It’s no breeze to win finals at Indian Wells

Vera Zvonareva and Rafael Nadal won wind-aided tennis titles Sunday. If they were track stars, they’d put asterisks next to their names.

The weather in the desert, at this BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, had gone from the sublime to the ridiculous. Hot, cloudless days turned to nasty, swirling wind. The palm trees thrashed, the light poles around the outside courts bent, and the tennis balls inside the 16,000-seat stadium acted more like Tim Wakefield knuckleballs.

Ray Moore of PMS Sports, Charlie Pasarell’s partner in the operating group that has run this tournament for 34 years, knew what was coming when he said, “We have had 13 perfect days, and this is the 14th.”

That was an hour before the first match, the women’s singles final that pitted defending champion Ana Ivanovic of Serbia against Zvonareva of Russia. Zvonareva won, 7-6 (5), 6-2, and Ivanovic said afterward that was because her opponent had handled the wind much better.


“It was who can handle the conditions better, who can stay mentally tougher through it,” Ivanovic said. “Today, she did.”

Andy Murray, Scotland’s star, reached a similar conclusion in explaining his 6-1, 6-2 defeat to Spain’s Nadal in the final.

“I haven’t played in conditions as windy as that for quite a long time,” he said. “Rafa dealt with it very well. He hit the ball cleaner and just seemed to get himself in better positions than I did.”

The last time No. 4 Murray played No. 1 Nadal was in the final of the tournament in Rotterdam in early February. Murray threw a 6-0 bagel at Nadal in the third, so this was no guaranteed waltz for the usually dominant Nadal.


But once the wind blew into Murray’s head, apparently before the first ball was struck, Nadal was on his way.

The last two points of the match were symbolic. Both featured 15 to 20 ground strokes being exchanged. Both featured Murray blinking first and then missing. And in each, it appeared as if Nadal could keep hitting the ball in until Tuesday.

Asked about the wind afterward, Nadal answered with his usual three shrugs and two twitches and said that, sure, the conditions were bad, but he had seen worse. You get the feeling he could hit cross-court forehands on the line in the middle of a typhoon.

Conditions did improve slightly after the women’s match. Sand previously embedded in people’s skin was merely getting under their contact lenses.


The women’s match featured:

* Zvonareva being aced on a second serve that hit and turned 90 degrees.

* Zvonareva getting a new first serve when Ivanovic’s visor blew off and it took her almost a minute to get it back in place.

* Numerous stops in play, signaled by the chair umpire calling a let because hot dog wrappers had floated across the court in mid-point.


At the height of the huffing and puffing, it sounded as if there were a freight train circling the stadium. One wag watching the women’s match from the comfort of his home a few miles away in Rancho Mirage e-mailed to suggest they call this a Santa Ana Ivanovic Wind.

Ivanovic, who had 46 unforced errors in the match, 41 in the first set, probably called it other things, all less printable.

“I got my emotions out before I came in here,” Ivanovic told the media. “Let me tell you.”

Zvonareva, getting her biggest win ever and dealing happily with it, seemed less able to deal with her biggest paycheck. She was asked what it felt like to suddenly be $700,000 richer.


“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t think about it.”

She continued with a long explanation about how playing consistently and working hard are much more important to her than $700,000. The inescapably irony was that all that money was coming from a tournament sponsored by a bank.

Surprisingly, Nadal’s winning check was substantially less than Zvonareva’s, even though the $9 million in prize money here was evenly divided between men and women at $4.5 million. Nadal got $605,000 because the ATP Tour, which has jurisdiction over such things, decided to pay more in the early rounds, whereas the WTA Tour did just the opposite.

Besides Zvonareva and Nadal, the big winner from these traditional two weeks of prestigious tennis in the desert was the tournament itself, which has a new long-term title sponsor deal with the French bank and which -- incredibly in bad economic times -- topped its record attendance again.


A total of 332,498, or 1,229 more, came through the gates for the 21 sessions, including 38,026 in two sessions Saturday, March 14. One day, they had to stop selling tickets because they ran out of parking places.

“We’re ecstatic,” Moore said.

If he had a better speechwriter, he would have said they were blown away.