The first day of the BNP Paribas Open brought out fans from all over the world, ready to see the best of the best, and for free. A big crowd made their way out to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden for the first round of WTA qualifying.
World class tennis aside, the BNP offers a one-of-a-kind fan experience, a chance to get right up next to your favorite players. "You're so close to the professionals, it's so fun to see them," said Susan Carr, a fan visiting from Glendora, California. "I love coming out here."
"You're really, really close, you can get pictures of the players, shake hands with them," said Brian Warnock, a tennis fan from Canada. "It's great."
Fans lined the railing near the many practice courts, all trying to catch a glimpse of the next winner. The experience is not only reserved for the tennis experts, but also those who can barely see over the fence. "It's really cool, just seeing them play," said 10-year-old Heather Aitchinson. "I've seen them play on TV, and it's cool seeing them in real life."
The tournament is set up to allow fans the most access possible. Different than many other tennis events, signs display practice times and court numbers for the players. You can also watch the athletes warm up on the field near the practice courts, things you won't find anywhere else. "We've been to the US Open but it was nothing like this, where you could get so close and just hear the crack of the ball," said Laurie Smith, a fan from Denver, Colorado.
The tournament also added some things to make star-watching even easier. Bleachers were added around the practice area. "This gives everybody a chance to watch, gives everybody a chance to sit up in the bleachers," said John Carr, visiting from Glendora. "Otherwise, you're just standing around trying to look through people's heads."
Carr also hopes to pick up a thing or two from watching the stars. "I love to go round and see the players you recognize, and see the different strokes, take a few pointers from their strokes," said Carr.