In recent years the Indian Wells tournament in California, the first Masters event of the tennis season, has been regarded in some circles as the fifth Grand Slam.
The tournament boasts state of the art facilities, a giant stadium and has recently been voted by male players as their favourite Masters event out of the nine they play, no small part of this being down to billionaire investor Larry Ellison’s investment. Further still, the tournament is dual gender and boasts a draw of 96 in each field, second along with Miami which follows after to the 128 player fields at the Slams and extending the tournament to eleven days. All this has contributed towards Indian Wells being the premier event just below the Slams.
It was not so very long ago however that Indian Wells’ aforementioned cousin, Miami, was considered the fifth Grand Slam. Andy Murray hailed it as such after winning the event in 2009 against Djokovic. The reason for this turnaround is down to several factors. Firstly, Indian Wells has better facilities as a result of more investment. One just has to look at the different stadiums and show courts to see that Indian Wells trumps Miami; the latter looking dated and cramped. Secondly, pros prioritise the event for the most part, either after a deep run at the event pulling out of Miami, which follows immediately after, or skipping altogether due to factors such as age and avoiding fatigue, like Federer last year aged 33. Finally, and this is more gut feeling, Miami is awkwardly placed on the calendar, barely finishing before many minds are focused on the fast approaching clay court season, sticking out like a sore thumb, another week and a half slog on slow hard courts in an event that mirrors its more prestigious Indian Wells cousin.
I am not trying to dump on Miami. I love the event, which has boasted some of the matches I am more emotionally tied to. Federer’s win in a best of five hard court against Nadal win in 2005, Djokovic’s final set triumph against Nadal in 2011, having bested him previously the fortnight before in Indian Wells, Roddick’s third and final win against Federer in 2012, the year of his retirement. The fact remains that they are not held in equal regard by many players.
I myself however do hold them in equal measure, and I think winning both events back to back is the fifth hardest achievement in tennis after the Slams. Slow hard court events in hot conditions, played one after another. A top player who receives a bye in the first rounds who goes on to win both will still have to play twelve matches in three weeks against the best players in the world. Such is the toughness of this only seven players in the men’s game have achieved it, including retired all time greats Sampras and Agassi, and active ones Federer and Djokovic, both of whom have achieved the feat twice.
For me then neither of the two events in isolation, with a 96 player draw and best of three set matches can be viewed as a fifth Slam. Winning both in the same year however for me ranks as a de facto fifth Slam; such are the requirements of physical and mental application and skill to achieve this rare feat.
All of this is of course ultimately academic. One can argue endlessly if neither, one, or both qualify as a fifth Major or not. The most important thing about the tournaments of Indian Wells and Miami is that they gather most of the best players in the world in the same places, alleviating the dullness of mid March to early April for the dedicated tennis fan.
Cover Photo (Creative Commons License): askbal