By Maud Watson
The Moody Blues
We’re at the business end of things in Rome, but there’s still plenty of chatter about the blue courts of Madrid. Those courts are likely to be a hot topic at Wimbledon during the players’ meeting, as some of the top names will be keen to do what they can to ensure the 2013 staging of Madrid is back on red. It will be interesting to see how it all unfolds, but hopefully Madrid will be given a second chance at making the blue courts work. Polls show that most fans preferred the look of the blue courts, which made the ball considerably easier to see in comparison to the traditional red clay. You also have to respect that tournament officials, including Tiriac, have owned up to the fact that the courts were subpar and recognize that changes have to be made. Already the government of Madrid has agreed to allow the center court to remain in place rather than torn up has it has in previous years, which will allow the court to settle and be in better condition for next season. Additionally, Assistant Tournament Director Carlos Moya revealed that the courts played fine the week prior to the start of the tournament, and that it was only the top coat that caused issues. With the problem identified, surely there is hope for a solution. And while recognizing that more players should be consulted about the courts, it’s important those players keep an open mind. In theory, the color and the texture of the court are mutually exclusive, and the players need to remember that it is only the latter which needs to be fixed. Whether the players are capable of making such a distinction is questionable given the poor attitudes of players like Djokovic and Nadal, who acted like petulant children in their criticism of Madrid when juxtaposed with Federer’s more diplomatic remarks. It would be a shame to let their bullying tactics win the day instead of allowing organizers a second and final chance to get the courts right. After all, how many of us have made a major change and gotten it perfect at the first time of asking?
Catch Me If You Can
That’s the challenge that Serena Williams has thrown out to the rest of the field this spring. With lackluster performances at the start of the season, the American has found her form, and she’s done so on her least favorite surface. After blitzing the competition in Charleston, Williams brought her best to the Spanish capital, putting the beat down on Sharapova and absolutely thrashing Victoria Azarenka in the final. Though Serena has looked slightly more vulnerable in Rome than on the faster green and blue clay courts, she has still played some superb ball. Is she a virtual lock to win the big one in Paris? Probably not. Roland Garros has presented her with problems, as evidenced by her lone 2002 title. But there’s little doubt she goes in as the top favorite, and the rest of the competition will have to be at the top of their games to derail her title hopes.
Crunching the Numbers
The majority of 2011 was all about Djokovic and Nadal. They became the premiere men’s rivalry, and it seemed they were destined to battle it out for the top prizes in 2012. But Roger Federer is proving he’s still has plenty in the tank to upset the apple cart. The Swiss has continued to produce stellar tennis, and after his run last week in Madrid to earn a record-tying 20th Masters title, he moved up to the No. 2 ranking. Federer and Nadal may go back and forth in the coming weeks, but Federer has slightly more room to work with than both Nadal and Djokovic as far as ranking points are concerned. For his own part, Federer recognizes that if he’s going to make a move and potentially reclaim the No. 1 ranking, he’s most likely going to have to do so before the US Open. It’s a big ask of the Maestro, but with Federer breathing down the necks of the Serb and Spaniard as he makes a push to possibly surpass Sampras’ record of weeks atop the rankings, it’s sure to make for an exciting summer.
Andy Murray has struggled as of late, and if he doesn’t find a way to turn it around, he’s in danger of sinking to new lows. He produced modest quarterfinal showings in Monte Carlo and Barcelona before pulling out of Madrid with a niggling back injury. The Scot then showed up in Rome where he lost in the Round of 16. On the one hand, no one would deny that Murray was handed a difficult draw, having to play Nalbandian followed by Gasquet. Both are talented players whose biggest obstacle to remaining at the top of the game has been their inability to get out of their own way. But for sure Murray completely went off the boil in his match with Gasquet, dismally failing to convert on numerous breakpoints and displaying a negative attitude throughout the encounter. With semifinal points to defend in Paris, it’s imperative that the Scot find his game and find it fast. If he doesn’t, he could be headed for another elongated slump that may eventually see him fall out of the top four.
It’s always nice to see veterans given the opportunity to produce some vintage tennis from days gone by, and thankfully the big wigs at Roland Garros have extended just such an opportunity to Lleyton Hewitt. The Aussie has been granted a wildcard into the second Grand Slam event of the year in what will be his first tournament back from injury. Hewitt will be looking to find his form as he heads into Wimbledon, where he is a former champion, as well as the Olympics. Hewitt proved in Melbourne he’s more than capable of mixing it up with the best of them, so even though he’s going into the French Open cold, you can bet there are few players who would be happy to find him on the opposite side of the net.