Blue clay cannot return

Simon Reed

There's no doubt that the blue clay at the Madrid Masters was a mistake.

Watching the Rome Masters today, you can see the difference clearly — the ball is more difficult to follow on the red clay, so you can understand why they tinkered with it, but the movement was a total mess, a disaster.

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Why was it so slippery, so difficult to move on? I'm not a scientist so cannot say whether the dye had some kind of reaction with the clay, or if they just used a different compound without properly testing it.

But no-one gave it the thumbs-up, and most of the men gave it a resounding thumbs-down.

And, interestingly, it was the men who complained the loudest. Normally any changes in format or set-up are queried by the women first, but here you had the top two in Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal go so far as to condemn it outright.

Nadal, in particular, only gets involved if he views something as really serious — and in Madrid, of all places!

Why did it anger the men so much and, in particular, the top two?

The blue clay seemed to favour the big hitters, and hinder the counter-punchers.

Nadal is the best counter-puncher on the Tour, and Djokovic's game is heavily reliant on his controlled movement. As a result, it is easy to see why they struggled.

The likes of Tomas Berdych, and Serena Williams for the women, seemed to thrive on it — but they are big hitters, hence their impressive runs.

Another person who was not so affected by it was Roger Federer, who is both a big hitter and a smooth mover.

You could put Roger on any surface and he'd still be a classy operator. Roger can walk on water at times, and it seems he would have little trouble playing on it: he managed to keep gliding around effortlessly while everyone else — Nadal in particular — floundered.

Aesthetically, I thought the blue clay was fine, but — like the last 'innovation' at Madrid, of using models as ball-girls — it appears they failed to road-test it thoroughly.

The blue clay cannot return — not in its current guise, anyway.

This is a Masters event, and it is on Nadal's home turf. He is the biggest draw in Spain and their best-ever player — if anything the tournament should be designed to suit him, not hamper him.

But, crucially, it is supposed to be an opportunity to prepare for Roland Garros. No-one has been given any help on the blue clay, nor were they assisted at Stuttgart.

The last two weeks have effectively been a write-off — with hindsight, Andy Murray was actually quite fortunate to miss out — meaning that Rome is the only proper warm-up for Paris.

And that, whoever you favour, is not good enough.

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