Thursday December 1st, 2011

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*****

How many Smurfs had to die for this, Ion? How many?

In this interview with CNN, Ion Tiriac, a former Romanian player turned business man and head honcho in the Madrid tournament, finally speaks about his decision to install blue clay courts next year in Madrid in May. Tiriac claims that the clay has been player-tested and it plays the same as red clay, except that it offers better ball contrast for viewers, a key point when negotiating television contracts.

"We are dependable -- I don't want to say slaves to television," Tiriac told CNN, "but we are dependable on them and having the possibility to improve it for the television is instrumental."

He has a point about the blue clay creating better visibility of the ball. I definitely noticed that when I was at the Madrid tournament earlier this year and saw one of the blue prototype courts. I distinctly remember the clay not sounding as crisp as the players moved on it, though much of that could come from the bias inherent in actively trying to discern differences. But you could see the ball well, and as darkness fell over the court one got the sense that the players could see the ball better on the blue courts.

But look, I can barely see the ball on the grass courts at Wimbledon. That doesn't mean that I would advocate spray painting the courts black so that the yellow ball popped on my tiny television.

Of course, Tiriac already has a long way to go to convince the players of the move. Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have already spoken out against it and chances are they won't be the only vocal dissenters. Nadal tweeted, "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."

"As far as Nadal and Federer, they are great players and great human beings. I respect their opinion but I don't have to accept everything one player says."

Tiriac's going to need even better 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. As for now, the decision's been made and there's no use complaining about it, I suppose. And so we wait. As much as I have zero desire to see that blue clay, I cannot wait to see how this all plays out come May.

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