INDIAN WELLS, California – If there are no teenagers or Daniil Medvedev left in the grid, this tournament will definitely not be a repeat of the US Open.
Medvedev, so cold-blooded and resilient on his way to his first Grand Slam title last month in New York, looked ready to continue playing Wednesday at the BNP Paribas Open.
He beat Grigor Dimitrov with a set and two interruptions in serving in the 1/8 finals. But tennis remains an unpredictable game, and Medvedev, who won first place, lost his way in the desert sun as Dimitrov, patiently and bravely playing only at the right time, winning eight games in a row, and then holding on to end up frustrated, 4-6 , 6-4, 6-3.
“Impossible, as long as possible,” Dimitrov said in a TV interview.
But if this is not the US Open, then this is also not a real tournament in Indian Wells. The event, which is usually held annually in March, has grown in size and status under its free owner Larry Ellison, becoming the most popular and prestigious tour stop after four Grand Slam and year-end finals.
In 2019, 475,000 spectators came to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden during the nearly two-week event, filling the stadium courts and upscale restaurants that overlook them. In recent years, the tournament has generated an annual economic impact of over $ 400 million in the Palm Springs region.
But in March 2020, it became the first major international sporting event to be canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The decision, which ultimately was Ellison’s call, turned out to be the right one. While there were skeptics when it was announced shortly before the qualifier, other leagues and events soon followed as the scale and threat of the pandemic became clearer.
“At first we thought they were crazy because they gave it up,” said Crystal Meyer, a longtime fan and tournament player from Long Beach, in an interview last week. “How could anyone know what awaits him?”
This year’s BNP Paribas Open has been pushed back from March to October, and while the prize pool is about the same as in 2019, the stellar power and atmosphere have changed.
According to tournament officials, attendance will be roughly half of what it was in 2019. Changing the date is definitely an important factor. Many seasonal residents have not yet arrived in the area, and the patrons, for whom the March visit has become a tradition, were clearly not ready by October.
The decision to require all spectators to be vaccinated may have limited the total number of participants, but reassured some fans. “When we saw everyone getting vaccinated, we definitely felt better,” Meyer said.
But there are still serious concerns about attending public events and traveling too far from home. More than 87 percent of viewers in 2019 were from outside Palm Springs.
Another reason for the smaller crowds is, of course, the changing of the guard in tennis. The tournament is missing the two biggest stars in the women’s game (Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka) and the three biggest stars in the men’s game (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic).
Federer, 40, and Nadal, 35, are recovering from injuries, and in August they announced the end of their 2020 seasons. Djokovic, 34, is resting and recovering from a two-set defeat to Medvedev in the US Open final last month, a defeat that prevented him from becoming the first person to complete a Grand Slam singles tournament since Rod Laver in 1969.
Dominic Thiem, who won the men’s title here in 2019, was also injured. He, like other high-ranking absentees, is still present in Indian Wells. In deference to the obvious, tournament organizers hung them all life-size on the wall behind Stadium 2 with the words “We miss you”. He became a magnet during the event, and fans posed for photographers next to the photos.
Posing next to flesh and blood players was much more difficult due to the pandemic’s restrictions, which meant that official signing sessions were banned. (Informal signings still took place.)
None of the women’s singles quarterfinalists in New York made it to the quarterfinals here, as surprise Open champion Emma Raducanu lost in her first match to 100th place Alexandra Sasnovic.
The much more experienced Medvedev did better with his stunning mix of attack and defense, and he played very well against Dimitrov until he led 4-1 in the second set.
But Dimitrov, a Bulgarian seeded 23rd, showed enough opportunism to change the pace. At 30, he has yet to reach the heights that seemed to be his destiny, given his stylish play on all courts. But he remains a formidable contender, and after showing great form at the San Diego Open a week before Indian Wells, he improved his game on Wednesday when Medvedev lost.
“He definitely flipped the switch,” Medvedev said. “It’s not that I started getting bored and I liked playing badly. I was still maintaining a certain level, if you can call it that. With so many matches, that would be enough to end the match. “
Once in the rally, Dimitrov almost exclusively cut the backhand alone at the site and waited – and waited – to take a chance on the right side. Most of them paid off in the final set, and he took a 5-1 lead as Medvedev rarely complained when he broke his racket between his first and second serve (he made two mistakes) and lost the serve in sixth. time.
“This shows how slow this trial is, and the conditions are more like clay, I would say I don’t like it,” Medvedev said.
Soon Dimitrov also lost serve when he tried to end the frustrated score at 5-1, but did not flinch at 5-3, holding on to love and raising both hands in the air.
Although the sky above him was typical Indian Wells – clear and azure – what happened on the ground was not at all common.