Rafael Nadal finally lost again on clay at the Madrid Open, ending a string of clay victories that had stretched 23 matches. Fernando Verdasco defeated him today for the first time in his career in an upset that many will remember more for the fact that it was played on a blue clay surface than anything else.
This blue clay surface was already reviled by many of the top players prior to the start of the tournament. Nadal and defending Madrid Open champion Novak Djokovic weren't happy with the blue clay, calling it too slippery to play on and potentially dangerous. They weren't the only ones to criticize the court surface, which was strangely rolled out for a Masters 1000 event instead of a much smaller venue for its first real try.
Nadal said after this loss that he won't return to the Madrid Open if the blue surface remains, which should effectively kill the experiment. Of course, Nadal can change his mind and if more tournaments decide to switch to blue clay than that would be great. Personally, the red clay is the hardest surface for me to watch on television. Once the ball gets a little dirty on a point it can be tough to spot it. If they could clean up the criticisms that the court is too slippery for the players then perhaps it'd be worth another shot. From what I've seen of the blue clay, I will concur with the ATP that the surface does make it easier to see the ball.
But is it truly the story on a day when the King of Clay (215-9 since 2005 on clay) loses to a far lesser player? Everybody played on the same surface. It apparently had flaws, but everyone was (literally) on the same playing ground. Nadal should have won this match. He was up 5-2 in the deciding third set, on serve with a 15-0 lead. Then he simply lost it mentally. That's something that shouldn't happen to a player of Nadal's ability and experience. Nadal admitted after the match was over that he deserved to lose today because of how he played.
If Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer manage to lose before the final, then perhaps we can blame the blue clay but I seriously doubt that will happen. Nadal's loss will serve as a warning to them and they will most likely end up playing each other in the final. Nadal will be able to get back to his beloved red clay in Rome next week in what will probably be everyone's final tournament before Roland Garros. Ultimately, the blue clay could end up being just a curious footnote in tennis history.
Julie is a lifelong tennis fan who thinks the next three months on the ATP tournament will be nothing but high drama. Rafael Nadal is one of her favorite players.
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