They don’t do outside courts at Indian Wells. All nine match courts are Stadiums, and on Saturday nearly all of them were full. Stadium 1 has a capacity of 16,500, making it the second biggest tennis arena in the world after Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York; Stadium 2, opened in 2014 with a charity match between John McEnroe and Larry Ellison, the CEO of Oracle and the owner of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, holds 8000; and Stadiums 3 to 9 hold between one thousand and four thousand each.
The first Saturday is traditionally the most popular day here, and even on an uncharacteristically cool and cloudy day in the desert upwards of fifty thousand fans came through the gates. When you consider that the only way to get to this sporting oasis is by road, that is some achievement. The atmosphere was one of a summer party, with a buzz of conversation and a sea of smiling faces everywhere you looked. They come to see the greats, and great tennis; but no matter who is playing, the fans are going to enjoy themselves.
The afternoon saw both the Williams sisters win on the main court, setting up a family affair in the third round. Roger Federer’s scheduled arrival at the start of the night session was delayed, as is often the case here, by a fascinating cut-and-thrust encounter between Grigor Dimitrov, looking more than ever the natural heir to Federer’s throne, and veteran Spaniard Fernando Verdasco. Verdasco has a “fast arm” and his groundstrokes can pierce any defence, the World No.4’s included. Add a first serve that still flies down at well over 130 miles per hour, and that spells trouble, as Dimitrov quickly discovered when Verdasco won the first set on a tiebreak. The Bulgarian upped his game to draw level, but Verdasco just wouldn’t go away and took the third decisively for a 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-3 victory.
Federer and his Argentinian opponent Federico Delbonis arrived on court much later than expected, with many of the night session ticket holders still waiting outside for the last of the day session spectators to leave. To make things even more surreal, the spots of rain that had been falling for hours turned into a fine drizzle. Federer looked peeved, and winning the first set 6-3 did nothing to improve his mood. He was mishitting simple shots, and generally looking out of sorts. And then it rained, and at 2-2 in the second set, play was abandoned for the day. The night session crowd may have seen just 56 minutes of play, but they had seen the great Roger Federer. It doesn’t come much better than that.