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Is blue the new red? Madrid's clay court revolution

By Chris Murphy, CNN
December 1, 2011 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The 2012 Madrid Open is set to become the first tennis tournament to be staged on blue clay
  • Organizers say blue clay rather than the traditional red will benefit spectators
  • After years of negotiations with the ATP and WTA Tours the new clay has been ratified
  • The 2012 Madrid Open will held at the Caja Mágica between May 4 and 13

(CNN) -- It's an idea that sits uncomfortably with tennis greats Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer but for the Madrid Open and their clay-court revolution, blue is the new red.

The 2012 installment of the $10.6 million tournament in the Spanish capital will be the first time an officially sanctioned Tour event will be played on a blue clay court -- a departure from the traditional red associated most closely with the French Open and Roland Garros.

It is the brainchild of Ion Tiriac, a former player who won a French Open doubles title in 1970, who is convinced the switch of colors will benefit the sport's star players and spectators watching in person and on television.

The blue clay is made exactly the same way as the red, with specially dyed bricks being ground into tiny fragments, before two different layers are spread over the court.

Tiriac also pioneered the first blue hard courts and says the switch to blue clay is a logical step.

"On the blue court, the contrast is much better," he told CNN. "I'm sure the spectators are going to say, 'Wow, we can see the ball better.' It's proved scientifically the ball and the contrast is at least 15 per cent better on the blue than the red.

The 2012 Madrid Open will be the first time an officially sanctioned tennis tournament has been played on blue clay.
The 2012 Madrid Open will be the first time an officially sanctioned tennis tournament has been played on blue clay.
The blue clay revolution
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Blue is the new red for Madrid Blue is the new red for Madrid

"I spent a lot of time thinking about the game, thinking about how can you be better, not only for the players, who are the most important thing on the court, but also for the viewers."

Tiriac's idea has been years in the making and involved prolonged consultation with the men's ATP Tour, the women's WTA Tour and the International Tennis Federation.

The blue clay has been ratified for use in 2012 and could become a permanent feature of the Madrid Open if organizers can satisfy the authorities, spectators, television companies and crucially, the players, come May.

I hope I don't have to play one day on blue grass
Rafael Nadal

But there must already be some trepidation in Madrid given that two of the game's biggest stars, who have a total of 26 grand slams between them, have already registered their skepticism.

Nadal Tweeted: "It's a shame because of the history and tradition of this surface. I hope I don't have to play one day on blue grass."

Federer said: "This is a long story, but I find it sad that you have to play on a surface the players don't accept. I find it sad that a player like Rafa, at a tournament in his own country, has had to fight against a surface that does not want to play on."

But Tiriac is convinced that once the pair have road tested Madrid's new color scheme, they will be converted.

He said: "As far as Nadal and Federer, they are great players and great human beings, I respect their opinion but I don't have to accept everything one player says.

As far as Nadal and Federer .. I respect their opinion but I don't have to accept everything one player says
Ion Tiriac, Madrid Open consultant

"This is a sport that is here for 100 years and is hopefully going to go another 100 years, I'm sure if they are going to play on it they will come to the right conclusion."

Tiriac says the new surface has been trialled on players in Spain's Davis Cup team and two-time major champion Marat Safin, all of whom gave the blue clay the green light.

He said: "We tested this all over three or four years ago and the players all said the clay plays the same only it is different color and you see the ball better."

Traditionalists are also yet to be swayed by Madrid's bold declaration that blue is the new red, with many iconic images of past tournaments showing players' pristine white outfits slowly becoming cloaked in red clay.

Tiriac acknowledges the cost is almost double that of the red clay but says the extra expense is worth it. He also admits improving the experience for television viewers is a major factor in the switch.

"It's very difficult to make changes, tennis makes very little change compared to other sports," Tiriac added. "To accept something new it is not easy but once you prove it is going to improve the game, people slowly accept it.

"We are dependable -- I don't want to say slaves to television -- but we are dependable on them and having the possibility to improve it for the television is instrumental."

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