WATCH: Fifty Years of the WTA, Chapter 2: Red Hot Women's Tennis


Long before the 2020 BNP Paribas Open was upended by the coronavirus pandemic, a similar—albeit less infamous— outbreak threatened to derail the tennis calendar back in 2012, turning the idyllic Indian Wells event into the “Parasite Open” along the way.

As players descended on the Coachella Valley for the first leg of the Sunshine Swing, the first signs of trouble started to show. The WTA and ATP’s top players were struggling, but the conditions and opponents had nothing to do with it.

Instead, they began to report feeling flu-like symptoms and gastrointestinal discomfort. While this isn’t unusual for globetrotting tennis stars, it soon became clear that this was no mere travel bug. Between nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle aches and chills, several players were forced to pull out of the tournament before it even began.

The withdrawals only continued as the tournament progressed: Nikolay Davydenko, Jurgen Melzer, Vania King, Gael Monfils, Francesa Schiavone, Vera Zvonareva, Mike Bryan, Philipp Kohlschreiber, Andreas Seppi and Magdalena Rybarikova were among the illness’ casualties.

“Just spent one of the worst nights of my life (gruesome details) fever, vomiting, diarrhea..all at the same time… caught a bug from someone,” King tweeted.

The tournament was soon dubbed the “BNP Parasite Open” by some, while former coach Judy Murray took to social media to give it the infamous moniker: “Indian UnWells”.

Even the two eventual champions, Victoria Azarenka and Roger Federer, complained about symptoms. Looking pale and speaking with a hoarse voice during a press conference, Federer told media that his family—wife Mirka and two-year-old twin girls, Myla Rose and Charlene–were feeling it even worse:

“We’re fighting something of our own in our family,” said Federer. “I have a bit of a combination. Not terrible temperature, but I have some things going on.

“But I’m the best off of the family, so thank God I’m the tennis player here. No, the rest of them are struggling much more.”

As the outbreak worsened, it wasn’t just players and their entourages feeling sick. Tournament staff and members of the press were affected too, and according to health officials, not even fans were spared from the symptoms.


“We have seen increases in overall visits to the emergency department by about 15 percent over the past week,” a health official at Eisenhower Medical Center told Reuters. “We have seen fans and players at the tournament experience these symptoms as well.”

A few weeks later, Riverside County's Department of Disease finally identified the culprit: a norovirus outbreak had hit the Coachella Valley, including Palm Springs, Palm Desert and Indian Wells, towns in the tournament’s surrounding area. The virus spreads easily through public areas via contaminated surfaces, through close contact with an infected person, and from consuming contaminated food or water.

“Some individuals were tested and we did have some positive results for norovirus,” said Barbara Cole, director of disease control for the county’s Department of Health.

“We did have some people that were linked to the tournament, but we can’t say definitively that everyone who was ill had norovirus.”