By J. Fred Sidhu
In 1976, a small men's professional tennis tournament sponsored by an airline began in Palm Springs in nearby Riverside County.
Twenty-seven years later the event is known as the Pacific Life Open presented by the City of Indian Wells.
It has become one of the world's premier tennis events, featuring world-class men and women's tournaments with prize money totaling $5.1 million.
The men's event is part of the ATP Tennis Master Series while the women's event is categorized as a Tier I level tournament, the highest level on the Sanex WTA Tour behind a Grand Slam tournament.
Over the years, the best players in professional tennis have made their way to the Coach-ella Valley to compete and this year's event, which runs March 4-17 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden (capacity 16,100), is no different.
However, the biggest difference in 2002 will be the tournament's sponsors.
"We're very excited and proud to announce that we have reached an agreement with the Pacific Life Insurance Company to become the title sponsor of our prestigious event," said tournament director Charlie Pasarell last month.
The three-year agreement begins with this year's event and includes a two-year option.
"To have a company of such stature join us, it's very special," he added. Pasarell also announced the additional signing of the City of Indian Wells as the presenting sponsor. "Together this partnership will take this event to an even greater level."
An incorporated city since 1967, Indian Wells has approximately 3,800 permanent and 4,700 seasonal residents. Known for its resorts and golf courses, the city hosts various internationally recognized sporting and cultural events.
"The City of Indian Wells is proud to present this outstanding tournament that brings thousands of tennis fans to our beautiful city," said Indian Wells mayor, Conrad Negron Sr. "Television viewers from around the world will get to see the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, truly one of the most magnificent stadiums in the world."
How significant is the tournament to the City of Indian Wells? In a study conducted by the George Washington University School of Business and Public Administration, the 2001 tournament played last March, had a total economic impact on the Coachella Valley economy of over $100 million.
WOMEN'S FIELD ANNOUNCED
Thirty-three of the world's top 40 ranked players have entered the women's championship of the Pacific Life Open. Among the entries are former number one players, Martina Hingis and Monica Seles. Russia's Anna Kournikova and 2001 tournament finalist Kim Clijsters of Belgium have also entered.
Lindsay Davenport, a two-time Pacific Life Open champion, will not play after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery earlier this year. Other top players who have not officially entered yet in the women's field include, Venus and Serena Williams and Jennifer Capriati.
The tournament may grant a special entry to the draw in the form of a wildcard to any player not listed on the initial entry list.
For ticket information, call (800) 999-1585 or log on to http://www.mastersseries.com/indianwells