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The beach or the desert? Instead of following around thousands of college kids, become a tennis tailgater at two of the country's spring hot spots -- Palm Springs and Miami. One of the best things about the beginning of the tennis season (or at least the ATP tour), is that it heralds that start of warm weather and where better to usher in a new year of sport and sun worship than in the desert oasis of Indian Wells, California or on sexy Miami Beach. For a four-week period beginning March 10, tennis takes over these two resort areas, attracting a who's who of players and spectators.

The Pacific Life Open (www.pacificlifeopen.com) will be held from March 10 to 23, 2008 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden (the second largest tennis stadium in the world), just outside of Palm Springs, California, and is first of nine global ATP Masters Series events this year. The Sony Ericsson Open www.sonyericssonopen.com) from March 24 to April 6, 2008, is the second event and is held at Crandon Park in Key Biscayne, a stone's throw from Miami Beach. Outside of tennis' four grand slam tournaments, these two events are the biggest and most prestigious around the globe. Both feature the world's elite players (more than 500), offer huge prize money (more than $13 million) and provide the most ranking points (outside of the majors). In addition, over 600,000 fans from around world are expected to converge upon these tournaments, and apart from being able to experience world class sizzling tennis action by day (and night), visitors have the added incentive of getting away to two gorgeous destinations offering sun, nightlife and a host of extra-curricular activities.

If your interest in tennis is a combination of love for the sport's passion and intensity -- as well as the eye-candy -- you'll be in for lots of head turning in Indian Wells and Miami as the world's number one ranked player, Switzerland's Roger Federer is expected to play, alongside number two, Spain's Rafael Nadal plus home-country heroes Andy Roddick, James Blake and the world's top-ranked doubles team, Californian twins Bob and Mike Bryan. And for the men out there, your trip will be rewarded with sightings of the WTA Tour's Maria Sharapova of Russia, Slovakia's Daniela Hantuchova, the Serbian duo of Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic, plus new Mom, powerhouse Lindsay Davenport. And the visuals don't end on the court. These tennis events are notorious celebrity magnets. Some of last year's A-listers spotted at Indian Wells included hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, Gwen Stefani, Gavin Rossdale, Matthew Perry and John Lovitz, and at the Miami tournament, 2007 saw Jose Feliciano, Daisy Fuentes, George Hamilton, Jon Secada, Gloria Estefan and Miami Heat's Dwayne Wade.

Apart from the sensational locations, the exceptional weather and the actual tennis entertainment, another huge advantage to these two tournaments is the ticket pricing. Unlike some of the larger Grand Slam opens, tickets are very well priced and accessible. Tickets for the Pacific Life Open are available through the event website or through the ATP (www.atptennis.com). First day tickets start from $25, quarter finals are $40 and semis and the finals are $53 in the grandstands or $75 in loge seats. Sony Ericsson Open Tickets are available at the event website or through the ATP. First day first round tickets start from only $15 for the day or evening session, the semi-finals are $40 and the finals are only $50 a ticket for either the men's or women's.

Indian Wells

To keep things simple to organize for your trip to Indian Wells, Pacific Life Open has put together ticket and accommodation packages that are available through the Pacific Life Open website (www.pacificlifeopen.com/3/hotels/default.asp). All packages include courtside tickets in your choice of luxury suite, a box seat or loge seat; hotel accommodation based on double occupancy; complimentary membership to the Garden Club, an exclusive venue featuring fine dining, a bar and televisions; shuttle service between your selected hotel and the tennis stadium; an official program and daily draw sheet; and all applicable taxes and fees

  • The First Serve package -- get in early and experience the first days of the men's and women's competitions with the added incentive of saving dollars by traveling midweek. The package includes two nights' accommodations (March 12 and 13) plus three days of tickets. Staying at the Indian Well Resort Hotel with box seats at the tennis, this package is priced at $510 per person based on double occupancy, $610 at the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa, or $585 staying at Miramonte Resort & Spa.
  • Aces Weekend -- getaway for a three day weekend with three full days and evening sessions of tennis watching plus two nights (March 14 and 15) accommodation at the Fantasy Springs Resort for $780 per person.
  • The Final Four Days package -- is made for those who want to cut to the chase. Enjoy three night accommodations (Match 20, 21 and 22) and tickets for the final four days of the tournament, including the coveting final and two evening tickets. As an added bonus, take part in a private on-site tennis clinic. This package is priced at $1515 staying at Indian Well Resort Hotel with box seats, $1,455 at the Homewood Suites by Hilton La Quinta or $1,675 at the Hyatt Grand Champions Resort & Spa.

Other package options for different days are also available.

If you would prefer to stay in Palm Springs itself, which is a ten-minute drive away from Indian Wells, there are several attractive options. For those looking for something more low key with international aesthetics, the boutique Korakia Pensione (tel. 760/864-6411; www.korakia.com) offers superbly decorated rooms, suites and bungalows each with an exotic Moroccan, Greek Mediterranean or Adobe design ambience. Room rates start from $159 per night during the tournament and go up to $359 for a spacious suite or bungalow. The Spanish colonial style Colony Palms Hotel (tel. 800/557-2187; www.colonypalmshotel.com) is a luxury boutique property and a part of Palm Springs' heritage. Located in the downtown area, rooms are priced from $199 per night midweek during the tournament period.

Grab a bite to eat and perhaps rub shoulders with the players or at one of the Coachella Valley's fine restaurants, including the Falls Prime Steakhouse (tel. 760/777-9999; www.thefallsprimesteakhouse.com) with its carnivorous menu plus 35 different martinis to sample; Mamma Gina (tel. 760/568-9898; www.mammagina.com), boasting the desert's best Northern Italian cuisine; or Las Casuelas (tel. 760/777-7715; www.lascasuelas.com) for an authentic Mexican feast.

During the tournament, American Airlines (www.aa.com) has round-trip flights from New York to Palm Springs priced from $300 and $370 from Boston. From Chicago, United (www.united.com) can get you there from $380 and from Seattle, fly Alaska Airlines (www.alaskaair.com) from $349. All prices include taxes.

Miami

Needless to say that the city with be buzzing with activity during the month of March and into early April. All the official Open travel packages that include accommodation and event tickets are already sold out, but there are still rooms available in the highly coveted area of South Beach, Miami, just seven miles from the tournament venue in Key Biscayne. This way you'll only be a short drive away from tennis action by day and be able to hit the beaches, bars and restaurants of South Beach before and after hours.

  • Greenview South Beach Hotel
  • (www.crs-grenview-hotel-miami.com/index.asp) is located in the heart of the Art Deco district, plus it is just two blocks from the beach. The hotel also has a sister hotel around the corner where guests have access to the pool. Midweek double room rates during the event start from $99 including breakfast, making it probably the most affordable boutique options in town.
  • The three-and-a-half-star Beacon Hotel South Beach (www.beaconhotelmiamibeach.com), located on Ocean Drive, has king rooms priced from $179 per night including breakfast.
  • The classic Art Deco Colony Hotel (www.colonyhotelsouthbeach.com) on Ocean Drive in South Beach is priced from $110 per night including breakfast
  • The recently restored historic Carlton Hotel South Beach (www.carltonsouthbeach.com) has rooms with breakfast priced from $159 per night.

Finding somewhere to dine and drink in Miami is never going to be difficult. A few suggestions include Santo (www.santomiamibeach.com) at 430 Lincoln Road for modern American, ambience and creative martinis; Puerto Sagua at 700 Collins Avenue, a mainstay Cuban hole in the wall; Joe's Stone Crab (www.joesstonecrab.com) at 11 Washington Avenue for classic seafood and long lines; The Forge (www.theforge.com) at 432 41st Street, for unforgettable steaks and people watching; Table 8 (www.table8la.com/sb.html) at 1458 Ocean Drive for dining on the verandah; and the un-signed Casa Tua (www.casatualifestyle.com) at 17th and James Streets for an alfresco dining experience Miami style.

Fly to Miami in late March or early April from $176 on American Airlines round-trip from Atlanta, $199 from New York, $254 from Detroit or $314 from Los Angeles. All fares include taxes.

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