One argument suggests that they were whinging even before they got on to the court, and cribbed even more when they lost. In Nadal’s case, the experience was, of course, even more bitter since he lost his number 2 ranking to Federer, the eventual champion.
The counter to that – of which I got plenty when I posted the first premise on twitter – was that those who see Rafa and Novak as moaners must get their heads examined: have people forgotten their classic final in the Aussie Open?
I would agree that castigating Nadal and Djokovic as cribbers and misanthropes is unfair: after all, there were a host of players who did not take kindly to the decision at Madrid to go from red clay to blue, their reactions ranging from surprise to consternation. It is also true that many players found the new courts slippery, so there’s something for the organisers (primarily Ion Tiriac) to think about.
But I wonder whether Nadal and Djokovic had not affected their own prospects by seeing the courts with greater suspicion than it deserved. It is a truism in sport that a negative mindset invariably leads to negative results. All things considered, these two wonderful players perhaps did not help their own cause.
Peter Bodo, doyen among tennis writers, captured this best in his blog on ESPNTennis after the Madrid Open. Praising Federer and Serena for their performance, Bodo highlights how they are also different from the rest of their respective field.
He adds, “That was strikingly evident this weekend in Madrid, where the two emerged from a chaotic and unsettled battlefield to claim the singles titles. The tournament started with major questions about the blue clay, but though peevish, disgruntled No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 2 Rafael Nadal were bounced out of the draw, Federer and Williams demonstrated a superior willingness to play the hand dealt to them, and they ended up making the blue-clay refusniks look silly.’’
Take that as you will. But the point of this article is not to discuss the personalities of Nadal and Djokovik or indeed even the merits of new surfaces; rather the intriguing current trend of changing the colour of playing surfaces – across sports.
Apart from blue introduced in tennis in the courts in Madrid, hockey at the London Olympics this year will also be played on blue AstroTurf. Some tradtionalists were aghast and raised objections but the Olympic authorities were not to be dissuaded.
Practice matches leading up the Games, it must be mentioned, have not produced very favorable reviews by players. India’s players – who did not fare too well – have been the most vocal in their opposition to the new surface.
Some might see a link again between performance and objection, but as I mentioned at the start, the purpose of this article is to understand the new desire to overturn the stereotype where the colour of the playing surface is concerned.
Television is clearly one of the big reasons for the change. I have read unratified research suggesting that viewers were getting fatigued of the old colors and if not overtly, at least subliminally looking for change.
Of course this runs contrary to the concept of institutionalizing tradition and nostalgia but the fact of two major changes as we have seen this year says something may be afoot; even if it is just experimentation and may be short-lived.
Truth however is that change has also been the constant in sport. Basketball today has four quarters instead of two halve, as did hockey during the recent World Series League played in India recently. It hardly needs reminding that tennis too started as a sport played only on grass before moving on to other surfaces.
Some of the more dramatic changes have taken place in cricket: from format to apparel and even in the laws. The most significant in this has been the use of colour – clothes, ball, sightscreen — all have undergone massive changes in the past half century.
Is there scope and/or need to change the colour of a cricket pitch? If nothing, a pitch map of a different colour would help umpires determine where the ball is pitching. I can hear the puritans howling in protest. I must confess I am not convinced either. But it is certainly worth a debate.