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Tennis Players, Coaches, Fans, Journalist, All On The Way To Indian Wells • BNP Paribas Open

By Alix Ramsay


You see some strange sights in the desert. That is not to say we all do not love our two weeks in Indian Wells with its wall-to-wall blue skies, stunning mountains and beautiful sunsets but there is a lot of money in them thar hills and people find odd ways to spend it.


The more experienced Indian Wells visitors may remember the 24-hour taxidermy salon. Sadly gone now, it was available at all hours for those late night animal stuffing emergencies that every pet owner dreads.


There is Mavis, putting down her copy of Carp Monthly and setting her top plate in the glass beside the bed before she turns out the light. She casts her eyes towards the aquarium and shrieks in horror as she sees her goldfish floating upside down among the Bolbitis.


“Irving! Irving! We’ve lost Gandalf!” she howls. Irving springs from the bed as spryly as a bloke with a pacemaker, two dodgy hips and a titanium knee can manage and reassures his wife: “We can immortalise him! Leave it to me. He will be back as good a new – nay, better – and more lifelike than ever before.” And with that, he hurples, Gandalf in hand, to the car to make his way to the all-night taxidermist. Another crisis averted.


Yes, the desert can be a strange place. But never did we imagine that we would see a centurion marching on the gates of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Let’s face it, the leather skirt, scratchy underthings and strappy sandal look went out 2,000 years ago although, methinks, Roger Federer could probably carry it off. The Swiss centurion could wear a bin bag and make it look stylish.


But as we wait for the BNP Paribas Open to start, we look forward to the arrival of the Mighty Fed and his 100 career titles. His 6-4, 6-4 win over Stefanos Tsitsipas on Saturday in Dubai made him only the second card-carrying member of the Ton Up Club, a hitherto small association with only one member: Jimmy Connors.


Jimbo has 109 trophies in his collection and while Fed is not setting that as a target, he is clearly not done with this winning business yet.


“Reaching 100 is an absolute dream come true for me,” the new centurion said as he was presented with the Dubai trophy. “I’m so happy I’m still playing. It’s been a long, wonderful journey and I wouldn’t do it any differently.


“Of course, it’s tough sometimes to be on the road and away from your friends but the sacrifice was all very, very worthwhile. We’ll see how much more I have left in the tank.”


Fed will turn 38 in August and that pay-off line may have sent a shiver of concern through the hearts the Fed Fans. They need not worry unduly: the tank may not be as full as it was 10 years ago but he is planning to make whatever is left last for as long as possible. He has already signed up for next year’s Dubai tournament.


Between now and then, there is plenty of work to do. There is Indian Wells this coming week, Miami towards the end of the month and then the small matter of the clay court season – a swing of events he has missed for the past three years – to deal with.


“My body was ready, I was ready,” Fed explained to the ATP website when he got to Dubai. “My schedule with the family, my schedule with the team was ready to do it again. This is when I opted to say, ‘It will be nice. Instead of taking a big chunk off, I’d rather stay in the rhythm and actually enjoy myself on the clay.’ It’s going to be challenging, no doubt about it. I have to take baby steps in the beginning to some extent, but that’s OK.”


Naomi Osaka is having to get used to taking baby steps, too. Catapulted to the top of the rankings by winning the Australian Open, she is finding the rarefied air up there a little discombobulating.


Her first grand slam win reduced her to tears and confusion as she beat Serena Williams at the US Open. Her win in Melbourne brought with it a whole new raft of responsibilities and expectations. And then she sacked her coach, Sascha Bajin. That simply added to the attention and standing awkwardly in the spotlight, she crumbled in the first round in Dubai, losing in straight sets to Kristina Mladenovic. And then she burst into tears in the press conference. This was all getting a bit too much for the softly spoken and refreshingly honest 21-year-old.


Now Osaka has to come back to the desert and defend her title (she has only won three – and two of them are grand slams). It will be another new experience for the world No.1 but one that she will have to get used to if she continues on her current career path.


She was rather hoping that coming back to a place about which she had fond memories would make her happy. And seeing Osaka truly happy and care free would be an unusual sight. But of all the odd things you can see in the desert, that would be the best sight of all.

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