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.