© Ella Ling

Novak Djokovic - Madrid

People of Influence: No 5 Ion Tiriac


The Tennis Space: People of Influence:
Number five: Ion Tiriac
Sphere of influence: La Caja Magica, the Madrid Masters, the future of clay-court tennis, the sport’s marketing, tennis on television.
As Sports Illustrated put it, “how many smurfs had to die for this, Ion? How many?” At this year’s Madrid Masters, a tournament Tiriac owns, the clay will be blue rather than the traditional burnt orange. Tiriac’s argument is that, for someone watching on television, a yellow ball is easier to see on a blue court: “We are dependable – I don’t want to say slaves – to TV. We have the possibility to improve tennis for television.” Such a change hasn’t endeared to him the sport’s traditionalists, with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal firmly against changing the colour of the courts to something more telly-friendly, with Nadal saying: “It’s a shame because of the history and tradition of this surface. I hope I don’t have to one day play on blue grass.”
Tiriac has achieved many things since his playing days. He has managed Ilie Nastase, Guillermo Vilas, Mary Joe Fernandez, Goran Ivanisevic and Boris Becker. He has founded his own bank and his own airline (Tiriac Air). He has made a billion. And he created plenty of attention for the Madrid Masters when he hired resting catwalk models as ball-girls. Some would regard this as another public relations stunt. But so what if it is? Is that such a bad thing? As for Federer and Nadal, Tiriac is not going to change his plans because of what they said: “They are great players and great human beings, and I respect their opinions, but I don’t have to accept everything that a player says.”
What next: Trying to convince the doubters that this year’s Madrid Masters won’t be “a fully-fledged freak show”.