Tag Archives: tennis

Love in the Desert

I’m kind of obsessed with the desert.

Ever since I was a little girl growing up on the east coast — where winters meant trudging through blackened city slush and summers enduring swarms of blood-thirsty mosquitoes — National Geographic images of saffron-hued desert landscapes like Canyon de Chelly and Arches National Park were my own version of celestially illuminated fluffy clouds.

There’s something supremely mystical to me about the juxtaposition of electric blue skies, saturated sunlight, dramatic geologic formations and arid earth  — and the flora and fauna badass enough to make such a seemingly inhospitable environment home.  And let’s not forget the exceptional hair weather.

Southwestern Utah

Over the years, I’ve made pilgrimages to desert wonderlands across North America.

Joshua Tree National Park

I’ve hiked amongst the otherworldly stalagmites of Bryce Canyon and stood 282 feet below sea level in Death Valley.  I’ve delicately run my fingertips along the smooth, water-carved canyon walls of Zion National Park and marveled at the magnificence of saguaro and cardón cacti in southern Arizona and Baja California Sur.  I’ve spent many blissful days frolicking on boulders amidst Joshua trees, and cavorting in the playland that is Burning Man in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.

A Twilight Tequila Ride, Burning Man 2010 (photo by Caroline Florence)


A Magical Sunrise Moment (photo by Shawn Bisi)

My most recent journey to the desert, however, was a little more — um —civilized.

BNP Paribas Open, Indian Wells Tennis Garden

It had been decades since I last sat in the stands of a professional tennis tournament, so I was especially grateful when my dear college friends whom I had not seen in two years and their family (scattered between Hawaii, New York and San Diego) invited me to join them at the BNP Paribas Open.

Just over two hours east of Venice, the Indian Wells Tennis Garden seemed a world away.  The chilly coastal morning air that had fogged my car windows soon gave way to the unrelenting Mojave Desert sun.  By the time I had picked my ticket up at the will call booth and joyously hugged Barb and Ian, it was hot — sunscreen-and-sweat-stinging-your-eyeballs hot — which made the snow-covered peaks in the background all the more spectacular.

Sitting Courtside, Feeling Sun and Seeing Snow

And then there’s the world-class tennis.

Roger Federer v. Juan Ignacio Chela

Held every March since 1979 (under a variety of sponsorship-related names), the BNP Paribas Open is one of professional tennis’ most prestigious tournaments, after the four Grand Slams (the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open).  Despite the Williams sisters’ famous boycott (10 years and counting) over alleged racial slurs, the tournament remains — aside from the Grand Slams — the most widely attended in the world.

Dotted around stadium grounds replete with international cuisine food stands, bars, live music and a tree-shaded grassy respite, the courts were easily accessible and full of fans.

Center Court Fans

By day, we sat — completely schvitzing — around center court, watching Kim Clijsters battle it out with Marion Bartoli before retiring with a shoulder injury, and Roger Federer gracing the court while handily defeating Juan Ignacio Chela.

Beautiful Barb

And Her Handsome Husband, Ian

As the welcome air of evening arrived, we sat mere meters away from Jelena Jankovic, Anastasia Pavylyuchenkova, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Kirilenko as they played a lively — and remarkably vociferous — game of doubles.  (Let’s just say I may have blushed the first time I heard Azarenka pummel a forehand.)

Jelena Jankovic Serving One Up

And somewhere in between, we took a break and cooled down.

Vodka & Lemonade vs. Gin & Tonic

Most importantly, we talked and laughed and spent some precious, long overdue time catching up on each other’s lives.

And as we walked briskly back to the car with the promise of a delicious dinner ahead, I knew there was a lot of love flowing that day in the desert — both on and off the court.



Filed under Friends, Sports

Santa Monica Slam

Anyone living in New York City with a penchant for tennis appreciates what an expensive and schleppy habit the sport can be.

The dollars my generous parents invested into lessons during my adolescent years might have nourished an Ethiopian village.  And the hours spent hauling out to Queens to access courts that didn’t force us onto food stamps unquestionably outnumbered those spent pummeling forehands and smashing volleys.

But I loved the game, and by high school, my skills earned me a position on the formidable Horace Mann tennis team.

Truth be told, though, I never had what my father used to call a “killer instinct.”  No matter how committed he was to instill in me a desire to slaughter my ponytailed, white-skirted opponents, I was always content merely to be out on the court, swinging my racket and savoring the crisp, east coast fall.

Playing tennis en plein air in Riverdale, a tree-lined enclave in the Bronx, was a welcome antidote to the frenzy of Manhattan life and a high school education as academically demanding as law school would later prove to be.  Bopping around the bright green surface, everything else that ordinarily weighed on my mind — from presenting my research on the seven sacred rites of the Lakota to pondering how long I’d be grounded after getting caught going to the Palladium — seemed trapped in the net that separated me from my opponents.

But when I left for college in Northern California, where free and available courts were as ubiquitous as warm sunny days, and my schedule was — shall we say — flexible, something strange happened.  I stopped playing tennis.

Perhaps it was the distraction of the then-unfamiliar wonderland that is California, with its sandstone beachside cliffs and 6’2” bronzed surfers.  Or perhaps it was the shocking ­news that my former tennis instructor had attempted to kidnap and rape one of his students (coincidentally, the sister of a guy who lived in my co-op during sophomore year) before taking his own life.  (See The New York Times article).

Whatever the reason, my tennis racket has languished, since 1993, in various closets across the United States.

Until now.


After several years of passing by open courts in city parks all over Los Angeles and muttering how ludicrous it is that I don’t play, I decided that the time to let my racket see the light of day had finally arrived.

And after seventeen years, it was just that easy.

Koo, a girlfriend who also had not played tennis in nearly two decades, quickly agreed to join me in an effort to jumpstart her game as well.  We decided to meet Sunday at 1:00 p.m. in Marine Park, just east of Lincoln Boulevard in Santa Monica and roughly a five-minute drive or ten-minute bike ride from home — hardly akin to rush hour traffic on the Queensboro Bridge.

Prepared to wait a good 30-45 minutes — it was, after all, a Sunday afternoon — I entered the park gate at 12:45 p.m., armed with my now ancient racket and slew of partially-flat tennis balls, ready to stake my claim to the next available court.

My vigilance, however, was superfluous.

Just as I began making my way between the courts and bushy green wall of vines, dotted with vibrant, fragrant flowers — again, the antithesis of a Long Island City tennis bubble — a middle-aged man rallying back and forth with his son called out that they would be done momentarily.

Marine Park Flora

Yeahhh … that this was the first time I set out to play tennis in Los Angeles seemed more preposterous with each passing moment.

Just as they began gathering their equipment to clear the court, Koo arrived with a bright smile and her typical, Aussie-inflected, “Hi darling!”

Game's On!

We spent the next hour and a half re-connecting with our strokes and footwork, and eventually played a couple of sets — proud when we slammed an ace and amused when a well-intentioned lob metamorphosed into a home run.  The doses of merriment we both experienced must have been good medicine for the agony that plagued our right forearms in the days that followed…because we can’t wait to play again this weekend.

If you have read either of my previous two posts (M & Ms:: Part 1 and M & Ms :: Part 2), you’ll know that I recently enjoyed an exceptionally fabulous trip to New York, visiting family, friends and the spectacular Dia:Beacon.

Happy Me

But when it comes to playing tennis, I’ll take Los Angeles any day.

Who else is in?

Happy Koo


Filed under Outdoor Adventure