Dootsie rants: Fuuuuck. I’m running out of clever blue-related titles already.
When I was a li’le girl in school, there were many classes I hated, either because of the subject itself, or because the teacher in charge of it hails from the lower spectrum of mankind. And the more I hated them, the more I complained to my mother about them, the worse I did in those classes. I couldn’t wait until the day I got old enough to drop them and study only the things I like.
Which brings us, of course, to the flamingly obvious: Djokovic and Nadal did not fall to the Rise of the Minions merely because they could not adjust to the new surface, they fell because they would not adjust to it.
It was the mental condition of rejection that led Nadal to bizarrely lose a 5-2 lead in the third set to Fernando Verdasco, and it was a week’s worth of discontent that caused Djokovic to pantomime his seething, self-destructive rage for all of Madrid to see while losing to his compatriot Tipsarevic.
All of this would be fine to some degree, except for diva-like and hysterical behaviour of the two that followed.
Of course, as fandom views on Smurf Clay tend to fall depending on tennis allegiances, let me just preface this by saying that I like Nadal. I don’t like Djokovic. If you’ve been reading this blog for more than 3 days, you’ll have probably figured this out already. But as far as both players’ behaviour in Madrid goes, I am thoroughly unimpressed by either.
Rafa and Uncle Toni’s thoughts on Smurf Clay have been well documented, and after losing to Yanko in the quarterfinals, Satan joined Rafa in a double boycott:
I really don’t need to meet anybody. There is no discussion in my eyes, it’s very simple. No blue clay for me. That’s it. The test has failed … If I cannot move and I put this pressure all the time on my muscles and the body and having it in my mind the worry of hopefully not getting injured and making some quick moves because the court is so unpredictable, then really, what’s the sense in playing here?
This is what it is for 2012, 2013 if hey still blue and come up for fluorescent balls, whatever they come up with, they can have their own tournament, but I’m not coming for sure.
Satan went further, insinuating that former ATP chief Adam Helfant had been involved in shady dealings behind close doors in bringing in Smurf Clay. At best, it was a blunt dig at Helfant, who left the ATP at the start of 2012. At worst, Djoko’s words were more or less libellous without proof.
It’s very simple, he was going away he knew that his contract is not renewed and he made this decision on his own. I will not go into what was going on behind closed doors but something was going on definitely because he didn’t care about tennis and what the players think, only himself and his own interests.
Talking about self interests, if the quarter- and semi-finalists in Madrid were anything to go by, the surface has rewarded big serving, uncompromising and attacking play this week. This to some extent explains Tipsarevic’s win over Djokovic, but also goes a long way to explaining the intense allergic reactions from certain players to Smurf Clay: not only has it been more slippery than the previous surface, it has also made conditions more favourable to many of their opponents. Ultimately, complaints about the colour, the slipperiness and the speed of Smurf Clay all stem from the same root: self-interest.
Not that there’s anything wrong with self-interest in tennis. Had Rafa or Djoko expressed constructive criticisms of the surface, as many other players have done, the world would’ve merely noted their opinions and moved on. But both went further – they issued an ultimatum: it’s either us or Smurfs, and in doing so, they burnt bridges with the tournament organisers, sponsors, Madrid spectators and the ATP Tour itself without giving any of those parties a chance to put their views forward or offer alternatives to resolve the issue.
And there are alternatives to this red v blue debacle. One of the inaccuracies in media reports on Smurfgate this week has been the convergence of two separate issues: the fact that the clay is blue, and the fact that the clay is shit.
The former relates to aesthetics, and is – to my mind at least – a non issue. The latter relates to quality and court preparation, and is easily remediable with sufficient feedback. So for either Rafa or Satan to refuse to return to Madrid so long as the surface remains blue in colour seems to rather miss the point … if their point is indeed that the surface is too slippery, too fast, and thus bad preparation for Roland Garros.
After taking out Satan in the quarterfinals, Tipsy echoed my thoughts:
It’s not the color that is the problem. The guys in the locker room are not complaining about the blue. It is just very, very slippery. The bounce is normal and nice. It is just very tough to defend. That’s why Rafa and Novak, the two best players at turning defense into attack, have had problems.
Which brings me to the next of my beefs – give the other guys some credit, will ya?
Lost in all the whining in the past few days has been the victor in either match. Having lost time and time again to their better compatriots, Fiasco and Tipsy’s stepping-out-of-the-shadow moments were both immediately overshadowed by the hoo-ha over Smurf Clay.
Let’s be clear here: every single player in Madrid – men, women, doubles – is playing on blue clay. The court that’s been slippery for one player has also been slippery for the other, the disadvantage was even across the board. Yet other than Satan and Rafa, most players have been more positive in adjusting to the idiosyncrasies of Smurf Clay, and very few have made this into a deal breaker that would decide on their very participation next year.
(I say this while giving a nod to Andy Murray, who is probably – at this very moment – sitting at home, kicking himself for not being able to join the boys’ club in their boycott.)
On the WTA front, other than a few passing comments about the slipperiness, the ladies got on with it.
“This is a tough surface and it’s extremely slippery,” said Serena, after taking out Sharapova in the quarterfinals, “… If I’m not here next year, it won’t be because of the clay.”
“I don’t think there’s been any improvement in the courts over the week, but every clay court is different. This is not the best court — definitely not what they play like at Roland Garros. But it’s what they use at Madrid. Maybe next year they’ll put more clay on it. When it’s hot, it gets more slippery. But that’s an element you cannot control and it goes for every clay court.”
Likewise, Tomas Berdych, who shocked the world by staying mentally competitive against del Potro yesterday, managed to shock the world even further by refusing to join the Smurf Clay boycott.
I grew up on clay. I don’t see it as a disadvantage. I am not complaining at all. For me, there is no problem.
Naturally, Berdych would not complain. Not when the surface has so favoured his big hitting, attacking game.
An in-form, mentally competitive Berdych is probably bad news for Woger, who goes into the Madrid final having lost 3 of his previous 5 matches against the Czech. With added lure of being seeded No 2 for Roland Garros and the stench of past history with Berdshit on the line, who else is turning into the same colour as Madrid’s clay already?