After spending time at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, it’s hard not to ask the question, as Brad Gilbert has — shouldn’t the BNP Paribas Open be a bigger event on the calendar somehow? It’s a good question. The facilities, draw, and scale of this event are beyond just about any other non-Slam event on the tennis calendar. As a practical matter, a 96 player draw in singles really is a 128 player draw with byes for all of the seeds in the first round — that means that the event takes up two weeks of the tennis calendar, even if the top players aren’t ask taxed as they would be during a Slam. And, after all, this event does so much right, would it be so wrong to want more?
There’s a lot to recommend the idea. After all, moving from a 96 player draw to a 128 player draw here would not require an overhaul of the draw — rather, it would simply require that more players be permitted to play. And, given how much the players enjoy the atmosphere and facilities in Indian Wells, having more players get to play would be a huge plus for many lower ranked players. After all, both players who would now get automatic entry into the draw and not have to qualify and players who could take advantage of those open spots in the qualifying draw have something to gain. In a sport where barriers to entry — particularly for US based players — are increasing due to the change in the ITF rules to create the World Tennis Tour, this access would be more than welcome.
Giving Indian Wells and Miami more ranking points would also help to cut into the stranglehold the Slams have on status and importance for the tours. The sheer amount of resources and income that the Slams have cornered — not to mention the clout that the national federations of the host nations have with wild card assignments — is hard to counter, especially in an era where the popular view of the game is focused on the Slams. And, especially where tournament directors have made an effort to improve their events as much has been the case here in Indian Wells, it feels like there ought to be some kind of reward.
On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine that the relaxed vibe of the event, and of the top players when they are in Indian Wells would remain the same, if another round of play were added. After all, Indian Wells and Miami are unique because the top ranked players get to spend two weeks at the event, but have a few days off before they have to play a match.
In a year that is jam packed, it’s a rare opportunity to decompress a little. And, it bears fruit for the event — Indian Wells is one of the rare events where top ATP players team up to play doubles, giving fans unique experiences that they wouldn’t get elsewhere. Similarly, promotional events, like Tiebreak Tens get significant player engagement (and laughs).
Clearly, no changes should come without consultation with the players, who, ultimately, will be the ones who are most affected by this kind of change. Of course, like everywhere else in tennis, the interests of the top players who appreciate the rest days are not aligned with lower ranked players who want more opportunities to play top tier events. And, surely, those who run other top tier Masters 1000/Premier Mandatory events may not appreciate being leapfrogged by a super-tier of events.
It’s genuinely a tough question, but I would err on the side of leaving the event as it is, and focusing the resources on creating a viable path for lower ranked players, or covering more costs for players who do go through qualifying at this event or other events. After all, expanding the draw in Indian Wells would help players ranked in or around the top 100, and I would argue that the players who really need resources are those ranked far lower.
What do you think? Do you want another tier of events between the Slams and the Masters 1000/Premier Mandatory events? Do you want more Indian Wells and Miami? Tell us in the comments below.