The players have already shown their concerns regarding the new clay-court at Madrid which will be artificially colored blue! As we get closer to the Madrid tournament, there are many conspiracy theories floating-up around the new color of the clay court. Some speculate it’s nothing but a publicity stunt; others try to prove that it’s backed by solid scientific research. I feel it could be best described as Ion Tiriac demonstrating his business prowess.
Ion Tiriac is a self-made billionaire with businesses ranging from financial products to sports. He started his sports career as an Ice Hockey player and after playing in the Olympics for Romania, he switched to Tennis. In the doubles section, he won many titles including Roland Garros, Rome and Monte-Carlo but in the singles, he had to settle without any titles and had a career best ranking of 55. He became mentor/coach and manager to tennis players like Boris Becker and Goran Ivanisevic. During this time, he also got into the world of business around the time rampant commercialization took place in Romania after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Ion always loves to be in the limelight and has a luxurious lifestyle. He lives in Monte Carlo and owns a fleet of cars which includes every single model of Ferrari, Porshe and Jaguar that has come out! One of his publicity-stunts recently was the introduction of high-fashion models as ball girls a few years back in the same Madrid Masters. Last year, he unveiled a newly designed trophy made of 18-carat gold encrusted with diamonds. The design of the trophy is very unique and had mixed reactions, with some even calling it a “hideously garish mess that resembles some sort of disturbing alien sex toy.” The color blue also happens to be the color of the principal sponsor Mutua Madrilena. Could they be using colors on clay-court to promote themselves? The perception of Ion as a publicity seeker clouds the mind of tennis followers from looking at scientific aspects of the color change.
In 1972 fluorescent green tennis balls were first introduced in Tennis, a change from the age-old white color used for decades. The idea came up on the back of research showing that fluorescent green was more suitable for viewing on color televisions. So what vindicated the change of court color to blue? The idea is to create the best contrast between the ball and court for better viewing experience. In the wheel of color spectrum yellow (fluorescent green) and blue/purple are at exact opposite ends, thus creating the best contrast. Researchers from AIDO Optica Color Imagen from Spain claim to have done research on using the new colors for the Madrid court. In the past the synthetic hard courts like the ones used in the US Open changed its color from green to blue in 2005 and soon in 2008 in the Australian Open, the changes followed suit. Leading synthetic court maker Decoturf also reveals that blue and purple are the highest grossing colors for them. So blue and purple colors of tennis courts could be just science after all, then why should the clay courts be left behind?
Madrid was always the brainchild of Ion Tiriac. He bought the Madrid Open few years back and wanted to propel the tournament in the big league of the Grand Slams. Tiriac even came up with the idea of having a fifth Grand Slam but the ATP and the rest of tennis world were not so keen, and the ATP Masters Event was the next best thing. The clay court season is very closely scheduled. The season lasts for about two months and consists of ATP Master tournaments like Monte-Carlo, Madrid, Rome and the Grand Slam event of Roland Garros. The other three tournaments have a rich history to boast about (anywhere between 75 to 100+ years). The Madrid clay-court event at the current venue started only in 2009 and always lacked the prestige of the other three. The only way the tournament could have been highlighted above the others would be through radical means. Some would say the triple court design of the stadium called the “Magic Box” is quite radical itself. But somebody like Tiriac would not stop at this. He would like to change the color of the clay-court, something not ever heard in history of the game. It is important to note that this change in color is not as simple as putting up a dye directly on the existing clay surface. It requires approximately 3.5 tons of fresh batch crushed white clay bricks stained with dye to be layered on every court. No one will pursue such a cumbersome task just for the sake of publicity. Not to mention consequences such as upsetting the players due to significant change in the surface.
It is also worthy to note that Ion this year got the tournament to be a double masters event with both ATP and WTA championships taking place sided by side proving Tiriac actually wants to make the tournament bigger and better. Being an MBA graduate, I would like to believe that Ion Tiriac has taken the “Blue Ocean Strategy” quite literally.