardom. Her combination of good movement, varied hitting and well-disguised drop shots made her entertaining to watch, and a popular winner.
Andreescu was too exhausted to make a similar impact in Miami, where it was left to the improving Ash Barty to win her first Premier Mandatory tournament.