Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal Oppose Madrid's Blue Clay: Slap at Tennis Tradition?

Jeremy EcksteinFeatured ColumnistMay 3, 2012

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Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are not in favor of the new blue clay that is being featured at the 2012 Matua Madrid Open. Their mutual malcontent was voiced last December, as reported by CNN’s Chris Murphy.

It appears to be a classic case of tradition vs. progress, but there are personal stakes involved as well for players and tournament organizers.

The biggest ballyhoo will be screamed from those who are horrified by dying nature’s red clay into an artificially dark blue.

What in the name of Smurfville is going on?


Tradition Perdition

The blue clay idea, originated from former tennis star Ion Tiriac, is getting the green light in large part because it is supposedly more visible for players and spectators.

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 16:  Rafael Nadal of Spain lays on court celebrating match point over Roger Federer of Switzerland in their final match during the Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open tennis tournament at the Caja Magica on May 16, 2010 in Madrid, Spain.  (Pho
Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

Traditionalists might find this as logical as painting blue stop signs to cut down on traffic fatalities.

Organizers may claim it will not affect the clay-court game, but even a small difference in bouncing balls could snowball into radical results. This would most likely affect and possibly damage the games of favorites like Nadal, Federer and Djokovic, who stand to lose the most.

If one of the big three is eliminated early, the blue clay will establish an early enemy, along with his supporting fans. They will insist that the disrespect for tradition was the cause of an undesired result.

If the top players truly wanted to make a statement in opposing the blue clay, they would boycott the tournament. Nothing would reverse ill-fated progress more than to have its heavily financed legs kicked out from underneath.

Suppose the blue clay improves tennis playability for spectators and players. Will blue bleed over to all other clay tournaments and drown out the French Open’s hallowed grounds?

And if they could dump gallons of blue dye all over Madrid, would they soon spray-paint Wimbledon’s sacred grass? They may as well erect McDonald’s golden arches at Centre Court.


Progressive Obsessive

Are Madrid’s tournament organizer’s mostly concerned about player visibility? Do they think that perhaps the blue color could be cooler and give off less heat than the hotter-looking red?

Of course, the obsession over blue is really about green. Money is the almighty force for change, and organizers are hoping for an immediate spike of attention for their tournament, more TV viewers and fatter wallets.

For players just outside the top 10, perhaps the color stirrup will be a chance to compete for the title.


Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker’s best-selling author, explained this concept in his essay “David vs. Goliath”: Any time an underdog can find some other method or medium to go to battle, he will more likely benefit from the chaos than using the more traditionally dominant method of power.

For instance, if Serbian Janko Tipsarevic found the blue clay to be slightly faster, or for Nadal’s topspin to bounce at a slightly preferable height, perhaps he would have a better chance to pull off the upset, especially if Nadal became frustrated by the more difficult conditions.

Modern philosopher Neil Postman, in evaluating technology and innovation, taught that any change will affect a population with varying degrees. Some will benefit and some will lose, but nobody stays exactly the same.

Blue clay could be an asset for some players and a liability for others. Yesterday, reported the first whispers of player discontent. Milos Raonic tweeted, "Hitting on the Smurf clay, the bounce is lower and the two courts I practiced on were a bit more slippery than usual." 

Think Nadal won't have a problem with that? The Spaniard will be mute so long as he wins, but if disaster strikes, the rumbling will echo from the Iberian Peninsula to the clicking keyboards of social media.

On the other hand, Andy Murray may have found his odds increase with his excellent hard-court success and adaptability on clay. His footwork is sound, as long as the turf doesn't turn into a Slip 'n Slide.

The problem is further compounded when some players, regardless of the conditions, are at the center of surprising results.

Will blue clay become the scapegoat? It might turn out to be impossible to measure its true effects.


Bring on the Mascots

If blue clay becomes all the rage, what is to stop team sports gimmicks from dancing on the grave of tennis tradition?

Will a big blue Cookie Monster be trotted out next year to promote Chips Ahoy in Madrid?

Could scantily-clad cheerleaders and pom poms perform their stunts in a land down under?

Will Pink Floyd and Deep Purple blast their way onto sound systems during changeovers at Roland Garros?

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Perhaps tie-dye attire could be the new apparel code for Wimbledon.

A neon orange glow-in-the-dark tennis ball could bring ratings to night matches at Flushing Meadows, New York.

After all, nothing will be too scandalous or shady if the money starts flowing in.

Tradition? It’s just an outdated word by its own definition.

Fans could yell, scream and kick up a fuss to oppose inexorable changes, but tradition will only be upheld so long as it flows along rivers of cash.

It’s pointless to resist. They own us anyway.