Abierto Internacional Varonil Ciudad de Cancun

Does the clay in Madrid give everyone the blues?

Madrid, Spain – There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the change of colour of the clay in Madrid this year.  Many of the players have not shied away from sharing their thoughts about the tierra azul and the difficulties they face adjusting to the change of colour on the dirt. Many people have joked about it being the land of the Smurfs or in Avatar, but at first sight the resplendent, bright blue clay does not look that dissimilar to a hard court – until the players slide over it and tiny grains of white appear at the surface.

It is certainly a new image for the Mutua Madrid Open and after many meetings and negotiations with those in charge of the ATP and WTA it was their seal of approval that led to the change from red and the Caja Mágica is the first tournament that has broken the mould with this new image.  The question is, how many other tournaments will follow suit?

Who helped to decide on whether to change the clay?

Ion Tiriac is the Mutua Madrid Open consultant and the mastermind behind the evolution of the tournament.  He based his decision on how he feels it benefits the spectator, and people who watch the sport on television as the yellow colour of the ball has an extraordinary contrast against a blue background making it more visible on screen.

What do the players think?

Spaniard Rafael Nadal said earlier in the week that he was unhappy with the decision as he feels this is one of the most important tournaments after the four Grand Slam events.  Nadal claims it makes visibility worse and the courts are more slippery.

He commented that as Madrid is at an altitude of 800 meters over sea level, that already affects the flight of the ball, which is faster than at sea level and said it benefits hard hitting servers such as Federer, Isner and Raonic.

16-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer agreed that the surface was a challenge to the players.

“It feels a little different than regular clay. I’m not sure if it’s just visually or something else.’

Djokovic shared the same sentiment in his press conference on Monday.

My opinion is that it’s different; there are certain differences in comparing the blue clay to the red clay. I just hope for the sake of all the players that we will not have injuries and that we can have a decent week of tennis.”

Serena Williams was upbeat in her press conference about the change in surface colour and was actually quite pleased that it was no longer red:

“I don’t think it has changed that much. I don’t mind it.  It makes you less dirty than the red clay!”

Despite the disgruntled complaints of some players, both the WTA and ATP have given their consent to that the Mutua Madrid Open and the surface will be trialed for a year whether the players are happy to play on it or not.

How is the blue clay produced?

Selected bricks are grinded down before sifting the contents to a size of 1 to 1.5mm and prepared in exactly the same way as traditional red clay courts, the difference being that the mixed white clay is treated with dye for a period of 24 hours before going through a drying process. The first layer of clay is stained in order to avoid white patches appearing when the players slide on the surface.

With the contrast in colour between the ball and the blue court in mind, has it benefitted the spectators?

I have  sat court side and observed both the main courts and training courts firsthand.  I found as a spectator of the matches that it did improve the visual impact of the ball as the contrasting colours make it more clear to see on the court.

When the clay is fresh and unused, you would be forgiven for confusing it with a hard court, at least until the little bits of white grain pop up where the players have slid across the court.

During the day, I had scouted spectators for their opinions on the blue clay to see if they found it helped them to see the ball better and improve their overall experience at the Mutua Madrid Open. The responses were mixed:

Rocio from Sevilla is an usher on one of the doors and she told me:

“People say it is better because you can see the ball easier and I agree with them. I think it is much easier from the seats.”

Pablo from Madrid has attended the tournament regularly for the last few years and was concerned about the effect it has on the players:

“I prefer the red clay because of the players. If they don’t like it, I am worried that they will not want to return next year.”

Wherever you go in the grounds of the Mutua Madrid Open, people are talking about the clay and there are many spectators who have come this year especially to see it. One of the aims of the tournament was to change the surface colour and make it unique – a real talking point and whether people are talking about it positively or in a negative way, it has certainly achieved one of its goals.

Mondays With Bob Greene: I am like a machine, fit for every match

STARS

Ayumi Morita beat Ksenia Lykina 6-1 6-3 to win the 2008 Dunlop World Challenge women’s event in Toyota City, Japan

Martin Vassallo Arguello won the Lima Challenger 2008, beating Sergio Roitman 6-2 4-6 6-4 in Lima, Peru

Go Soeda beat Hyung-Taik Lee 6-2 7-6 (7) to win the Dunlop World Challenge men’s singles in Toyota City, Japan

Grega Zemlja beat Martin Alund 6-2 6-1 to win the Abierto Internacional Varonil Ciudad de Cancun in Cancun, Mexico

SAYING

“This was our worst defeat. We had a sinister weekend.” – David Nalbandian, who earned Argentina’s lone point in Spain’s 3-1 Davis Cup victory.

“I think he’s my natural successor. He’s very close to this group of players who are integrated into the nucleus of the team and he’s demonstrated his qualities as a coach by leading Feliciano (Lopez), who has shown notable progression in the last while.” – Emilio Sanchez, on Albert Costa’s prospects for becoming Spain’s Davis Cup captain.

“I am like a machine, fit for every match, and I give my best for all my matches. I have a consistent style of play, which is my major strength and keeps me going. I am fine with the current ATP schedule and love playing tennis, which keeps me going.” – Nikolay Davydenko.

“It goes back to what my dad said: I peaked at 12 years old.” – Jimmy Arias, who in 1980 at the age of 16 became the youngest player to make the main draw of the US Open.

“She will have an opportunity but she will have to earn it.” – Craig Tiley, Australian Open tournament director on Jelena Dokic playing in a wild card playoff for a direct entry into the first Grand Slam tournament of 2009.

SUFFERIN’ SUCCOTASH

His business manager says Jimmy Connors is “extremely disappointed and embarrassed” about an incident that led to the tennis legend being charged with a misdemeanor. Karen Scott says a man tried to pick a fight with Connors and his son before a basketball game between the University of California Santa Barbara and the University of North Carolina. Police asked Connors to leave, but the eight-time Grand Slam tournament champion was arrested after he said he wanted to wait for his son to finish watching the game. Connors was charged with disrupting campus activities and refusing to leave a university facility.

STEPS DOWN

The day after leading Spain to its third Davis Cup championship, Emilio Sanchez Vicario retired as captain of the victorious team. “I will not be there for the tie against Serbia,” said Sanchez, referring to Spain’s first-round tie in 2009. “I started something three years ago and the cycle is now complete with this reward for all the players, and I hope that whoever replaces me can share all the magical moments I have experienced.” The next Spanish captain is rumored to be Albert Costa, the 2002 Roland Garros champion.

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SAME IN ARGENTINA

Alberto Mancini apparently is through as coach of Argentina’s Davis Cup squad. He announced his resignation just hours after Spain clinched its third Davis Cup title, defeating Argentina 3-1 in the best-of-five-matches tie. The fifth match was not played. According to reports, Mancini had planned to resign after the final regardless of the outcome.

SCORING MORE

As an incentive to play better, Chinese tennis players will be able to keep more of their winnings. China’s players will keep 70 percent of the money they win, twice the amount they have been able to put into the bank. But the country’s top players, including Li Na and Wimbledon semifinalist Zheng Jie, are eligible to keep even more if they do well at Grand Slams and other big tournaments. In China, the sports associations have paid for coaches, travel and other expenses for the players. In making the announcement, Sun Jinfang, head of the Chinese Tennis Association (CTA), didn’t say if the players would now have to pay for some of their own expenses.

SQUARING OFF

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer could resume their rivalry in their opening 2009 tournament. The world’s top two players are scheduled to play the Qatar Open in Doha, Qatar, which begins January 5. According to Nasser al-Kholiafi, Qatar tennis federation president, the star-filled field will also include Andy Murray and Andy Roddick. The Qatar Open is one of three tournaments that will begin the 2009 ATP season, the others being the Brisbane International in Australia and the Chennai Open in India.

STOPPED

Kimiko Date-Krumm’s latest tournament ended quickly in the singles. Once ranked number five in the world, Date-Krumm lost her second-round match in the 2008 Dunlop World Challenge Tennis Tournament in Toyota, Japan, to Russian wild-card Ksenia Lykina 5-7 7-5 6-3. She did much better in the doubles, teaming with China’s Han Xinyun to reach the final, where they lost to Finland’s Emma Laine and Britain’s Melanie South 6-1 7-5.

SLUITER RETURNS

Dutch tennis player Raemon Sluiter is returning to the ATP tour after a 10-month retirement. He reached his highest world ranking of number 46 in 2003. The right-hander from Rotterdam turned pro in 1996 and earned a little more than USD $1.6 million in his career. Sluiter began his Davis Cup career in 2001 by upsetting Juan Carlos Ferrero as the Netherlands beat Spain and Germany to reach the World Group semifinals before losing to France. He also has a Davis Cup victory over Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen.

SET TO EXPLODE

A live bomb from World War II was discovered when a court at a British tennis club underwent renovation. The bomb was thought to be a piece of old farm machinery and handed to Steve McLean, chairman of the Greenlaw Tennis Club in Berwickshire, who put it in a bin. Six weeks later, he realized it was a bomb and called police. Army bomb disposal experts took the bomb away so it could be detonated safely.

STUMBLE

The first event in a closed tour for Asian players was canceled because of the lack of top players. The Asian Tennis Federation said it was planning a closed Asian Tennis Tour to help Asian players make more money. The first two events were to be held in India in December, a men’s tournament in Pune, followed by a women’s event in Indore. But some of the eight countries who had pledged their participation in the tour ended up nominated their third- or fourth-string players for the tournaments.

SENDS WARNING

John McEnroe hasn’t been quiet about his chances at the BlackRock Masters Tennis championships at London’s Royal Albert Hall. The lefthander, who at the age of 49 is by far the oldest in the eight-man draw, sent a video message to his rivals warning them not to underestimate him. McEnroe’s recent victory in Luxembourg has convinced the American that he can still compete. McEnroe is in a group with American Pete Sampras, Frenchman Cedric Pioline and Britain’s Jeremy Bates. The other group consists of Sweden’s Stefan Edberg, Australian Pat Cash, Britain’s Greg Rusedski and France’s Guy Forget. Jamie Murray, Wimbledon mixed doubles champion in 2007 and the brother of Andy Murray, will play doubles, joining, among others, Peter Fleming, Henri Leconte, Mansour Bahrami, Mark Woodforde and Anders Jarryd. Goran Ivanisevic withdrew from the singles field because he will undergo knee surgery.

SITTING ON TOP

For the third consecutive year, France has more players in the year-ending ATP Top 100 than any other nation. This year, however, Spain has tied France with 14 players in the Top 100. With Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at number six and Gilles Simon at number seven, it is the first time since 1986 that two Frenchmen have been in the year-end Top Ten. Yannick Noah and Henri Leconte did it then. Twenty-nine countries are represented in the Top 100. After France and Spain, Argentina has nine players in the Top 100, followed by the United States with eight, Germany and Russia with seven each, Croatia with five, the Czech Republic and Italy with four each, and Serbia and Belgium with three apiece.

STARS FOR SALE

The Heineken Open has reportedly been forced to shell out record appearance fees in order to land a couple of top players for the tournament in Auckland, New Zealand, beginning January 12. The headliners will be world number eight Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina and former champion David Ferrer of Spain. Tournament director Richard Palmer would not reveal the exact amount of appearance fees he had to pay to get the two, but said it was considerably less than the sums some top 10 players were demanding.

SO HAPPY

Organizers of the US Men’s Clay Court Championships in Houston, Texas, are smiling these days. Because of the changes in the ATP calendar for 2009, Lleyton Hewitt and the Bryan brothers, Bob and Mike, have committed to the US Clay Court. The Houston event now doesn’t bump up against Davis Cup competition or a popular clay-court tournament in Europe. And it directly follows the Masters 100 tournament in Miami, Florida. “This is a perfect example of how we’ve improved our prospects of getting some players we probably wouldn’t have had a shot at before,” said Van Barry, tennis director of River Oaks Country Club, site of the tournament.

SERBIAN DREAMS

The decrepit courts of the Milan Gale Muskatirovic Sports Centre in Belgrade, Serbia, will be restored in time to hold an ATP tournament in May. Tennis Masters Cup champion Novak Djokovic and his family are behind the changes, having acquired the ATP event only a few weeks ago. The Serbian government, city of Belgrade and municipality of Stari Grad will jointly pay more than USD $1 million for the venture. The courts also will be used by the Serbian Tennis Federation for Fed Cup and Davis Cup practice as well as university competition. When completed, the complex will have seven courts with seating for 5,000 at the Central Court. The restoration is scheduled to be completed by mid-April, two weeks before the tournament will begin.

SYDNEY CALLING

The Medibank International Sydney 2009 tournament will feature a number of top players, including Serena Williams, Jelena Jankovic, David Nalbandian and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Officials say the competition will be Sydney’s international sporting event of the Australian summer. Also in the field will be Russian Elena Dementieva and Frenchman Richard Gasquet, while Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt will be gunning for his fifth title in the tournament.

STICKING WITH IT

Argentina’s David Nalbandian refuted rumors that he is considering quitting his country’s Davis Cup team because of its loss to Spain. “For me it’s really an honor to represent my country. I’m going to continue defending these colors in the best way possible. For me, playing Davis Cup is the best and I’m upset that people have doubted me.” Nalbandian won the opening singles in the three-day competition, beating David Ferrer. But he and Agustin Calleri lost their doubles match and his “reverse singles” match was never played because Spain had already wrapped up its victory. “We’ve played in two Davis Cup finals in the last three years and I still think we can win it,” Nalbandian said.

SET FOR CHENNAI

India’s two top-ranked singles players, Somdev Devvarman and Prakash Amritraj, have been given wild cards into the Chennai Open tournament scheduled to begin January 5. The third wild card into the main singles draw has been offered to Lukas Dlouhy of the Czech Republic, who will partner India’s Leander Paes in the doubles. India’s Mahesh Bhupathi and his partner, Mark Knowles of the Bahamas, have also entered the tournament. While Paes and Bhupathi are India’s best-known players, neither play singles that much any more.

SAD NEWS

Anne Pittman, who coached Arizona State’s women’s tennis program for 30 years, died in Tempe, Arizona, after suffering a stroke. She was 90 years old. Pittman guided ASU to a 338-71 record from 1954 through 1984 and led the Sun Devils to national championships in 1971, 1972 and 1974. In 1995, she was selected as one of the charter members and only coach into the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s Women’s Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame. During her tenure, the women’s tennis coach was considered a volunteer position. Pittman refused to retire until funding was approved during the 1983-84 season to make the coach a paid, full-time position.

SHARED PERFORMANCES

Toyota (women): Emma Laine and Melanie South beat Kimiko Date-Krumm and Han Xinyun 6-1 7-5

Lima: Luis Horna and Sebastian Prieto beat Ramon Delgado and Julio Silva 6-3 6-3

Toyota (men): Frederik Nielsen and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi beat Chen Ti and Gazegorz Panfil 7-5 6-3

Cancun: Lukasz Kubot and Oliver Marach beat Lee Hsin-Han and Yang Tsung-Hua 7-5 6-2

SITES TO SURF

London: www.theblackrockmasters.com/

Australian Open: www.australianopen.com/

ATP: www.atptennis.com

WTA Tour: www.sonyericssonwtatour.com

ITF: www.itftennis.com

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

SENIORS

BlackRock Masters Tennis, London, England, carpet