INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- It was just past 9 Monday morning when the supervisor spotted something amiss in the players’ dining lounge.
“The condiments,” he said, addressing one of his workers, “are randomly placed. See if you can pull them together. Everything has to look … great.”
A little later, a player and her mother were standing outside the restricted player area.
“She can go through,” the gate-keeper said to the mother, “but your credential doesn’t allow you. It’s not that we don’t love you.”
That small sentiment turned the mother’s spreading scowl into a smile -- just another example of the BNP Paribas Open’s attention to detail. These and thousands of other touches -- both substantial and subtle -- combine to make the Indian Wells tournament a perennial favorite of the players, patrons and sponsors.
When Maria Sakkari revealed in the recent Netflix series “Break Point” that she sometimes consumed six cups of coffee in a single day, event organizers placed a DeLonghi espresso machine in the house she was staying locally.
“They did, yes,” Sakkari said before the tournament. “It’s good, very good, and very kind of them. They thought of my passion -- and delivered.
“From the way people treat us in the locker rooms to the transport staff, any place you go, they’re very kind, very helpful. I just feel like it’s a tournament where everyone gets treated really, really well, regardless of ranking. There’s actually a reason why it’s called tennis paradise.”
‘You feel the energy’
It’s not just a marketing slogan -- it’s actually true. The BNP Paribas Open is considered by many to be the fifth Grand Slam.
Under the guidance of Charlie Pasarell, a college national champion and No.1-ranked American, the tournament began in 1974 in La Quinta. It soon moved to the Grand Hyatt in Indian Wells, where the men’s tournament preceded the women’s. In 1996, it became one of the first combined events for the WTA and ATP Tours.
Four years later, investors came together with $77 million to produce the current facility, whose centerpiece was a 16,000-seat stadium. In 2009, Larry Ellison, the Oracle co-founder, bought the tournament and has continued to pour resources into the event, most notably Stadium 2, an 8,000-seat arena -- as well as a signature Nobu restaurant.
When Tommy Haas first arrived in the Coachella Valley as a player, in 1995, his reaction was, “Wow.”
Now a BNP Paribas Open tournament director, he smiled at the memory.
“Palm Springs, mountains with the white snow tops, palm trees everywhere ... “ he said. “Just coming to the venue, for players, it’s calming. You feel the energy. It’s easy access.
“The weather is always just phenomenal. It’s a dry heat so you don’t sweat as much. I just always felt welcome. Who doesn’t like to play in facilities that are welcoming, where people are excited to see you play? That’s what struck me early on.”
Haas, who reached No.2 in the world, retired in 2018 -- at Indian Wells -- and became the tournament director. His relationships, accrued over two decades in the sport, make him the ideal face for what many believe is the ideal tournament.
Before the tournament, defending champions Iga Swiatek and Taylor Fritz were on hand to unveil the murals celebrating their 2022 titles. Created by artist Mike Sullivan, the murals are placed around Stadium 1 and provide a sense of continuity. When Swiatek pushed the button that revealed the painting, she seemed happy, even if the likeness tended toward the impressionistic.
3....2....1GA 🖼#TennisParadise | @iga_swiatek pic.twitter.com/yx79uwys1Z— BNP Paribas Open (@BNPPARIBASOPEN) March 7, 2023
What’s not open to debate is the powerful economic benefits the event brings to the local area. Impact reports estimate it can be as much as $500 million each year as tennis fans from around the world descend on Indian Wells.
Typically, the tournament draws about 450,000 over the 12 days of qualifying and main-draw matches. The record of 475,000 was set in 2019, before the pandemic drastically cut into attendance worldwide. The single-day session record, also set in 2019, was eclipsed this past Saturday when an astonishing 45,460 came through the gates. Another 15,000 attended the night session.
It’s not surprising the WTA and ATP players have ranked the BNP Paribas Open as their favorite in the past eight annual votes. You can see the crystal evidence just outside the office of assistant tournament director Peggy Michel on the ground floor of Stadium 1. She played back in the day -- with wooden racquets and white balls -- winning three major doubles titles with Evonne Goolagong.
She started working for the tournament in 1985 and today, at 74, is still striving to improve it. The difference, she said, is the growing entourages of the players.
“Back then, it was just basically just the players and the coaches,” Michel said. “Now there are so many people involved, people that have to be taken care of. But the important thing for the players is having plenty of practice courts, tennis balls and good food.
“A player and coaches get so uptight trying to get their practice courts. We worked on the player desk this year, because that was an issue. We brought in two new people, sisters from Spain. They speak various languages and they know the players, so we have friendly faces. They come up and they say, `Oh, yes. We saw you at Wimbledon last year,’ and the players become more relaxed.”
Jessica Pegula, the Hologic WTA Tour’s No.3-ranked player, appreciates the little touches -- private physio rooms, the friendly locker room staff that can procure anything requested.
“That’s stuff that other people on the outside don’t really see,” Pegula said. “That’s why it can easily become your favorite tournament when everything is easier and easily available.”
Gauff, in particular, said she is grateful for the attentive staff.
“I see a lot of familiar faces here every year, from even the janitors to the security,” Gauff said. “I really look forward to seeing them every year. They remember me, I remember them. I think that’s what I enjoy most here, not just the facilities, but also the people.”
Sponsors, too, have needs. Some like to entertain, some stress social media, others are more concerned with signage calling attention to their brand. The bank BNP Paribas has been the title sponsor since 2009 and BMW of North America joined the tournament this year as its official luxury car. Part of the deal, shepherded by Haas, who has deep German connections, was providing 250 SUVs to the transport operation, which features 350 vehicles.
Still striving to grow
The fans here feel connected to the players.
“It’s being up close and personal to the people they watch on TV,” Haas said. “They can watch the  practice courts, the players walk by, they can watch them warm up on the grass field ever, which is very unique. The combination of all those things makes them feel like they’re being treated well. Now it’s all down to the details and trying to improve every year.”
Michel echoed that, adding, “We have to improve. We have to find ways to keep improving. We’re never satisfied.
What are their goals for the future?
“Last eight years, we’ve been voted best tournament by the players,” Haas said. “Getting to double digits would be nice. That would be special, a nice goal.”
In the end, it comes down to the people.
Everybody loves tennis and they take it on as their own event,” Michel said. “The drivers, the ball kids ... Our volunteers, we have 1,400.
"They take it seriously. Just in our hospitality suites, the people that do the hosting, they take their summer vacation to come work here. The same people come back year after year. Our sponsors and suite holders, they ask for them.”