Profile | Indian Wells

Heard the one about the Puerto Rican, the South African and the American database billionaire?

Graphic of Indian Wells
Graphic of Indian Wells | Stephen Higgins

By Stephen Higgins | 20 February 2018

Name Indian Wells Masters

Dates First two weeks in March

Established 1976

Surface Outdoor hard

Tour ATP & WTA

Tier ATP Masters 1000 | WTA Premier Mandatory

Prize-money $7,972,535

Location The tournament is held at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in the city of Indian Wells, California

The BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, once a small tennis fundraiser in Tucson, Arizona, has become the fifth largest tennis tournament in the world. This remarkable expansion is primarily down to three men.

Have you heard the one about the Puerto Rican, the South African and the American database billionaire?


The story of Indian Wells started over 350 miles away in Arizona's second city. The American Airlines Tennis Games, a non-tour event used to raise funds for the University of Arizona's cancer centre, was held in Tucson before upping sticks to California in 1976.

The Mission Hills Country Club, located in the resort city of Rancho Mirage, became its new home and 23-year-old Jimmy Connors its first champion. After a few years there, the ATP decided to sell the event to Disneyland Florida.

That was before a local resident, and board member on the governing body, stepped in.

The Puerto Rican

Charlie Pasarell was born in the Puerto Rican capital, San Juan, in 1944. He forged a successful playing career in tennis, ranking no.1 in the United States in 1967 and capturing 23 titles along the way.

After retiring in 1979, Pasarell worked in coaching and administrative roles before his unlikely intervention in this tournament's sale.

"In those days, I didn't have even the slightest idea that I'd be running or owning a tennis tournament," Pasarell told the Desert Sun in 2015. "It wasn't until the ATP said, 'We've got to move this tournament out of the desert.' I said, 'Why?'"

One of Pasarell's roles post-retirement was that of Director of Tennis for Landmark Land Company. He asked the firm to build a tennis facility at La Quinta Hotel in the Coachella Valley so that the competition could remain in the region. Landmark acquiesced and a 7,500 seat stadium was constructed with Pasarell as the new tournament director.

Jimmy Connors, again, won the first edition of the Grand Marnier/ATP Tennis Games in 1981. The 1982 final famously saw Yannick Noah end Ivan Lendl's 44-match winning streak.

After a five-year stay at the luxury hotel, the event outgrew its surroundings. Another move was required but Charlie would need some help from an old friend to make it happen.

The South African

Raymond Moore was born in Johannesburg in 1946. He enjoyed a decent career in doubles, the crowning moment came in 1974 when he was part of South Africa's victorious Davis Cup squad.

Pasarell invited Moore to form a business together, PM Sports Management, that would gather investment and find a new home for the expanding open. The result was the Grand Champions Hotel (now Hyatt Regency), completed in 1986 and boasting 11 courts and a 10,000 seat arena.

Indian Wells' prominent place in the tennis landscape was copper-fastened at the Grand Champions. Boris Becker brought welcome attention with back-to-back titles in 1987 and '88. A women's event was finally added in 1989 - much to Pasarell's delight - and the men's event was promoted to Masters Series status.

The men's side was dominated by Americans in the 90's. Michael Chang (three times champion), Pete Sampras (2) and Jim Courier divided the spoils between them from 1991-97. Martina Navratilova, Mary Joe Fernandez and Lindsay Davenport each grabbed a brace of titles to add to the home success.

As the decade came to a close, rapid growth led to higher crowds and yet again, constraints on space. Charlie and Ray reached out to IMG, the sports management behemoth, for help. IMG gave the duo the support needed to purchase new land in Indian Wells for the construction of a state-of-the-art tennis centre.

The Indian Wells Tennis Garden, featuring an enormous 16,000 seat stadium, was completed in 2000. The satisfaction of developing the new premises was curtailed by two incidents early in the new millennium. One was unfortunate, the other unsavoury.

Off Court Challenges

ISL, a Swiss sports marketing company, pledged $1.2 billion over ten years to sponsor the Master Series events. The post-9/11 world contributed to them reneging on this agreement, jeopardising the tournaments. Thankfully, Pasarell and Moore were able to weather the financial storm and keep Indian Wells afloat. The next incident would not be resolved as quickly.

It's March 15, 2001. Venus Williams is set to play her sister Serena in the semi-finals. Four minutes before the match, Venus pulls out with tendonitis. Serena receives a walkover and is scheduled to face Kim Clijsters in Saturday's final.

Before that match starts, the sisters' father, Richard, along with Venus take their seats in the arena. A cacophony of boos and comments rain down on the pair, the crowd clearly feeling slighted by Venus' semi-final no-show.

In the days after, Richard alleged that his family were subjected to racist abuse. Serena, who went on to win the title, and Venus vow not to return to Indian Wells. The sisters stuck to their pledge for well over a decade before Serena stepped out in the Californian desert in 2015. Venus participated for the first time since the incident the following year.

The American Database Billionaire

Larry Ellison was CEO of the computer technology superpower Oracle and a regular spectator at the Tennis Garden when Ray Moore reached out to him in 2008. Charlie and Ray were considering selling Indian Wells' slot in the professional calendar to buyers from Shanghai or Qatar.

Ellison, worth about $25 billion at the time, jumped at the chance to buy the tournament and the location for $100 million. “I thought it was inexpensive in terms of its value,” the entrepreneur told Bloomberg Business in 2015.

A man of rich taste and richer ambition, Ellison has transformed the tournament during his tenure.

Now with more time on his hands after stepping down from the top job at Oracle, the 70-year-old has invested $100 million into the facilities, added Hawk-Eye on every court, built an 8,000 seat second venue and even a royal box!

The billionaire's funding has been rewarded with enormous crowds (431,000 in 2014) and superior tennis. Recent years have seen Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal dominate the men's draw. The women's side has seen more variety, with the likes of Flavia Pennetta and Vera Zvonareva joining the usual suspects of Williams, Sharapova and Azarenka on the roll of honour.

In 2016, Moore was forced to step down after stating that WTA players “ride on the coattails of the men”. Former world no.2 Tommy Haas took over as tournament director that summer.

Recent Champions

Year Men's Women's
2017 Roger Federer Elena Vesnina
2016 Novak Djokovic Victoria Azarenka
2015 Novak Djokovic Simona Halep
2014 Novak Djokovic Flavia Pennetta
2013 Rafael Nadal Maria Sharapova

Front page image by Tom Fassbender