The hottest issue on tour this week has been the prospect of playing on blue clay. Media interviews have all led with the same line about the new surface in Madrid: what do you think? Rafael Nadal has been against the concept for weeks and, being the King of Clay and a Spaniard to boot, his opinion is probably the most valid. His argument consists of a combination of pro-traditional values and the threat change will have on his French Open quest.
The counter-argument is the enhanced experience of the viewer and promises that the conditions are identical to red. A yellow ball against a blue surface is said to be a natural contrast and therefore the spectator can follow play better. Tournament directors have also posted videos declaring the making of the surface is the same as red clay but with different dyes used in the final process. However, some players have said the bounce is different. Maybe the only difference is in the mind.
An alternative to red dirt is already used on the women’s tour. The green clay of Charleston has been in place for years now but is scheduled as the first post-hard court event on the calendar, whereas Madrid is not just a bigger event, it also sits right in the middle of the build-up to Roland Garros. In Nadal’s mind, a sudden change to an alien setting could derail his rhythm and momentum heading into his favourite Grand Slam.
While the Queen of Clay, Chris Evert, has yet to be asked her thoughts on the matter, here is what some of today’s WTA stars have been saying on the controversial change.
“It’s a real fashion statement. I wish I’d thought of it myself.” – Venus Williams via the Associate Press
“No one likes it. I’m on the council, we all voted against it. It’s interesting to see that they just did what they wanted. I just wish they hadn’t asked us and wasted our time.” – Serena Williams to Tennis Panorama News
“Looks cool but also a bit strange.” – Julia Goerges via Twitter
“A bit strange but unique court.” – Bojana Jovanovski via Twitter
“I’m pro blue clay. It’s a big step forward, an improvement in our sport, a way to grow and push our boundaries to progress.” – Sorana Cirstea via Twitter
“It’s a little bit different. I’m here for the first time, but I think it’s unique. It’s obviously what the tournament wants. It’s all about being unique and different. I think that for the show and the excitement of the tournament. It’s very nice.” – Maria Sharapova via Mutua Madrid Open
Some of these views may have been different had they not been coaxed out by tournament officials but it’s fair to say, opinion is mixed. Let’s try not to forget though, that in the hype of the surface change, one of the biggest tennis tournaments on both tours is being played this week. As Sharapova says, it’s a one-off, unique concept and deserves to be given a chance. After all, if everything remained traditional we’d still be using wooden racquets. The game evolves. So long as the standard of tennis fails to drop, then let it be.