An overview of the BNP Paribas Open grounds.

A Veteran’s Guide to the BNP Paribas Open

Each March the world’s most elite tennis players gather in Indian Wells, California for one of “the premier professional tournaments in the world”. The BNP Paribas Open offers a spectacular opportunity to get close to the game’s finest athletes. From Connors to Federer and Navratilova to Sharapova, this tournament has a rich history of exemplary tennis. But before you hop on a plane for the sunny deserts of southern California, here are some tips I’ve learned from over 15 years of attending this outstanding tournament.


The BNP Paribas Open logo.


Tournament Essentials

  • Empty Water Bottle or Sealed Bottled Waters
    • Because nobody wants to pay $3.75 for water. 
  • Sunblock
    • Do I really need to explain this one?
  • Sunglasses
    • Newsflash: Deserts are sunny! Also, if the wind kicks up the desert sand, you’ll be grateful for the protection.
  • Heat-Tolerant Snacks
    • A great way to save some money is to bring your own snacks. Plus sometimes you just can’t be bothered to leave your seat and trek to the nearest vendor. Dried fruit, nuts, protein bars, pretzels, and crackers hold up well in the heat.
  • Bandana or Small, Thin Towel
    • Drape it around your neck to shield yourself from the scorching sun. Soaking the cloth in cold water first is a also an effective way to cool down if/when you’re feeling overheated.
  • Light Jacket
    • While perfect for shielding yourself from the sun, a jacket is also essential on the rare gloomy, stormy days in Indian Wells. Trust me, desert storms can be downright cold, sandy, and nasty.
  • Daily Draw
    • Sold at the information kiosks for $1, the daily draw is your guide to everything going on that day. Knowing where and when the matches you want to see are makes it easier to plan your day. 
  • Hand Sanitizer
    • A few years ago a nasty stomach virus made its way around the tournament. Since then, like any good germaphobe, I’ve religiously reapplied hand sanitizer throughout the day.


Best Restaurants

My pick for best food goes to the new kids on the block. With the construction of stadium 2, the tournament also added six new restaurants. Something about these vendors having walls and built-in appliances pleases me. The food just seems fresher and tastier. Plus they offer more exotic options than the usual sandwiches and salads. If you’re looking for a fancy, sit-down dining experience, check out Piero’s PizzaVino, Chop House, and Nobu on the upper level of stadium 2. Chop House and Nobu are very pricey but offer the luxury of indoor seating, with select tables actually overlooking the court. PizzaVino is the most budget-friendly of the three and offers delicious Neapolitan pizza and other Italian dishes. On the lower level of the stadium you will find Satay, Sear, and Kabob, all of which are great grab-and-go options featuring Asian, Mediterranean, and American fare. 


A view of stadium 2 and some of its restaurants.


Best Retreats

Indian Wells Tennis Garden Tennis Collections Tent: Not only does this tent have the widest array of merchandise available at the tournament, it also has the rarest commodity of all–AC! The tent is over 13,000 square feet, so there’s plenty to peruse. They have a wide selection of the season’s newest clothes, shoes, and accessories as well as tournament souvenirs. Fifa, Tennis Warehouse, and the Pro Shop also provide an opportunity to shop in the glorious comfort of AC, but their range of merchandise just doesn’t compare to the vast variety available in the Collections tent.

Moët and Chandon Terrace: Located in stadium 2, this is another wonderful addition to the grounds in recent years. This is the perfect place to kick back and watch the matches from the comfort of a shaded couch or armchair. And while they don’t have AC, they do have ceiling fans, which is the next best thing. Now obviously it would be rude to lounge in their comfy chairs without purchasing anything. If you’re like me and don’t happen to drink alcohol, don’t worry! They also sell soft drinks, water, and snacks. 

Tennis Garden Village Shade Pavilions: Once a vast expanse of scorching concrete, this central food court area has become a good place to find some shade, grab a meal, and keep up with the matches played on the jumbo TVs. Tables can be hard to come by during lunch time, so either get there early or be prepared to spend some time scouting for a free one. There are also a couple of highly used phone charging stations available.


Best App 

BNP Paribas Open Official App: Available for both iPhone and Android, this app is the fount of all tournament-related knowledge and information. Featuring live scores, match schedules, practice court schedules, match results, video streaming, play-by-play audio, news, player bios, and more, this app is an absolute must-have. As a side note, the tournament also provides free wi-fi throughout the grounds.


Best Sweet Treat

Soft Frozen Lemonade: Sold at various kiosks throughout the grounds, these icy refreshments are one of the most popular items sold at the tournament. You can’t go far without spotting someone with the trademark bright yellow cup. While I may be reluctant to shell out $3.75 for a bottled water, I will gladly give that and more for one of these little beauties. They’re the perfect thing for staying hydrated, cooling off, and indulging your sweet tooth. 


Best Up-Close View

Die-hard tennis fans will not want to miss the practice courts and warm-up field. Both provide a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes work that it rarely seen on TV. Check out the convenient on-court screens for the name of the player practicing if you’re not sure who it is. A few years ago the tournament added bleachers around the main practice courts. While great for viewing and convenience, it means that things can get packed quite quickly when big-name players come out to practice. So make sure to grab a seat as soon as your favorite player steps out. Don’t forget to check out the players’ practice schedule on either the tournament app or the info board. But be advised that practice schedules are not set in stone. And some top five players will show up unannounced in an effort to try to dodge the crowds. It’s also worth mentioning that sometimes players will warm up on stadium 1 before the first match of the day. Federer, Murray, Nadal, and many other players have frequently taken advantage of the virtually empty stadium in past years. 


Fans watch players on the practice courts at the BNP Paribas Open.


Best Autograph Opportunities

Ah, the art of autograph hunting. Back when I was young and foolhardy, I was an avid autograph hunter. Nowadays it’s a bit harder to get near the big-name players, but there are some things you can do to improve your chances. First, get to the venue early in the morning, well before the first matches start. A lot of players will schedule their practice early in the morning to beat both the crowds and the heat. Check out the tournament’s official app or the info boards for that day’s practice schedule. Next, find out when your favorite players’ matches are scheduled. Chances are that they will have a short warmup about two hours before that time. Finally, location is everything. Plan on camping out by the southwest corner of stadium 1, near the players’ restaurant and locker rooms. Keep your eyes peeled and your Sharpie ready because you never know just who might walk past. If you’re looking for a more structured environment, check out the daily draw for information on the daily autograph session at the Tennis Warehouse tent. An hour before the scheduled time, 150 color-specific wristbands are distributed to those wanting an autograph. While you won’t catch the top five there, some of the great top twenty players will make an appearance.


Best Restrooms

Overall, the tournament does a pretty good job cleaning up their restrooms, but sometimes there’s only so much you can do with that much traffic. Between matches the restrooms can have longer lines than the food vendors. If you’re looking for restrooms with a bit shorter line, the restrooms on the south side of stadium 2 are worth a shot. Since they are located away from the center of the venue, fewer people know about them or are willing to walk to them. The bathrooms on the upper level of stadium 2 are also tucked away and relatively empty during matches.  


Best Special Events/Days

USTA Member Appreciation Day: There are a number of perks for those with a valid USTA membership card. Besides getting a 30% discount on loge tickets during the tournament, members also have the chance to enjoy refreshments and a visit with some of the tour players on USTA Member Appreciation Day. Oh and did I mention that it’s a chance to hang out in an air conditioned tent for an hour and a half?

Emirates Day: Wear a free, red Emirates hat for a chance to win a luxury vacation to Dubai. Sounds easy enough.

Emirates Racquet Return: During the tournament, donate old racquets for a chance to win two business class tickets from Los Angeles to Dubai. Plus all racquets are donated to the National Junior Tennis League. Now that’s a win-win.

Emirates Fastest Serve Challenge: So you think you’re the next Sam Groth? Put your speed to the test in the Emirates’ inflatable serve cage for a change to win two business class tickets from Los Angeles to Dubai. It’s not free, but it’s a blast for those with a strong competitive streak or those just looking for a laugh.


A young boy serving at the Emirates' Fastest Serve Challenge Booth.

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