The Madrid Open was in danger of losing two of its star attractions for next year’s edition after Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic said they would boycott the Masters event unless organizers ditched the controversial blue clay courts.
World No. 1 Djokovic and No. 2 Nadal have been the most vocal in attacking the new surface, which organizers argue makes it easier for TV viewers to follow the balls, but many players say is much more slippery than traditional red clay.
Nadal was dumped out in the third round on Thursday when he was upset by 15th seed Fernando Verdasco, the French Open champion’s first defeat on clay in 23 matches and his first loss to his Spanish compatriot in 14 meetings on all surfaces.
“The ATP and the tournament can do what they want,” a visibly irritated Nadal said.
“I tried my best to prepare, but I wasn’t good enough to adapt my game to this court,” added the 25-year-old, who was chasing a third straight clay title of the season.
“The only thing that I know is that if things continue like this I am very sad, but next year will be one less tournament in my calendar,” he said.
Organizers declined to comment, while the ATP said the blue courts are a one-year experiment and a decision will be taken on whether to keep them next year once all feedback had been considered.
Djokovic slammed the Manolo Santana center court after his labored second-round victory on Tuesday and joked that he was considering wearing soccer boots or enlisting the help of action star Chuck Norris to help deal with the slick surface.
He slipped and slid his way to a 7-6, 6-4 win against unseeded Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka on Thursday, before announcing he would not play in the Spanish capital next year unless the red clay courts were reinstated.
“They are saying it’s exactly the same as the red clay, which is not true, because there is a big difference,” the Serb said.
“You are tripping and slipping and sliding all the time and the winner will be the one who doesn’t get hurt until the end of the week, because a lot of players fell down,” he added.
“Generally it’s a new experience and the way it looks this year, hopefully the last experience,” Djokovic said.
After his comfortable third-round win against Richard Gasquet on Thursday, world No. 3 Roger Federer said he understood Nadal’s frustration.
“He was against it from the start and so was I, so obviously for him to go out in the third round is disappointing,” the Swiss said.
“We never felt comfortable on the surface, it is a tough surface and that only makes you angry even more,” Federer said.
Although the blue clay is extracted from crushed brick, like the traditional red, the material is stripped of its iron oxide before being dyed.
The process has made the blue courts feel much slicker than the traditional red ones, which are typically slower.
“If you put the Cincinnati tournament on grass just before the US Open do you think people are going to be happy? I don’t think so,” Nadal said. “That’s a similar situation. It’s not drastic, I am just being consistent.”
“I am not prepared to risk something happening next year if nothing changes. The color has to change and it has to be a proper clay court,” he added.