While the trophies for the winners of the 2015 BNP Paribas Open went to top ranked Novak Djokovic and world number three Simona Halep, there were countless of unknown players who experienced a unique opportunity at Indian Wells during its two week run.
Indian Wells Inspires Future Tennis Stars
Among those savoring the taste of the ATP tour in the California desert, were three UCLA tennis team standouts. 2014 graduate and former captain Adrien Puget, current number one, Mackenzie McDonald and freshman local All-American Austin Rapp.
Puget participated in the pre-qualifiers loosing a close match to the number one seed Chase Buchanan of Columbus, Ohio, 7-6, 6-4. The 24 year old Frenchman is making strides as he enters his first year as a pro after recovering from surgery and a short stint as undergraduate assistant coach at UCLA. Puget enjoyed considerable success in collegiate competition and was one of the top junior players in the world, achieving a career high ITF Ranking of No. 11 in 2009,. His current ranking stands at 1104. However, as he left his host family near Indian Wells, Puget vowed to return next year with hopes of making the cut.
McDonald who is the nation’s fifth-ranked collegiate player first shocked the tennis world in 2013 when at 18 years old he became the first unranked player in history to qualify for an ATP Tour Master 1000 event. He upset two top 100 players to enter the main draw of the Cincinnati Masters. Two years later, McDonald continues to stick by his decision to delay turning pro and attend UCLA. The All-American from Piedmont, California made the most of his wild card opportunity this year reaching the finals of the qualifier at Indian Wells. Currently ranked 628 on the ATP, McDonald defeated 99th-ranked Famukh Dustov of Uzekistan 5-7, 6-4, 6-1 before falling to 34 year old veteran Michael Berrer of Germany 6-4, 6-4. Not bad considering Berrer reached the third round before losing to 13th seed Giles Simon 2-6, 5-7.
Eighteen year old Rapp who grew up in Rancho Mirage and considers Indian Wells his backyard did not compete in the qualifiers this year due to school and team conflicts. Instead the former number one ranked junior in Southern California finished exams at UCLA and returned to the tournament for his second year as warm-up hitting partner to none other than Rafael Nadal, Halep and the Bryan brothers.
The 6-foot-4 player power server looked right at home, and with good reason. As a ten year old, Rapp was one of the ball boys on these same courts. One day his family hopes to watch him compete for the trophy, but for now, sharing his dream with those living it will have to do.
“I love hitting with such great players,” explained Rapp. “It gives me a sense of what it will take to get to the level I want to be at some day.”
As for the spectators around the compound, a record breaking 456,672 tennis fans enjoyed top notch tennis in what is truly one of the most scenic venues in the world. Outside the four majors, this is the only place where fans can witness the world’s best compete, and practice in cozy surroundings. Some guests may be nursing sunburns from the 90 degree weather, but none can criticize the facilities or the quality or quantity of tennis. For those who arrived during the first week, there were matches from 11am to 10pm ensuring something for everyone. Those lucky enough to have tickets to the finals between the number one and two seeds saw perhaps the changing of the guard as Djokovic becomes the first player to win back-to-back titles since Roger Federer won three in a row from 2004 to 2006. And young players like Puget, McDonald and Rapp are watching and learning.