The Tennis Space Miscellany on blue clay
Making blue clay
Ion Tiriac, a consultant to the tournament, has said that the cost of making a blue clay court is almost double that of making a red clay court. The process is essentially the same as producing a red clay court, with the dyed bricks ground into fragments. Two layers are then spread over the court.
On the official website: “It’s important to take into account that we can never directly dye the original red bricks blue as we would never achieve the desired colour as the base of the red brick off a different effect. For that reason, the iron oxide needs to be removed at the start of the process. Another interesting point is that if we put one hand in a bag of red clay and another in one containing blue clay we would see that the red clay would leave a stronger stain.”
Tiriac’s argument for turning the clay blue
Making it easier for spectators and players to see the ball: “On the blue court, the contrast is much better. I’m sure the spectators are going to say, ‘Wow, we can see the ball better’. It’s proven scientifically that the contrast is at least 15 per cent better on the blue than the red. I spent a lot of time thinking about the game, thinking about can you be better, not only for the players, who are the most important thing on the court, but also for the viewers.”
Other tournaments have changed the colour of the courts for the same reason
The US Open changed from green to blue cement in 2005, and the Australian Open changed from green to blue courts in 2008.
The courts have been tested
“We have tested the blue clay, and all the players say that it plays the same, just that it’s a different colour and you see the ball a bit better,” Tiriac has said. “To accept something new is not easy, but once you have proved it is going to improve the game, slowly everyone will accept it. It’s very difficult to make changes, tennis makes very little change compared to other sports.”
What some of the players think
“It’s a shame because of the history and tradition of this surface. I hope I don’t have to play one day on blue grass. The history of the clay court season was on red, it wasn’t on blue. You can tell me that I am traditional, but I am not. I love all improvements. What makes a really big tournament at the end is the history of tennis. This tournament is big because the history is there. Best players of history played in this court. In my opinion, it’s a mistake.”
“I can’t say I’m that excited or pleased about playing on the blue clay in Madrid, no. I don’t think it’s a good idea changing the colour of the dirt. The dirt is brown, not blue. I’ve spoken to a few of the girls about it and I can’t say that any of the players are that ectastic about the blue. I don’t see the point of changing the colour to blue at one of the most important tournaments before the French Open. I don’t think the courts in Madrid are that great anyway. If they have changed how the courts play, as well as the colour, and the courts play better, that’s great. But if they have changed the colour, and the courts still play the same, that’s pointless.
“Sometimes change is good. I like innovative and creative people. But, on the other hand, it’s going to be the only blue clay court tournament in the world, first time ever in history. To be honest with you, as far as I know, most of the top players I talked to, nobody agreed on that. I never played on blue clay. Rafa didn’t. Roger didn’t. We’re going on there and we’re going to play for the first time ever.
“We don’t even know if it’s a natural blue clay because natural clay is a red clay. I’m not really too happy about it. All the credit to the tournament. I’m not blaming them. They fight for their own. But definitely there is a certain rule within ATP that the president is able to make decision by himself without having players agree to that. That rule has to be changed because it’s not fair. I understand that we all want to see a certain change and improvement in our tennis world. But on the other hand you need to hear out what the players say, especially the top ones, because we need to feel that our opinion matters. That was not the case this time.”
“This is a long story, but I find it sad that you have to play on a surface the players don’t accept. I find it sad that a player like Rafa, at a tournament in his own country, has had to fight against a surface he does not want to play on. I think it’s important to stay true to tradition. Keep the red clay, obviously, those kind of things. Grass doesn’t become orange, all those things. It just would be all strange.”
“For the players, it would be better for it to be on the red clay. But at the same time, I’ve watched sometimes in Madrid. It’s very difficult to see the ball. I understand the reasons for doing it. It makes the tournament unique and a bit different. Sometimes that’s good for the tour. But the timing of it is what makes it difficult for the players. I’ve never played on a blue clay court before. I have no idea how the surface will play.”
Tiriac’s response to Federer and Nadal
“We are dependable – I don’t want to say slaves – to television. But we are dependable on them and having the possibility to improve it for the television is instrumental. Nadal and Federer are great players and great human beings. I respect their opinion but I don’t have to accept everything one player says. This is a sport that has gone for 100 years, and will go for another 100 years, hopefully with some changes. If they play on it, hopefully they will come to the right conclusion.”
How many smurfs had to die for this?
Sports Illustrated have written: “How many smurfs had to die for this, Ion? How many? Tiriac’s going to need diplomacy to get this past fans and players alike. The courts look sacrilegious, turning what was a prestigious tournament that already implemented some questionably exhibition-like features (using models as ballpersons?), into a full-fledged freak-show. This will be clay-court tennis as we have never seen it before, which is precisely the gimmick Tiriac looks to exploit.”