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Pucin: 25 Years Of Indian Wells

Take a trip down memory lane with Diane Pucin as the BNP Paribas Open - now one of the biggest tournaments of the year for both men and women - celebrates 25 years on the WTA calendar.

Published March 10, 2014 12:13

Pucin: 25 Years Of Indian Wells
Lindsay Davenport, Kim Clijsters

INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - It's been 25 years since the women joined the desert tennis party that had begun in 1974 for the men.

Though she never won it, the tournament was once named after Chris Evert.

In fact the event has had nine names in those 25 years including, now, the BNP Paribas Open.

Most of the greatest players of the modern era have won the event. Except, ironically, Evert.

A fun party game might be to name the first winner of the event in 1989.

Give up?

Manuela Maleeva, one of the three Maleeva sisters who played on the WTA in their careers.

Another fun party game might be who Maleeva beat in that first tournament.

Jenny Byrne.

Byrne was an Australian who turned professional two years before the desert event began. Her highest computer ranking was 45th in the world.

The score was 64 61 and off the tournament went.

A year later Martina Navratilova won the first of her back-to-back titles.

And after that other Grand Slam tournament winners such as Steffi Graf, Martina Hingis, Serena Williams, Ana Ivanovic, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Lindsay Davenport, Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters, Victoria Azarenka and, last year, Maria Sharapova, have taken home the trophy.

In 2005 there might not have been a better match all season than when Clijsters beat Davenport, 64 46 62.

After her loss that year, Davenport said, "Kim always knows that summer kind of tennis, how to break me down. I'm just going to have to be stronger and move better."

No one would have predicted that result after Davenport demolished Sharapova 60 60 in the semifinals. But the desert is never predictable.

Clijsters probably felt differently a few years later, after she had won back-to-back US Opens, but the first time she won at Indian Wells, Clijsters said, "This might be my happiest moment," even though she had been to four Grand Slam finals by then.

The BNP Paribas Open is one of only three non-Grand Slam tournaments in the United States (the others are in Cincinnati and Miami) where both men and women play.

When Clijsters last played in it she said, "I wish there were more tournaments like this where everyone comes together."

Now that an indoor event in San Jose was moved to Memphis and the Los Angeles men's event to Colombia, the BNP Paribas Open is the only professional tennis tournament left in California for men and one of only two - Stanford is the other - for women.

Last year during media day, eventual champion Sharapova said, "It's too bad because playing in California is great. Conditions are usually wonderful."

Players and fans alike will notice a big difference. Less than a year after Azarenka was holding a shovel of dirt to symbolize the start of building a new court, Stadium 2 is finished and ready for use.

It seats 8,000 fans. Now the facility as a whole can seat 41,485 a day which means it's likely the tournament this year will break the attendance record set a year ago of 382,227.

"What's really hit me is the entire site has been transformed," said tournament CEO Raymond Moore who was a former owner of the event that now belongs to Larry Ellison, a millionaire who used to hit balls at his home court with ATP player Tommy Haas.

"It's completely different from anything that's been here for 15 years. I don't want to be negative of the site before, but it always had this feeling of being unfinished. Now, it's finished," Moore said on the tournament website.

Sharapova will be trying to become the only player besides Navratilova to defend the women's title in these 25 years. It won't be easy - 16 of the 17 top-ranked players are entered. Only No.1 Serena Williams is missing.

Diane Pucin has covered tennis for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Los Angeles Times and has been to all four Grand Slam events.

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