Thursday, 10 May 2012

Smurf Clay

I thought I'd have my say on the new surface we have seen in Madrid this week. If you aren't aware, the joint men and women's event in the Spanish capital has got tongues wagging with a unique blue dye which has been added to the clay. It's a first for a European clay surface, though it has to be said, the vast majority of hard courts are some shade of azure already, so it doesn't strike me as being all that 'alternative'. The real furore though, has been over the way the players have struggled to adapt to the feel of the 'Smurf' clay (as Milos Raonic dubbed it). It's very noticeable watching, that more instances of slippage are occurring than you'd normally get on the red-brown clay and this has been the source of most complaints. They just don't seem to be able to get the grip required to move and set themselves to strike the ball properly. And when the ball flies so quickly through the air (as it does with Madrid being at altitude) it makes it even harder to recover defensively in time to retrieve shots. Novak Djokovic gave a great insight into what it is like playing on this surface:

Djokovic said after a 6-2, 2-6, 6-3 victory over Spain's Daniel Gimeno-Traver: "I hit five balls [properly] throughout the whole match. Everything else, I was just trying to put the ball in the court. So I just relied on my serve and getting some points eventually from his unforced errors. For me that's not tennis."

He's not the only one complaining, although I did read this article in The Independent, which appears to claim that world number 2 Petra Kvitova lost to world number 105 Lucie Hradecka because of the surface, which caused her to drop serve 5 times. Hmmm, funny how people have to look for excuses for top players struggling. I saw Hradecka's following match and she was simply serving superbly and didn't appear to be having too many issues with the court as she dispatched Makarova to reach the quarter finals. If she served like that against Kvitova, I'm not surprised she did so well. I also watched the aforementioned Djokovic match and Gimeno-Traver was playing the match of his life - where is the credit he so richly deserves for making a match of a game which everyone expected to be a breeze for the world number one? One blogger even suggests that the surface could be to blame for Federer being taken to a third set tie break by Milos Raonic. Has the writer never seen Raonic play? This guy has the biggest serve on the tour and can take absolutely any player right to the wire because he's so tough to break. I wasn't at all surprised at that result.

You can argue that Gimeno-Traver, Raonic and Hradecka had played a round or two more, so had more time to get used to the surface, but surely they will have practised on it somewhere beforehand? Besides, Kvitova comfortably beat Erakovic in her first match. So whilst I agree that the surface needs to change next year, let's not start blaming it for the inadequacies of the top players to adapt. It's the kind of moaning you expect to hear on the Betfair forum. In fact, you can bet your bottom dollar that forumites have been complaining about all-red screens caused by Papa Smurf. Whenever a top player gets upset by a lower ranked individual, it's commonplace to see traders looking for reasons how this could possibly have happened; anything from 'tanking', to match fixing, to an incredulous run of bad luck or poor umpiring decisions. Just accept that 1.2 shots do occasionally lose because they were actually outplayed! If you are stupid enough to keep backing that low, you are going to get gubbed sooner or later. If the blue clay has created uncertainty in the markets (as suggested may be a factor, by Peter Webb), I have not noticed any. I certainly haven't traded any differently this week. Kvitova getting knocked out is the only real shock of the tournament so far anyway.

The Mutua Madrilena tournament has always tried to be a little different. You may remember it introduced female models as the ball girls a few years ago - a most welcome addition. Apparently, they are bringing in fluorescent green or orange balls for 2013. I'd love to see them used on black tinted clay - now that would be truly striking and innovative!

OFF COURT BEAUTY World Number 88, Mathilde Johansson of France:

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