SBD/May 14, 2012/Events and Attractions

Djokovic Blames Former ATP President Helfant For Madrid Open Blue Clay Debacle

Djokovic claims Helfant made the decision on his own to change the courts' color
Tennis player Novak Djokovic on Friday "left little doubt" he blames former ATP World Tour Exec Chair & President Adam Helfant for the decision made on the controversial blue clay courts at the Mutua Madrid Open, according to the AFP. Djokovic said, "I don’t blame the new president (Australian former player Brad Drewett). He came to the job in January. It was the last president. He was going away and knew his contract was not renewed. He made the decision on his own." Djokovic added, "Something was going on behind closed doors, he (Helfant) didn’t care about tennis and what the players thought. He was only interested in himself and his interests." Earlier Friday, Helfant said that the newly-formed competition committee of the ATP "decided in 2011 to go ahead with the project after requiring Madrid officials to meet a series of stringent scientific requirements concerning the safety of any chemicals used in the blue clay." The AFP noted Djokovic’s fighting words "were stronger than any uttered a day earlier" by Rafael Nadal, who said that he "would not play again on the slippery blue clay." Djokovic said, "The loser this week are the players and their opinions. They (ATP) made the decision without players agreeing on it, this is a rule that has to be changed immediately" (AFP, 5/11). Djokovic on Friday said that players “must be consulted in [the] future before experiments can be allowed in tennis like the use of new blue clay courts.” Djokovic: "The tournament have done their job, they represent their own interests so I cannot blame them. They are fighting for their own rights. The fault is from the people who gave them permission to do these things. This is just a clear example of how our system does not work in favor of players." Helfant earlier on Friday said that he “consulted the players and tournament officials and, realizing they could not agree, made the decision himself.” Helfant: "The blue courts look terrific on TV. The ATP has a responsibility to expand the fan base and increase revenue” (REUTERS, 5/11).

BLAME GAME:FOXSPORTS.com's Richard Evans noted it was "ironic" that Helfant had flown in to be feted along with two other former ATP Chairs -- Mark Miles and Etienne de Villiers -- because it was Helfant "who took the brunt of Djokovic's criticism." Helfant said, "We asked for rigorous tests to be taken to make sure there were no toxic substances being used in the manufacture of the blue clay. And we got those assurances. So I took the decision." Janko Tipsarevic, who ousted Djokovic in the quarterfinals Friday, said, "It's not the color that is the problem. The guys in the locker room are not complaining about the blue. It is just very, very slippery. The bounce is normal and nice. It is just very tough to defend. That's why Rafa and Novak, the two best players at turning defense into attack, have had problems" (FOXSPORTS.com, 5/11). Columnist Kevin Blackistone said, “This is players whining right now. It’s the Madrid Open, for goodness sake. We wouldn’t be talking about it if they didn’t have a different surface to play. Blue clay? Sounds interesting to me.” However, Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw said, “This is not tennis whining. This is a tournament these guys play because they’re trying to get ready for the French Open. ... It’s one they could easily skip if they don’t want to play on this surface, which has them sliding all over the place" ("Around The Horn,” ESPN, 5/11).

NEW CHALLENGES
: ESPN.com's Matt Wilansky writes, "What the cynical competitors should understand is this: Everyone is on equal footing (pun apology) and that adversity, believe it or not, is part of the game. If anything, court surfaces have become so homogenous in recent years that this could be looked at as a new challenge" (ESPN.com, 5/13). In London, Paul Newman noted Madrid Open Owner Ion Tiriac "gave no indication that he had any intention of reverting to red clay, which the leading two men insist he must do if they are to return." Tiriac Friday "apologised for the condition of the courts but said it was nothing to do with their colour." He said that the courts had been "pressed too hard, preventing the clay from penetrating the hard base" (London INDEPENDENT, 5/12).
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