SBJ/20100419/This Week's News

Blue clay may be in play at Madrid by 2011

Nothing says spring tennis quite like red clay, long an intrinsic part of the European circuit. So when one of the sport’s most famous promoters last year wanted to change the color of that clay to blue, the players loudly said no.

But Ion Tiriac, a former player, Romanian business titan and promoter of next month’s Madrid men’s and women’s combined tournament, will be making another run at changing the color of springtime tennis.

“The clay court project is on our books and will be done sooner than later,” said Gerard Tsobanian, head of tennis at Tiriac Holdings. “It is true that we have put it on hold last year and this year, but we plan to make it happen in 2011.”

The switch could have far-reaching implications because of the event’s status. Madrid offers the most prize money among tournaments outside the four Grand Slam events, is staged in a pricey new tennis venue called the Magic Box, and occurs two weeks before the clay court French Open. Tiriac is also an influential political player within the sport’s inner circles.

The red clay of Madrid (top) could look more
like the blue courts of the U.S. Open.

The reason for changing colors is no different than why the U.S. Open switched its hard courts from green to blue in 2005: The ball is more distinct on television, and the players can see it better as well. Tiriac also is a well-known impresario who surely appreciates the shock value blue clay could provide, having employed models as ballboys and ballgirls several years ago.

The U.S. Tennis Association encountered minimal player resistance when it switched the color of the U.S. Open and U.S. Open Series courts from green to blue, though green courts were not nearly as much a part of the U.S. sports cultural fabric as red clay is in Europe.

In the case of Madrid, the players, including Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, denounced the plan last year. More recently, the ATP players council at its March meeting in Florida decided as a group that it remains opposed to blue clay courts for 2010 but would consider future testing, according to meeting minutes obtained by SportsBusiness Journal.

The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour’s players council has not openly stated a formal position.

“Clay courts are traditionally all red, and players feel like it would be awkward to change the color of the clay,” said Ivan Ljubicic, a former ATP board and players council member and who currently is ranked No. 14 on the tour.

There also have been concerns that the consistency of the blue clay tested last year at the Madrid event was different from red clay.

An ATP spokeswoman, Kate Gordon, said blue clay courts are a topic of discussion but no changes are currently in the works.

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