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The oddities of Indian Wells 2021 create a very unusual event

It’s weird enough that Indian Wells will be played in October instead of March, but that’s just the beginning of the unusual circumstances surrounding this tournament in the Southern California desert.

The fact that a tournament is being played seven months later than usual is an obvious adjustment, but in tennis, different placements on the calendar carry very specific meanings and levels of importance. Let me explain that point, because it needs to be made with unmistakable clarity.

Indian Wells could, hypothetically, have been played in August and not October. That would have meant a five-month shift in the normal schedule as opposed to seven. Many people would very reasonably think that a five-month shift would represent a significant calendar adjustment. To an extent, that’s true. Many people might also wonder why a five-month alteration is so substantially different compared to a seven-month change in the schedule.

Here’s the answer: If Indian Wells had been played in August, it would have been a lead-up event for the U.S. Open. It would have been a time when pro tennis players would have wanted to sharpen their games before a major tournament.

With Indian Wells instead being played in October, this event is no longer the lead-in to other events in a tennis season, unless players are trying to qualify for the year-end championships, the WTA Finals and the ATP Finals. Those events have only eight singles players and doubles teams, so Indian Wells is highly significant for only a handful of players, not the larger tour.

Accordingly, this event feels much more like an appendage, something done after the fact, than a centerpiece tournament with broad and far-reaching significance for tour professionals.

When you realize that Indian Wells — unlike most 1,000-point tournaments — has a 96-player field instead of 64, 56, or 48, the large size of the field makes the comparatively smaller stakes even more incongruent with the rest of the tournament.

Indian Wells might contain huge importance for five players in both the men’s and women’s fields, which is not what one would normally expect from a 96-player tournament.

One more thing: The fact that Indian Wells will resume its March schedule next year means this tournament will be held twice in the span of six months.

If it seems this 2021 Indian Wells tournament doesn’t pack the punch it normally contains, you’re not the only one who is thinking that.

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