Tennis cannot stand still and become boring. Variety is the spice of tennis life and the players should be coming to terms with the fact that we are in the entertainment business and the fans want to see different...
Tennis cannot stand still and become boring. Variety is the spice of tennis life and the players should be coming to terms with the fact that we are in the entertainment business and the fans want to see different skills and the different attributes tennis can offer. You don’t want a Ferrari to travel at the same speed as a Ford Focus or have the movie industry only produce dramas and not comedies. Now that the Mutua Madrid Open has come to a close and the dust (sorry I couldn’t resist) has all but settled, I thought it appropriate to have another look at the situation of the very controversial blue clay courts. What really is the gripe, the colour of the courts, the playing surface itself or both? Sure I am not a pro player so I can have those guys come down on me like a ton of bricks here, but really I don’t see the argument in the colour of the courts. The tour has hard courts that are blue or green or purple. The actual surface texture … well that’s another issue and the most relevant one. Pretty much everyone has complained that it is too slippery which compromised footing and movement. I remember when I was growing up and had aspirations of becoming a player (go ahead make fun now) we used to play on a surface that was called loam. Sort of like a poor man’s clay. It was incredibly slippery and I hated it. I remember my then coach the late Vic Edwards, who coached and developed Evonne Goolagong, telling me I “need to adapt to anything you play on”. Words not too dissimilar to what Roger Federer said. “If you want to be a good clay court player you must be able to play everywhere,” men’s winner Federer said. “Madrid took a gamble with blue clay. It’s always a little different (in Madrid) because of the altitude and we must sit down with the other players to discuss it. “It is slippery, there’s no double about that but that has been the case here for many years. They haven’t found the perfect balance. Our job each day is to adapt to the conditions we face.” Two words he used I feel are the crux of the matter, “altitude”, it changes everything, and “adapt” which is part of their job. The two most vocal players about the surface are by far Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal who have threatened not to play the event next year if this continues. Djokovic said he wants to “forget Madrid as soon as possible and move on to real clay courts” while Nadal all but said the event can go bury itself. I’m sure he’d be happy to shovel the blue clay. “I tried my best to prepare but I wasn’t good enough to adapt my game on this court,” Nadal said, which is strange in that he was leading 5-2 in the final set against Fernando Verdasco when he lost so to me that sounds like he had somewhat adapted. Guys, come on, you are all professionals and getting paid a stack load of money and yes you are worth that money but you cannot expect everything to be the same all the time. That will be the ruination of our great sport. People already suggest it is boring at times. Tennis cannot be allowed to go down that path. Federer made it clear that when he first came onto the tour there was a variety of court speeds etc but now everything is so similar. The game wants variety. The fans want variety and not the same hum-drum stuff that would even put insomniacs to sleep. The women didn’t say much. Women’s champion Serena Williams said she’s fine with the blue courts because “you don’t get as dirty” as on the red clay. In fact she apparently referred to the complainers as “weenies”. The billionaire promoter Ion Tiriac apologised for the slipperiness of the courts. He said: “We wanted to make sure that we had no player injuries, no ankle problems. As a result the court experts rolled the base with too much pressure. When the blue sand was put on top it was unable to meld with the base, creating the slippage.” Sounds like the loam courts I mentioned. Now what I find strange amongst all the negativity is the fact that Tiriac is almost being defiant saying the courts will stay and the more they are played on year-round the better they will become. But then, as if to rub clay into the player’s wounds, he suggested next year he would introduce psychedelic coloured balls. Not sure if the ATP would have that and they have also said the blue courts are a one year trial. Federer added: “He (Nadal) was against it from the start and so was I, so obviously for him to go out in the third round is disappointing. We never felt comfortable on the surface, it’s a tough surface and that only makes you angry even more.” Is that a bit of a dig at sore losers? I had several Tweets to my account @crosscourt1 suggesting these guys want it their way too often. Okay enough with the complaining of court speeds etc, in my mind unless the court is dangerous for whatever reason, just play and adapt to the variety. What do you guys as the fans want in this discussion? The players are all back on the original red clay this week in Rome at the Internazionali BNL d’ Italia. Let’s see what happens there.