It's my favorite time of year. The tour has moved to Europe and the Spring European clay season is underway. No mindless ball bashing. No 100+ mph serves whizzing by - not many anyway - and strategy, point building, and physical stamina are all rewarded.
Both main tours are presently in Madrid and usually I wouldn't be writing anything about the tournament at this point but there is an issue about the tournament that stares you in the face whenever you tune in to watch play.
It's pretty isn't it? I'm not a stick in the mud. I like innovation as much as the next person. And hey, can't you see the ball better on television against the blue stuff than against the traditional red/orange brick color? I suppose. The ATP and Ion Tiriac got a lot of attention with the new blue clay court and more attention for tennis is what everyone, fan and player alike wants right?
There is just one problem. The people who actually have to play on it hate the stuff. Why? Apparently it's slippery. Slippery to the point that if you slide you're not sure you're going to stop. Well what the hell? I mean why would the powers that be approve a surface that apparently wasn't tested by players prior to it's approval. And we're not talking about debuting the blue clay at an ATP 250 or a WTA International. We're talking Madrid, the tournament that kicked venerable Hamburg to the status of backwater.
If you want a detailed explanation of how they turn red brick blue Martin Rogers talks about removing the iron oxide and dying the resulting brick blue. If you want first hand knowledge simply watch a match or two.
Yesterday I watched Richard Gasquet play like a bull on ice at one point pulling what looked like a muscle in his lower back in the process. He shook it off though. I'd say Gasquet is familiar with clay no?
Then you have the ATP top ranked player saying that players should be issued football shoes i.e. cleats. Emelio Sanchez revealed on Spanish language television that Rafael Nadal asked to be allowed to use grass court shoes for better grip. During Wednesday's Fernando Verdasco vs Alejandro Falla match during the changeover Verdasco said to chair ump Fergus Murphy that if they water the court too much it would get slippery. Murphy agreed saying that the surface appeared to be "thin". Confirmation came when I switched to the Ryan Harrison vs Jo-Wilfried Tsonga match Harrison narrowly avoided a nasty ankle injury when moving behind the baseline he slipped on what can only be called blue mud on an overwatered court. One of the comms said that Tsonga's movement sounded as if he were walking on bubble wrap.
To my eye the granules are finer than those of traditional red clay, more sandlike, and it has to be hard for the players to get any traction. That takes away the strength of clay court players doesn't it? I could go on and on about that being the underlying reason behind such a change but I'll wait and see what happens when the tournament is over since threats of boycotts are flying around. For now I just hope that all of the players move on to Rome without anyone getting a serious injury.