Jay-Z once said “in order to survive, you gotta learn to live with regrets” and this is certainly the case for the Mutua Madrid Open. To say there’s been just a little bit of tension in the air surrounding their decision to convert to blue clay is quite an understatement. Claims that tradition and player rights are being tossed away have clashed with the innovators who embrace revolutionary change. And having firmly pitched my tent in the latter camp last week, seven days later I feel more like Boris Yeltsin.
Truth be told, Madrid is a bloody shambles this year. The men have received the most attention for their damning verdict of the surface change and how it makes the court feel more like a frozen lake but at least they’re being shown. You could be forgiven for not knowing the women’s event is even on, as matches including Victoria Azarenka vs. Ana Ivanovic were shunned from TV schedules.
I’ve expressed my views on lack of TV coverage during the early rounds of Miami and Indian Wells last month but something is seriously wrong when the current and former world number ones are omitted from live streaming, whilst elsewhere you can watch extensive coverage of an ATP Challenger tournament in Greece. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not slating men’s tennis here, I’m just after a bit more equality.
The WTA website enthusiastically advertises streamed tennis with the catchline: “watch live from Madrid all week, Monday to Sunday!” For a start, the tournament started on Saturday, so that whole ‘all week’ thing isn’t strictly true but what’s even worse is how they fail to point out the small print until later. “Up to 13 live matches” it says through further investigation. Ambassador, you do spoil us!
Like my previous TV rant stated, I’m unsure who is to blame for this. Is it the organisers, the WTA, the broadcasters? I don’t know but I’m 100% sure it’s not right. How can you expect the sport to grow when people are restricted to a baker’s dozen of matches for one of the biggest tournaments outside the Grand Slams?
Fair play to Madrid though, they made sure we were kept in-check with all the latest scores. That was, of course, until the internet went down and then even the men’s coverage was left in the dark. At least people are getting used to the new surface and agree it plays just like the red clay. Oh wait, players are threatening to boycott the event next year if they don’t change back? And the slippery surface is preventing them performing at their best? I guess the only non-sarcastic compliment to give Madrid is their dedication in ensuring ball boys and girls are selected based on their on-court skills.
What’s sad is how this week pales so drastically in comparison with Stuttgart a fortnight ago. Packed crowds, great coverage and a constant winner of the players’ favourite tournament award make it an ideal candidate to replace Madrid as the third Premier Mandatory on the WTA Tour.
As venomous an attack this is, there are reasons to be cheerful (for real this time). The blue clay still looks cool and, had it been to the same standard as red, I’d have continued to back it. However, it’s at an awkward time to adapt for a one-off event. Some girls have played on green clay, then red, now blue and will revert back to red again in Rome and Paris. It’s an unnecessary alternation and if it’s going to survive then it will have to move away from the middle of the clay court schedule it currently situates in.
The most likely option though, is admitting the mistake; doing the honourable thing and changing back now before things escalate further. And while they’re all sat around the same table, maybe they can try and get more women’s tennis on TV instead of discussing painting the net fluorescent green or using pink tennis balls. After all, the whole point of the blue clay was for better TV coverage and for the sport to move forward. At the moment, it feels like a step back.