Andy Murray has withdrawn from the Madrid Masters, citing a back strain. My vague surprise at reading this news was quickly superseded by the stunned realisation that the report had somehow failed to mention that the event is to be conducted on blue clay, and that Rafael Nadal doesnâ€™t much care for it. This report is thus sufficiently unique as to be a collectorâ€™s item, treasured for its rare flaw, like that early Spiderman comic in which the hero develops Tourette syndrome. This oversight was soon corrected by the almost impossibly interesting news that Nadal has now had a hit on the court, and still doesnâ€™t like it. Indeed, his litany of gripes has only grown. Novak Djokovic said the court plays lower on slices.
I was already tired of hearing about the blue courts some time ago. Iâ€™ve now progressed to a place beyond exhaustion, since everyone wants to joke about them, which would be fine if nearly everyone wasnâ€™t considerably less funny than they realise. One playerâ€™s putatively wry query as to whether she was looking at tennis courts or swimming pools might have amused even slightly if a) they didnâ€™t look exactly like tennis courts, and b) there werenâ€™t already several higher profile tournaments to show us what blue tennis courts look like. The elementary passing comment that the courts are ‘smurf-coloured’ was not allowed to pass without being detained indefinitely, and then molested. It has now spawned a hash-tag, and, dully rehashed the world over, has failed to develop at all. The dead horse was removed some time ago, and now people are just thrashing the ground where it lay.
The only upside to this deafening blue noise is that, unlike last year, we donâ€™t have to hear about Madridâ€™s allegedly excessive altitude (since the Caja Magica is apparently in low orbit over La Paz). Somehow, the same pair who contested last yearâ€™s Madrid final fought out the Rome final a week later, at sea level, on â€˜traditionalâ€™ clay. If these changes have no discernible impact on the results, then what exactly is the issue? Roland Garros is weeks away. Chennai doesnâ€™t play much like Melbourne, Tokyo is quicker than Shanghai, and Basel and Valencia, in addition to being blue are utterly different speeds from each other, and from Bercy the week after, which itself varies wildly from year to year. Playerâ€™s adapt. Nadal will probably still win the French Open, and if he doesnâ€™t, it wonâ€™t have anything to do with the Madrid Masters.
Nadal is frankly a pretty good chance to win Madrid, anyway. He will almost certainly reach the final. The immediate upshot of Murrayâ€™s withdrawal is that world No.5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga assumes the fourth seeding. On grass or even a hardcourt this wouldnâ€™t raise any eyebrows. But the Frenchman has spent weeks laboriously demonstrating his shortcomings on clay, to my satisfaction if no one elseâ€™s. As top seed in Munich this week he lost his opening match to a resurgent Tommy Haas. In Monte Carlo he fell dismally to Gilles Simon. Before that he lost to John Isner in the Davis Cup. None of these losses are shameful, since they were all to capable players, but in none of them did Tsonga look like the fifth best player in the world. The primary reason for this is that, on clay, he isnâ€™t, by a long way. As a potential semifinal opponent, drawing Tsonga is certainly more desirable than drawing Federer, even for Nadal, who has proven himself against both.
As in Monte Carlo, where Federer was absent, Nadal is drawn to face Tsonga in the last four. As in Monte Carlo, there is no good reason to think that match will occur, since on this surface the Frenchman is no better than a handful of others in his quarter, and might struggle to beat John Isner in the quarters, even assuming either gets that far. Novak Djokovic thus shares a half with Federer, who frankly has a bastard of a draw. Federer, who hasnâ€™t played in over a month, must first face the winner of Nalbandian and Raonic, which could only be more unsavoury if he had to face both consecutively, or simultaneously. Bellucci or Gasquet in the next round should be interesting, followed by a likely quarterfinal with David Ferrer. Ferrerâ€™s path to the quarterfinal appears straightforward, with only Almagro providing much to worry about, and then only for Almagro himself.
Djokovic opens against the winner of an intriguing first round tussle between Qualifier and Qualifier. Iâ€™m pencilling Qualifier in for that one, although I donâ€™t see him (or her) troubling the world No.1 after that. No one else in Djokovicâ€™s quarter should provide too stern a challenge, with the next highest seed being Janko Tipsarevic, who makes Tsonga look like Gustavo Kuerten on terre battue, even when it is cripplingly bleu. Gilles Simon will arguably, and ironically, constitute Djokovicâ€™s biggest hurdle. Simon, incidentally, faces Fabio Fognini in the first round, a repeat of last weekâ€™s Bucharest final, which The Fog followed up on by losing in the first round in Belgrade.
Which brings us to the question of who will win. The cynical answer is Ion Tiriac.
The full Madrid draw can be found here.
I was hoping to have something up on the Munich quarterfinals, in which Youzhny sadly lost, but Haas and Kohlschreiber merrily didn’t. I probably won’t have time, but I’ll say that the match between Youzhny and Cilic was highly entertaining, and that if you watch nothing else, the second set tiebreak is worth a few minutes, if only for the Russian’s backhand to save match point, and for his mighty beard.
Edit – Nadal’s comments about the court favouring guys who don’t rely on footwork (Federer!), were apparently a mistranslation. I have consequently removed this reference.