A Tennis Lover’s Oasis
Top pros preview desert tournament for fun and charity
Posted on February 7, 2018
Before triple digit heat scorches its sands, before the droves make a pilgrimage to music festivals that stretch for days on end, and before sun worshippers cluster in sparkling pools and seek respite under countless umbrellas, the Southern California desert oasis emerges from a quiet, mild winter with a crush of tennis lovers who come to see the world’s best men and women clash on the courts at Indian Wells. The BNP Paribas Open has come to be known as “the fifth major” for its energy, star power, and sheer magnitude, daring to rival all the glory and thrills of Wimbledon and the Australian, French, and US Open tournaments. Its home, the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, boasts one of the largest tennis stadiums in the world and draws more than 400,000 spectators annually, and the $10 million in prize money lures the greatest players in the game to compete on its hard courts.
But, before the larger-than-life tournament at Indian Wells gets into full swing, there is a delightfully lighter tennis event that takes place about seven miles down the road at the Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa. Cliff Drysdale Tennis’ annual Tennis With The Stars event brings fans up close and even on the court with some of the best on the professional tour. Past participants have included two-time major champion Garbiñe Muguruza, 2017 US Open Finalist Madison Keys, 2014 Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard, former top 10 men’s players Kei Nishikori and Richard Gasquet, and next generation stars Frances Tiafoe and Rancho Santa Fe-born Taylor Fritz, to name a few.
The fourth annual event will take place on March 6 and will welcome the return of Tiafoe, whose dynamic play style and engaging court personality made him a crowd favorite during his first appearance at the event last year. He’ll share the marquee with World No. 2 Simona Halep and Darren Cahill, Halep’s coach and a highly respected, longtime ESPN analyst. Jelena Ostapenko, the power hitting young dynamo who beat Halep to win the 2017 French Open, has also been added to the lineup.
An afternoon pro-am tournament offers a limited number of amateur players the chance to compete alongside and against teaching pros and players, but there’s plenty for the fans who’d prefer to leave their racquet at home and just take in the fun courtside. The stars’ exhibition match on Omni’s stadium court is so intimate it feels like a private backyard tennis match, and the light atmosphere offers a glimpse of the stars’ true personalities as they play without the pressures of the tournament. Following the exhibition match, VIP ticketholders are welcomed to an exclusive meet and greet, followed by dinner and live entertainment at the Omni Rancho Las Palmas Country Club. Proceeds benefit ACEing Autism, which operates tennis programs nationwide for autistic youth.
For his part, Tiafoe says, “I love playing events like [Tennis With The Stars], which help others get involved in the game. I love seeing how much they enjoy the experience, and that makes it really fun for me.” tenniswithstars.com, aceingautism.org Deanna Murphy
For 25 percent off the general admission ticket price for the exhibition match, use promo code LOCAL25.
Frances Tiafoe at 2017’s Tennis With The Stars. Photo by Alex Huggan