When the official press release from the ATP came out yesterday in the early afternoon, the news rejoiced many (including yours truly): no blue clay in 2013.
It was not a problem of colour rather than a problem of quality that prompted the ATP to make this decision:
“While the blue clay may have offered better visibility on television, there were clearly issues with the quality of the courts in Madrid this year, which were not acceptable at an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament, one of our top events worldwide. Regardless of colour, we must first ensure that courts are safe and fair for players.”
I think that Ion Tiriac’s crazy experiment might have proven a little more conclusive if more tests in tournament situation had been realised prior to its forcing it down the players’ throat in this year’s event. For instance, it could have been tested in lower category events to see how it played. Although had it been of this quality, it would also have been a hazard to the players’ health.
This said, there have been problems with the surface in Madrid ever since the tournament made the jump from indoor hard to clay. The altitude makes the surface pretty much quicker than the other clay tournaments, but nothing unplayable.
It was all the contrary for the blue clay, as the surface was overly slippery, dangerous for the players, and all in all, it was not a surface worthy of a Masters 1000 event.
The top 2 wins
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, in the end, won the battle regarding the surface in Madrid. They both threatened to boycott the event next year if the blue clay remained.
Has it weighed in the balance, helped ATP make its decision? Perhaps. It would have been quite a blow if the current two best players in the world had skipped a tournament of this importance.
It is a big win for security on the ATP Tour, but also a big win for the top 2.
Grandeur, innovation, but not at all costs
The ATP’s decision is also a blow to Ion Tiriac’s ideas of grandeur. He may be a successful businessman, but this time, he made a mistake and the players didn’t have to pay for it.
By ensuring there would be no blue clay at least next year, the ATP passed a clear message to Tiriac, as well as to any tournament director/owner who would try to implement something new on Tour without it having been thoroughly tested before seeing it realised in a tournament. (Yes, the blue clay had been tested, but not enough, in my opinion, for it to be implemented in such an event as a Masters 1000.)
The ATP’s message, in this instance, is also clear: the players’ safety comes first and they will not risk further injury to those who make the sport what it is. Their error was, however, to accept blue clay in the first place, without anything completely conclusive regarding the quality of the surface.
Still, yesterday’s decision, to me, shows a great deal of improvement from the ATP. Hopefully it will continue being this way.