Hours before his match at Stadium 1 with Radek Stepanek, Rafael Nadal was already captivating the Indian Wells crowd. The 13 time Grand Slam champion attracted nearly a thousand people just around the practice court as he worked on his ground stroke. His rock star presence drew screams from hundreds of girls that prayed for just a glance. To them, it was worth the price of admission.
But for all the rest of the crowd that caught wind of Nadal’s pre-match workout, it was simply a reminder that his game is on another level in comparison to the rest of the sport. The way he carries himself, the way he plays up to and interacts with the crowd and the fact that he is so much smoother and more dominant than the rest of the field puts him on a different playing field than anyone else.
Nadal practiced for over an hour as people from all over the tennis garden rushed to the practice courts just to get a glimpse of him. They hurried to nearby Stadium 4 and climbed up to the top of the bleachers just to peak over the back of the grandstands and get a better view of his incredible session. Security had to tell people to get off of the railings and sit down because of safety hazards. Nobody cared. Just as nobody cared about the actual women’s doubles match that was taking place in Stadium 4.
Right as things started to calm down a bit, Nadal finished his practice session and walked over to the crowd to greet them, sign autographs and show his overall appreciation of what they meant to him, proving what kind of guy he is. He didn’t have any obligation to even acknowledge the crowd whatsoever, but he did and that’s exactly why the fans love him. He’s a true legend. He’s a true gentlemen.
With Roger Federer simultaneously playing just a stadium away, there was a point in the day where it seemed like all 500,000+ in attendance were fixated simply on the two greats. And that is what was so surreal about Saturday at the Indian Wells Tournament. Arguably the two greatest tennis players of all time captivating the entire Indian Wells crowd with such ease.
With both Federer and Nadal winning their opening matches of the tournament, they are one step closer to facing each other yet again. However, with a field that includes Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stanislas Wawrinka, it’s going to be tough road to the finals for any player.
Overall, Indian Wells has continued to be the hottest tournament outside of the four majors – and for good reason. Tickets were scarce, scalpers were out in abundance, but the weather was once again beautiful. And with today being the first day that all of the superstars showed their faces, the tournament and the crowd elevated their own game to a different level. Rafael Nadal’s presence alone captivated the Indian Wells crowd, but it should only get better from here.
Commentary by Rich Peters