March is a big month for professional tennis, with top tournaments scheduled back-to-back in California and Florida. As the 2009 men's and women's pro tours heat up, Bud Collins, who has covered tennis worldwide for more than 40 years (budcollinstennis.com), shares his favorite venues with Tim Smight for USA TODAY.
Indian Wells Tennis GardenIndian Wells, Calif.
This state-of-the-art facility, which hosts the BNP Paribas Open from March 9 to 22, boasts the second-largest tennis stadium in the world (seating capacity 16,000) and a full-service tennis club. "It's a beautifully designed venue, situated right at the base of the Santa Rosa Mountains," Collins says. "The tournament draws many of the world's elite players, the weather is ideal, and the atmosphere friendly and festive." The nearby golf courses, shops and restaurants of Palm Springs offer plenty of diversions. 800-999-1585; bnpparibasopen.org
Tennis Center at Crandon ParkKey Biscayne, Fla.
Now in its 25th year, the Sony Ericsson Open has grown to become one of the world's premier pro tournaments, drawing dozens of top players to South Florida each spring. "The setting is wonderful, just a stone's throw from the Atlantic Ocean," Collins says. "The atmosphere here has a touch of Latin culture to it, with terrific food and music." This year's tournament starts March 25 and runs through April 5. 800-725-5472; sonyericssonopen.com
Built in the 1930s, Foro Italico encompasses several historic sports venues, including the Stadio Olympico, which hosted the 1960 Olympic Games. The Internazionali BNL d'Italia will be held April 25 through May 9. "The tennis center sits at the foot of Monte Mario, the highest hill in Rome," Collins says. "The back courts here are particularly appealing — they're surrounded by tall pines and terraced lawns, allowing fans to sit on the grass in the shade and watch the matches." Another unique aspect to this clay-court event: Men and women compete in successive weeks (men play first). internazionalibnlditalia.it
Stade de Roland GarrosParis
This historic clay-court tourney, which dates to 1891 and runs from May 24 to June 7 this year, was the first of the four Grand Slams to go "open" in 1968. The main stadium here — which seats 14,800 — is named after Roland Garros, an early French aviator and World War I fighter pilot. "The French Open has become a huge Parisian event in recent years," Collins says. "The atmosphere is highly charged. The fans are knowledgeable and quick to show emotion." When you've had enough tennis, the cafes, shops, museums and vibrant streets of Paris await. rolandgarros.com
Monte-Carlo Country ClubMonte Carlo, Monaco
The annual Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, April 11-19, boasts the most beautiful setting on the men's ATP Tour, Collins says. "The club, which dates to the 1920s, is built on a series of 'shelves' overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The grounds are beautifully landscaped, with palm trees, vibrant colors and spectacular views." This is a clay-court tournament, which makes for hard-fought rallies and ferocious play. Après tennis, fans can enjoy the sophisticated shops, elegant hotels and posh restaurants of this compact principality. smett.mc
International Tennis Hall of Fame & MuseumNewport, R.I.
In 1881, Newport hosted the first U.S. National Lawn Tennis Championships, which ultimately became the U.S. Open. "The event now held here each summer (the Campbell's Hall of Fame Tennis Championship, starting July 6) is the last remaining professional tennis tournament played on grass in North America," Collins says. "The annual Hall of Fame induction ceremonies take place during the final weekend, adding quite a bonus for the fans." Near the grounds, several of the lavish "Newport Cottage" mansions are open for public tours. 866-914-3263; tennisfame.com
All England ClubWimbledon
Since the first "Championships" were held here in 1877, Wimbledon has grown from its roots as a garden-party gathering into a Grand Slam tournament with a following of millions around the world. "Yet, Wimbledon has managed to retain both its charm and its unique traditions," Collins says. "Ivy and flowers still cover the grounds, strawberries and cream are still offered, and the matches are still played on 'God's own sod' — grass." One welcome change: When the 14-day tournament begins this year on June 22, the famed Centre Court will sport a new retractable roof. wimbledon.org
Connecticut Tennis Center at YaleNew Haven, Conn.
Billed as "New England's Ultimate Tennis Experience," the Pilot Pen Tennis Championships is held on the historic and beautiful campus of Yale University Aug. 21-29. The "Ivy League Casual" atmosphere is appealing to fans and players alike. "This tournament has an intimate feel that lets fans see the tennis action up close," Collins says. "Within walking distance of campus is downtown New Haven, which offers a host of shops, art galleries and exquisite restaurants." 888-997-4568; pilotpentennis.com
USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis CenterNew York City
The year's fourth and final Grand Slam, the U.S. Open is a distinctively American tennis event. "Sitting in Arthur Ashe Stadium — which holds 23,000 — is a bit like going to a ballgame at Yankee Stadium," Collins says. "The crowds are always loud and boisterous." The smaller outside courts give tennis fans a chance to see the players up close in the early rounds of play, which start Aug. 31 this year. "The grounds here are spacious, with musical entertainment and a host of other diversions." 866-673-6849, usopen.org
Melbourne ParkMelbourne, Australia
Won this year by Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams, the annual Australian Open is the calendar year's first Grand Slam tournament. "It's nicknamed the 'Happy Slam' by the pros, and for good reason," Collins says. "The tournament is held during Australia's midsummer, many people are on vacation, and the atmosphere is friendly, relaxed and party-like." The stadium's retractable roof protects players and fans against what can be blistering hot temperatures. The fun starts next year on Jan. 18. australianopen.com