Four unforgettable moments of Indian Wells

From Serena Williams’ highs and lows to the end of Roger Federer’s epic winning streak, the Indian Wells Masters has provided the fans with some unforgettable moments over the years...

Victoria Azarenka (left) speaks to Serena Williams at Indian Wells on March 20, 2016.   -  AP

After a gap of 932 days, professional tennis is back in the desert. BNP Paribas Open, the tournament recognised as an ATP Masters 1000 and WTA 1000 event on the men’s and women’s tour respectively, will be played at Indian Wells, California, between October 6 and October 17.

Usually, the Indian Wells Masters, one of the nine such events played annually, is the series opener and organised in March. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, last year’s edition was cancelled while this year’s had to be postponed to October.

Young and exciting players such as British teenager Emma Raducanu, current US Open champion, Canadian giantkiller Leylah Fernandez and her compatriot and defending champion Bianca Andreescu on the women’s side are set to showcase their skills at the ‘Tennis Paradise.’

READ: Djokovic pulls out of Indian Wells

Similarly, on the men’s side, matches featuring US Open champion Daniil Medvedev, young Norwegian Casper Ruud and Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini will be eagerly watched.

The event’s significance has enhanced further as it could play a crucial role in the players who qualify for the ATP and WTA Finals.

However, some of the biggest tennis stars - Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer - will be missing from the draw this year. These players have been a part of some of the most unforgettable moments at Indian Wells.

Here's a trip down the memory lane as we recollect four unforgettable moments...

Serena announces herself on the big stage

In 1997, a 15-year-old girl from Saginaw, Michigan, was awarded a wildcard entry into the qualifying round of Indian Wells Masters. The teenager was defeated 4-6, 0-6 in round one by Alexia Dechaume-Balleret of France. That American teenager was Serena Williams.

Two years later, a much stronger and fitter Serena, raring to show the world a glimpse of the champion who was going to dominate women’s tennis for the next two decades, was back at Palm Springs. Before Indian Wells (then known as the Evert Cup), Serena had reached the second round at a WTA 500 event in Sydney, reached third round of the Australian Open and won the WTA 500 event in Paris.

At Indian Wells, Serena beat established players like Lindsay Davenport and Mary Pierce in straight sets on her way to the final. In the summit clash, Serena faced the then 21-time Grand Slam champion Steffi Graf who had earlier beaten her in Sydney. Serena finally dropped a set but ultimately got the better of the German beating her 6-3, 3-6, 7-5.

Roger Federer at the Indian Wells.   -  AP

 

End of Federer’s 41-match unbeaten streak

On 16 August 2006, a 19-year-old Andy Murray beat world number one and then eight-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer 7-5, 6-4 in the second round in Cincinnati. That was the last time the Swiss maestro lost a match that year; post that defeat, Federer went on an unbelievable winning spree. Coming into the Indian Wells Masters in March 2007, Federer had won the US Open, ATP 500 in Japan, ATP Masters 1000 in Madrid, ATP 500 in Basel, Tennis Master Cup, Australian Open and ATP 500 in Dubai.

READ: Raducanu handed Indian Wells wildcard entry

At Palm Springs, Federer was given bye in first round. In the second round, he was up against world number 60 Guillermo Canas of Argentina. Before that match, Canas and Federer had met twice with both winning one encounter each. However, no one would have expected Canas to pull off a win considering the kind of form Federer was in. Canas though had other plans and after taking a close first set 7-5, he played some of his best tennis in clutch moments of the second set to win the match 7-5, 6-2 and end Federer’s 41-match winning streak. Proving that the win wasn’t a one off, Canas again beat Federer at the next tournament which was the Miami Masters.

Juan Martin Del Potro holds up the trophy after his victory over Roger Federer in the final of Indian Wells.   -  AFP

 

Del Potro wins his first ever Masters, beating Federer

Argentina’s Juan Martin Del Potro made his first appearance at a Masters tournament in Madrid in 2006 as an 18-year-old where he lost 4-6, 4-6 to Sweden’s Joachim Johansson in the first round. Three years later, the 6’6” tall South American stunned world number one Roger Federer at the US Open in an epic final that he won 3-6, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2 for his only Grand Slam title. Despite an injury-plagued career, Del Potro managed to win 14 more singles titles (and a silver medal at 2016 Rio Olympics!) after the win at Flushing Meadows but the ATP Masters 1000 trophy eluded him before participating in the 2018 Indian Wells Masters.

While Federer, then 37, had a comparatively smoother run to the final, Del Potro had to really dig deep against the likes of Leonardo Mayer and Philipp Kohlschreiber on his way to the summit clash. Del Potro, just like he had done during the 2009 US Open Final, won by sheer grit and determination saving three match points to beat the world number one 6-4, 6-7 (8), 7-6 (2) and claimed his first and only ATP 1000 Masters title.

READ: Bopanna-Qureshi crash out of ATP tennis tournament in Bulgaria

Crowd boos Serena

Just two years ago, Serena had won her first big title in front of her home crowd at the Indian Wells but what transpired in the 2001 edition made the iconic match of 1999 against Graf seem like a distant memory.

Serena had entered the 2001 Indian Wells Masters as world number 10 and was given a bye in the first round. She then secured four straight-sets win over Adriana Rikl Gersi, Gala Leon Garcia, Magdalena Maleeva and Lindsay Davenport to set up a semifinal clash with her elder sister Venus. However, four minutes before the match on March 15, Venus withdrew due to tendinitis and Serena qualified for the final against Kim Clijsters.

On March 17, as Venus and her father Richard took their seats during Serena’s warm-up, they were loudly booed as the crowd was of the opinion that the Williams sisters had fixed the result of the semifinal. The next day, when Serena was scheduled to play the final against Clijsters, the atmosphere at Indian Wells wasn’t any better. As soon as the 15,000-something spectators noticed Venus and Richard walking towards their seats before the match, they endlessly booed the duo forcing Richard to raise a clenched fist towards them.

The abysmal behaviour of some of the spectators did not stop even after Serena had won the match 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 and was presented the trophy. Serena and Venus boycotted Indian Wells for the next 13 years before Serena finally returned to the tournament in 2015 where she was welcomed with loud cheers which left her in tears.

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