The top players have spoken and it’s a resounding thumbs down to the new blue colored clay courts in Madrid. Eccentric promoter and owner Ion Tiriac who first brought models as ball girls installed the new $10.6 million dollar blue clay to provide better TV viewing, act as a sponsor tie-in and of course draw attention.
“On the blue court, the contrast is much better,” Tiriac told CNN last December. “I’m sure the spectators are going to say, ‘Wow, we can see the ball better.’ It’s proved scientifically the ball and the contrast is at least 15 per cent better on the blue than the red.
“I spent a lot of time thinking about the game, thinking about how can you be better, not only for the players, who are the most important thing on the court, but also for the viewers.”
But the men’s players are seeing red over the change to blue. Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray all took swipes at the innovation during pressers this week in Monte Carlo.
“I not agree, sure. I don’t support that. I don’t support that for different reasons,” Nadal said yesterday of his home country’s biggest tennis event making such a change. “First thing because you are in the middle of clay court season, and the clay here in Europe is red. So you have back to back Madrid and Rome. Madrid is the only tournament you are playing with high altitude, and then now you are putting a different color of clay. The tournament can’t be too much difference between Madrid and Rome. That’s first feeling. Second feeling is Madrid is enough big to not because they don’t need to have this promotion for the tournament, because Madrid for themselves, the tournament is one of the best of the world.
“My opinion, is a mistake,” Nadal added. “So I cannot understand how the ATP accept that. We were against, the players. But the president vote for themself.”
Defending champion Djokovic wasn’t pleased either and, like Nadal, he also cited a lack of input from the players.
“It’s going to be the only blue clay court tournament in the world, first time ever in history,” Djokovic said. “To be honest with you, as far as I know, most of the top players I talked to, nobody agreed on that. I never played on blue clay. Rafa didn’t. Roger didn’t. We’re going on there and we’re going to play for the first time ever. We don’t even know if it’s a natural blue clay because natural clay is a red clay. So we will find out really. I’m not really too happy about it, you know what I mean? It’s going to be interesting to step on the blue clay obviously. All the credit to the tournament. I’m not blaming them. They fight for their own. But definitely there is a certain rule within ATP that the president is able to make decision by himself without having players agree to that.
“I understand that we all want to see a certain change and improvement in our tennis world. But on the other hand you need to hear out what the players say, especially the top ones, because we need to feel that our opinion matters. That was not the case this time.”
Murray also weighed in on the topic. The Scot wasn’t as opposed as Rafa and Novak but still had his doubts.
“Well, it’s only a few weeks before the French Open, and the French Open is played on red clay,” he said. “So for the players, it would be better for it to be on the red clay. But at the same time, you know, I’ve watched sometimes in Madrid. It’s very difficult to see the ball. I understand the reasons for doing it. It makes the tournament unique and a bit different. Sometimes that’s good for the tour. But the timing of it is what makes it difficult for the players. I’ve never played on a blue clay court before. I have no idea how the surface will play. So that will be a new experience.”
Roger Federer, who is off the tour resting until Madrid, questioned the move during the ATP Finals. Speaking to CNN Federer said, “This is a long story, but I find it sad that you have to play on a surface the players don’t accept. I find it sad that a player like Rafa, at a tournament in his own country, has had to fight against a surface that does not want to play on.”
Newly-minted ATP CEO Brad Drewett wasn’t the head of the tour when the decision was approved last November. So the men’s players will have his ear next month. And Madrid’s blue clay surface is not permanent. The ATP is expected to review the surface following the event, and decide whether to continue with the color scheme or revert back to the traditional red clay.
Still, the show will go on marking the first time in history an ATP event will be played on a blue clay surface.
“(The blue clay) will bring a distinct visual element to the tennis with respect to what people are used to seeing here,” said Tournament Director Manolo Santana. “We are always trying to innovate to make the tournament more attractive, which in turn raises fans expectations when they come to the Caja Mágica. Of course, like with any change, there are those who will embrace it and those that won’t, but we are expecting the tournament to run smoothly.”
The Madrid Tennis Masters begins on May 7. The WTA women’s main draw will start on Saturday, May 5.
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